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Chapter 3 Positioning Macintyre within Christian Ethics Brad J. Kallenberg The seventeenth-century Protestant scholastic Abraham Calovius has been cred­ ited with the prayer, "Lord, fill me with the hatred of heretics!" His prayer epitomizes the long-standing and widespread religious conviction that dialogue with alternative points of view is, at best, unfruitful and, at worst, downright dangerous. But if religious believers are perpetually suspicious of other points of view, where does this leave our hope for fruitful appropriation of Alasdair Mac­ Intyre's thinking within the field of Christian ethics? Do we seriously think that Macintyre can do any better than merely talk past, rather than with, Christian ethicists? In this chapter we will examine the work of a number of religious ethi­ cists in order to explore whether Macintyre can speak with others on their terms of discussion and do so in a way that is mutually enriching. Once we have shown that Maclntyre's work is germane for Christian ethics, the remaining essays in this volume can then demonstrate the "Christianness" of our project both by showing how churchly life can be richly described in Maclntyrean terms (prac­ tices, virtues, and so on) and by showing how ethical conclusions that fully fit with our Christian story, concerning specific contemporary issues, can be gen­ erated in Maclntyrean fashion. But our first task is to answer the more basic question: "What is Christian ethics anyway?"1 What Is Christian Ethics? Broadly speaking, ethics denotes rational reflection on the problems of human morality. On the contemporary scene this usually amounts to providing rational defense of some course of action taken in response to a given quandary: "Should she pull the plug?" "Should he pull the trigger?" And so on. The justification is supposed to be arrived at by employing a theory of justification. But, as we have 1. See, e.g., Stanley Hauerwas and D. Stephen Long, "Ethics, Christian," in A New Handbook ofChristian Theology, ed. Donald W. Musser and Joseph L. Price (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 160-67. 45 46 Brad }. Kallenberg seen already in Chapter 1, where theories abound, a clear criterion for deciding among theories is entirely lacking. How can Christian ethics be distinguished in this fray? If ethics is identified with rational reflection upon philosophical, scientific, and experiential sources, then perhaps Christian ethics is, as James Gustafson has suggested, nothing more than reflection that additionally takes Christian sources into account.2 However, one is always entitled to ask whether the mode of reflection itself pos­ sesses a theological component. In other words, perhaps ethics is not Christian simply because we reflect on Christian sources (such as the Scriptures or the churchly tradition) but because we reflect in a Christian way. This way of look­ ing at things brings the character of the person(s) engaged in ethical reflection to the center of the discussion. It matters what kind of people we are while we are doing ethics. Yet, oddly, this point is given a wide berth in many approaches to ethics today. So, before we can sample different "Christian" ethical approaches and measure Maclntyre's compatibility with each, I must first sketch the history of Christian ethics by drawing attention to the three watershed events that help to explain why there is such a diversity within the field. The Christian character of ethics is most recognizable in the first three cen­ turies after Christ. During this period, the term Christian ethics refers to the crazy way Christians actually lived. Clement of Rome reports that some Chris­ tians actually sold themselves into slavery in order to use that money to ransom others (apparently with worse owners) and to feed the poor.3 Athenagoras describes those first Christians this way: But among us you will find uneducated persons and artisans, and old women who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those who ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.4 This sort of countercultural behavior meant that these early Christians were frequently misunderstood, persecuted, and even killed for living against the grain. But they were willing to tolerate this misunderstanding because their peculiar behavior pointed to the particular character of their God. Because Christian ethics in this age...


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