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Experience as a tool in doing Christian Social Ethics Reflection Paper

Introduction Christian ethics is an important discipline in doing theology as this engages in the practical life situations of a person, community and society in relation to Christian faith, doctrines and principles. The epistemological understanding of Christian ethics can be possible through different sources such as Scripture, Tradition and Experience. Among the three sources of doing Christian ethics, experience is significant. In this reflection paper, a focus is made on understanding the aspect of experience as an important source for doing Christian Social Ethics. Christian Ethics: the analytical definition of Christian ethics is, it is the practical principle that deals with what is right for a person to desire and what is not (Summum Bonum), what a person should do and what one should not (Duty) and what moral power is needed to arrive at an end and realize the duty (Virtue).1 Experience: The term „experience‟ can be defined as that which signifies the “practical acquaintance gained by trial or experiment and also the fruit of knowledge so obtained”.2 This can be understood in a twofold spiritual sense as the one that would indicate to have proper awareness of the communion with the spirit in the present and the other as wisdom acquired by understanding the “spiritual facts derived from inner and outer worlds”.3 The above definitions suggest the inter-relatedness of the expected Christian life and the human experience, as Christian social ethics would demand. It is the experience that helps, teaches and guides a person to discern with relation to the scripture and tradition, upon the ethical issues that he/she faces or will have to face. Scripture and tradition to a larger extent would only help to understand and react to the ethical issues faces in a deontological perspective, which would not help to grapple with issues that emerge in various contexts. However, the importance of scripture and tradition cannot be superimposed by experience,


James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol.2, (New York: Charles Scribner‟s Sons, 1908), 469. 2 James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol.2, (New York: Charles Scribner‟s Sons, 1908), 630. 3 James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol.2, (New York: Charles Scribner‟s Sons, 1908), 630.

2001). 2001).8 It is thus obvious that “scripture has itself been subverted by reactionary readings. 119. 7 Timothy Gorringe. class and sexual orientation and the attempt to bring the end to the world with nuclear Armageddon. 2008). 118. edited by Israel Selvanayagam (Bangalore: BTESSC / SATHRI. edited by Israel Selvanayagam (Bangalore: BTESSC / SATHRI. 8 Timothy Gorringe.” in Light on Our Dusty Path. 6 Robert Gascoigne. In such case any text that suitably addresses the issue can be considered as „scripture‟. “Scripture and subversion. 85. 9 Timothy Gorringe. 9 This attempt was made by feminist Christian exegetes like Phyllis Trible. “Scripture and subversion. like all texts. 2008). The Public Forum & Christian Ethics.4 “Such a text invites contemporary response through its own power to evoke new and saving meaning in the realm of experience that the reader brings. The Public Forum & Christian Ethics.” in Light on Our Dusty Path. that Scripture is irredeemably patriarchal. 7 As it is rightly argued by feminist biblical scholars like Mary Daly and Daphne Hampson. 78. It is important to remember that the text itself has emerged out of certain spiritual and living experiences of people. (Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. George Lindbeck opines that the religious experience is possible through the external language to express the inner experience of God. We should be conscious about the inflictions made by the fundamental/literal understanding of the bible through the centuries of Christianity. the claims made in it cannot be applicable to those experiences external to the text. (Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. the scenario of the present day is not much different as we see the discrimination on women who are still kept away from the high office in the church. 81. The oppression of poor. “Scripture and subversion.” in Light on Our Dusty Path. 2001). The Public Forum & Christian Ethics. held prisoner by authoritarian ideologies but. 5 Robert Gascoigne. 119. . (Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. This would certainly invite trouble from the Christian fundamental religious forces. discrimination among people on the basis of caste.but can surely give the wisdom needed to rightly discern with the issues pertaining to Christian ethics. Ever and again its strange new voice can be heard”. which provides the text which is only a narrative with a self-contained world of meaning.”5 In his „cultural-linguistic‟ model. ait can resist its interpreters and find its own voice. 2008).6 This further can be understood that it is the experience within a human person that formulates the religious within oneself and would express through a language. terrible violence and execution of the „heretics‟ and justification of the hierarchy are but few such. Fiorenza and others who re-read and re- 4 Robert Gascoigne. Scripture and Experience: Scripture. edited by Israel Selvanayagam (Bangalore: BTESSC / SATHRI.

