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  • Theological Ethics and Global Dynamics in the Time of Many Worlds
  • Duncan B. Forrester
William Schweiker . 2006. Theological Ethics and Global Dynamics in the Time of Many Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 239, Hb, £60.

This ambitious book has as its purpose 'to make sense of the current situation and discover truths needed to guide life realistically in our time'. As a central part of this project, Schweiker aims to deploy the insights of the Christian tradition to develop an ethics adequate to today's challenges and needs. And this, of course, involves addressing a huge range of intractable problems – violence, the new global media, anger, and so forth in the world after 9/11 – to name only a few. Schweiker argues that 'the triumph of overhumanisation', and the decay of 'a vibrant humanistic and non-reductionistic naturalistic moral outlook' pose a deep threat within Western cultures.

The book is in three parts. Part One – on Creation and World-making – moves from a brief account of the present global situation, through a discussion of the challenge of pluralism, into a discussion of greed. We are informed that 'we can grasp the deeper reason for insisting that globality is a space of reasons'. And there is some discussion of the ethical resources that the world's great religions, particularly the Abrahamic faiths, may [End Page 285] offer. The discussion of greed starts from the devastating reminder that at the end of the second millennium the three richest officers of Microsoft had more assets than the forty-three least developed countries taken together, with a population of more than 600 million. Then, after a long discussion drawing heavily on Mandeville's Fable of the Bees and the work of David Hume, the conclusion is reached that greed is undesirable but can sometimes be harnessed to good ends.

Part Two is on time and responsibility, and Schweiker explores apocalyptic cosmologies and the hope of a new heaven and a new earth. These support a lively expectation and a determination to live in a new creation so that one's whole life is dedicated to combating injustice and oppression. The world, we learn is 'disambiguated' in the doing of justice rather than in the cult. A useful and important chapter explores forgiveness, restorative justice, and reconciliation as major and constructive themes in today's conflict-ridden world.

Part Three is on Imagination and Conscience, and explores Scripture and other sources of influential imagery. The chapter on 'Sacred Textsand the Social Imaginary [sic.]' is said to demonstrate 'how deeply moral sensibility is saturated by the whirl and consumption of images'. In the discussion of laughter we are introduced to M.A.Screech, who notes that 'Laughter is one of the ways in which crowds, thoughtless, cruel or wicked, may react to the sight of suffering', as did some at the sight of the crucifixion of Jesus. There is also a fascinating discussion of the story of Cain and Abel, and the book concludes with a kind of manifesto for 'Theological Humanism'.

This book, as the author himself notes, ranges 'through a wide array of topics besetting people and ethical reflection in the time of many worlds'. It is not an easy read, and it is unlikely to be regarded as the definitive account of the role of theological ethics in today's confusing and violent world. There is very little engagement with Radical Orthodoxy, or with the Hauerwasians, with their very different approaches to the situation and the responsibilities that this book explores. But there are treasures of insight and of wisdom to be found in Schweiker's book by the committed reader.

Duncan B. Forrester
University of Edinburgh


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pp. 285-286
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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