Louisiana court challenges seal of confession

We blogged about how Anglicans in Australia are doing away with the absolute “seal of confession”–that is, the pastor’s pledge of total confidentiality when they hear penitents confess their sins.  Now an American court is trying to do the same thing, forcing a Roman Catholic priest to testify about what he heard in the confessional from an accused child abuser. [UDATE:  In the very interesting discussion that is waging, Jeremiah pointed out that I got this wrong,  that it wasn't the confession of the abuser but that of the abused child that is at issue.] [Read more...]

Putting “ethical governors” on killer robots

Drone warfare makes some people squirm for the ethical issues it raises, but right now drones are still controlled by human beings.  The upcoming technology, though, would make them autonomous, allowing them to make their own “decisions” about whether or not to kill.  To meet the moral objections in giving machines the option to kill human beings, some techies are proposing tacking on separate software they are calling  “ethical governors” that could automatically run the decisions through international law protocols before going lethal.

What do you think about this?  Can there be “artificial morality’” just as there is “artificial intelligence”?  (After the jump, a defense of killer robots that goes into these issues.) [Read more...]

A Christian case against Natural Law

As we posted earlier, many Christians are approaching moral issues in terms of natural law philosophy in an attempt to make a case before the secular world.  But Orthodoxy theologian David Bentley Hart argues that this is futile, that divine revelation is necessary for any kind of moral clarity.  Read the pro- and the con- argument (after the jump).  Which one do you think makes the better case? [Read more...]

Natural Law reconsidered

Natural law as a grounding for morality  is basic to Roman Catholic ethics, though it is variously embraced or rejected by Protestants.   As contemporary society tries to normalize sexual behavior long considered not just immoral but unnatural, natural law ethics have come back into vogue among those who insist that sexual morality is not just a narrow religious conviction but something applicable to everyone.

Protestant philosopher R. J. Snell has written a new book that attempts a new formulation of natural law, one grounded in love.  After the jump, an excerpt from the book that first explains what we mean by natural law.  (And note how the concept that nature has a “design”–c.f. the intelligent design movement–is integral to the idea.)

Later, I intend to post something on the Christian case against natural law theory, and we can weigh the issues. [Read more...]

Moralism of the right & moralism of the left

United Methodists are considering whether or not to have an amicable split, so as to accommodate both sides of the moral debates that the denomination is struggling with.  As I know from personal and family experience, Methodists have always had a strong emphasis on morality.  It certainly has an evangelistic strain, with its roots in the Wesleyan revivals, but its moral focus can tend to moralism, an emphasis on moral rectitude that overshadows the forgiveness of Christ.

The prospect of a Methodist split shows what is happening across many denominations.  There is a moralism of the right, fixating on traditional sexual morality, personal vices, and family values.  And there is a moralism of the left, fixating on “social justice,” care for the poor, and political liberalism.  (Note that it is possible to uphold what is “moral” without succumbing to “moralism.”)

But what–or, rather, Who–is often missing in moralistic churches of both the right and the left is Christ.  The right often relegates Him to the moment of conversion, whereupon Christians can then get to the real business of regulating their behavior.  The left reduces Him to a political liberal like themselves.  Both treat Him mainly as an example, rather than as Savior, Redeemer, and Sacrifice. [Read more...]

Natural law vs. nominalism

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, an Orthodox priest, gives a lucid explanation of the difference between “natural law” and “nominalism” when it comes to moral philosophy.  He does so in a way that makes it nearly impossible to believe that Luther was a nominalist, as he is often accused of being.  Fr. Reardon also goes on to criticize his fellow Orthodox who believe that since church weddings are sacramental, the world outside may conduct marriage any way it pleases. [Read more...]


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