Christian Ethics: Foundations and Practice.. 1994). 81. “Scripture and subversion. The church in hte following years has become „traditionally violent and oppressive‟. The Christian tradition has inherited the imperial structure once the early church embraced the Roman imperialism. Personal and communal experiences demand the relocation of the vantage point of tradition which is inevitable. alteration and emancipation from the mutilated and distorted imperatives that are normative in ethical discernment. Christian Ethics: Foundations and Practice. In the ethical perspective tradition may be of some help in ethical discernments but not a complete norm especially when tradition advocates the inequality – of gender.interpreted the biblical texts. 2008). In such case.. He experiences of the reformers overtook the traditional church structures and the reform is desperately needed today. injustice. the alienated. whether biblical or ecclesiastical. This concept of 10 Timothy Gorringe. the human experience would become the lens to look at the scripture and tradition and appropriate with the context of the living experiences. showing through thei experiences of oppression.”11 Tradition and Experience: Tradition is modelled from the social life structures and religious norms to keep the practices and beliefs intact and is transferred through centuries.. The focus on situation ethics could help us to draw further inferences. but rather to interpret the suffering experience. situation Ethics. 11 Robert Bruce McLaren. The royal religion no more could give priority to the oppressed and vulnerable of the communities as it should have given because of the blend of the elements the Jewish notion of „the chosen‟ and the Roman dominance. 12 Robert Bruce McLaren.10 Is it not out of the experiences of the so called black. violence and struggles that domination is opposed in the bible in various levels. the term appeared in Joseph Flecher‟s book by the same title. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall.. and the unstructured posture of existentialism”12 had been a controversy ever since. 1994). the women and other oppressed sections of the society that the Liberation Theologies emerged? Is it not their experiences that created the compulsion to derive hermeneutical principles to re-read and re-interpret the scripture which usually is understood in literal sense to authenticate the dominant oppressive structures? This is not just to “make the Gospel message conform to the needs of different groups of people suffering from one or the other form of oppression.” in Light on Our Dusty Path. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall. oppression and dominance. in which he argues that “Christians must steer between old authoritarianisms. 72 . This process includes rejection. class and caste. the dalit and adivasis. intimidation. 91. edited by Israel Selvanayagam (Bangalore: BTESSC / SATHRI.

72 . while responding to situations.doing Christian ethics focuses on „love‟ and is of three fold: first. would help effectively in doing Christian ethics. It is often that „to be ethical in one‟s own conscience is to be immoral to the existing structures‟. 1994).13 Despite many criticisms of this model. to have compelled to such decision making – second. church or other agency. state. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Conclusion Appropriating the scripture and tradition to the experiences of individual and community to envision the egalitarian society. This attitude defies the deontological ethics and offers individual responsibility to live an ethical life that would unfold itself with one‟s own experience. that is to act according to a situation as love may require to. 13 Robert Bruce McLaren. family. inevitable relativism. with a focus to understand experience as an important source of doing Christian ethics. legalism or „rule ethics‟ is rejected which is similar to Karl Barth‟s actualism Bonhoeffer‟s response to Hitler‟s tyranny and Niebuhr‟s appeal to the perfectionist love ethic of Jesus. with love as guide. the Kingdom of God. it helps to react to ethical issues out of one‟s own experience to discern the morality of the issue.third. it emphasises on individual responsibility in decision making where no excuse can be made by pointing at any institution. Viewing the scripture and tradition as sources for doing Christian ethics requires experience as the lens. Christian Ethics: Foundations and Practice.