For Ethics class – reflections on Charles Curran:
In determining the starting point for morality and moral theology, the author seeks to, from his Tradition, find the “logical first step” which he identifies as stance. Stance, then, is the method in which we determine both perspective and horizon, or as the author states, reality and how it all fits together. A logical issue which I find troubling, then, is that he also states that the proof of stance is within itself.
Curran then proceeds to tackle various views of the starting point, first with James Sellers who he deems too optimistic. I might would agree that to seek wholeness in a world of brokenness, albeit one in which Christ is still bringing forth the New Creation, is too optimistic, although hopeful. Curran is further correct in dealing with James Gustafson, which doesn’t take into account the Historical Jesus, it seems. This is always of an interest, to determine how the critical study of the Historical Jesus may play a future role in the study of Christian ethics, but to base ethics completely upon a very subjective Christ is to only ask for equally subjective, and culturally sensitive, ethics and morality.
I agree with Curran when he writes, “Thus, love is a very complex reality, and Christians have found it hard to agree on the precise meaning of Christian love”, but even in that, I might not discount love as a starting point for morality. Love is a many splendored thing, to borrow an old and boring cliché, but it allows us to continuously grow. Moving on, he notes that virtue alone cannot be the starting point, stating, “substantive reality cannot encompass all other realities.” But, God is Love (1 John 4.8), and while I generally timidly run the gambit of heretic to heterodox, I am tempted to jump full into panentheism as a stance. Not to mention universal reconciliation, the ultimate Love, as a stance. What is more “broadly catholic so that it includes all reality” than a God who is Love if that same God encompasses all reality? (ex deus v ex nihilo?)
Curran then moves on to discover stance among, oddly enough, Christian doctrines as upheld historically. They are “creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and resurrection.” For Creation, normally seen as ex nihilo, he cites the “good” aspect, but never answers the ‘good for what’ question? Further, what if Good meant ordered, as Create, for some scholars, mean to call into existence? He notes the usual interpretation of Sin and Evil which came into the world through humanity which might seem to reinforce the Adamic myth, although he leaves himself wiggle room in noting that Genesis is not really about Creation, but about the human role in sin and evil. My question, is, what of the Covenants which made out of Love? What if we started there? However, I appreciate the Roman Catholic view as expressed by the author, in that sin and evil have not completely destroyed, or perhaps deprived, the world of basic goodness. Our basic humanity survives beyond the usual charges and examples of depravity. Moving to the Incarnation, Curran is right, although a little too Traditional (i.e., not Christus Victor). For Curran, the Resurrection shows that human fulfillment “lies outside of history.” Agreed on that point as well. To this, he points to and uplifts the eschatological tension of the “already” and “not yet.” This is Curran’s stance, where perspective and horizon meet to show how all reality neatly fits together.
I appreciate the statements on Roman Catholic tradition which affirms the basic goodness of humanity and Creation, and I find similarity there with the Wesleyan Tradition.
In regarding to the section entitled, “Theological Aspect of Natural Law”, I find it based on subjective reasoning. Reflection with human reason is based in a temporal moment, often cultural and nearly always contextual. Too much reflection on human nature has led to awful things in human history. While Human Reason is indeed something to be raised to a new height, often times, it must be tempered with the divine reasoning in Scripture, else we find too much dust and not enough breathe. I disagree with this section, in that natural law, as Curran as demonstrated, has changed from time to time, with some groups arriving disastrously late to certain conclusions. Of course, much of my reaction is catalogued by Curran in his section on Protestant objections, which makes me worry about myself.
He notes that Rome has not given “enough importance to the reality of sin” which I seem to think must play a large role in using human reason or natural law to determine anything. If, as Scripture plainly tells us, sin has corrupted us, not completely, then how can we completely trust Human Reason or Natural Law to determine morality? But, I would caution anyone from focusing too much on the nature of sin, as we more often than not see it easily enough in someone else, and then using natural law, seek to correct them according to our reasoning. In later a later section, I since that sin may not be the focus, but the result of the lingering force of sin. Sin is a reality, but not the reality. I do disagree, however, with the moral theologians and about what can “influence the proper moral response.”
Further, I appreciate his ability to recognize the chastening in Karl Barth.
As with most things, I find that Vatican II has presented a wonderful working model for some of us who are rather Catholic-lite. In dealing with Scripture, Reason and Natural Law, it does an equally marvelous job of attempting to pin things back to Scripture.
Curran’s use of his stance to tackle different issues is important, because it is practical. I agree with him, and I assume the Catholic Tradition, regarding killing, Just War, and pacifism. Further, the connection between sin and death, although I suspect that I might disagree with the initial death brought out by sin. Maybe not, though.
In examining the Social Gospel through the reality of sin, I see the point about it, or rather while some have some disagreements with it. Further, I like his criticisms of Hauerwas.
Plus, his use of Wesley – Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience – helps to solidify him as a rational human being. In using those things, more so than the five mysteries as presented by Curran, I believe we come closer to a better moral stance. In Scripture, I would agree with Vatican II again, I suspect, especially in regards to the mind of the author in interpreting Scripture. I agree with Curran’s handling of Tradition as well. I tend to like his unpacking, as it were, of Reason and Experience as well.
Over all, Curran presents a stance which is bound to the biblical narrative as currently understood. If morality is based upon that, my question would be to what extent would current understanding of morality be upended if the narrative changed?