The Interconnectedness of Ethical Judgments

The Interconnectedness of Ethical Judgments November 6, 2012

We live in a world of compartmentalization. You go to the grocery store and there is a bread aisle, a fruit aisle, an ice cream aisle. You go to Best Buy and there is a TV section, a cell phone section, a DVD section, a computer section. You go to the Mall and there are stores for men’s clothes, more stores for women’s clothes and so on. You go to the car dealer and there is a row of convertibles, a row of mini-vans, a row of SUVs, a row of hybrids, a row of sports cars. You get my drift. It is then in no way surprising that we tend to compartmentalize our ethical judgments. You’ll find people who are rabidly anti-abortion and rabidly pro guns. You’ll find people who are rabidly anti-government but at the same time calling up the Social Security administration all the time asking why their check is so small and why their Medicare benefits are not covering everything. It is my conviction that some of these obvious ethical inconsistencies are due to living in a compartmentalized world. And the real outcome of such compartmentalized thinking is not merely inconsistencies but the ability to not think things through to their logical consequences, never mind the ability to hold flatly contradictory opinions on issues that should in fact be considered together and about which one should draw similar conclusions. Life may be strange, but modern ethical (or unethical) thinking is even stranger. One controversial example must suffice.

Let’s take the issue of being pro-life. Logically if you want to protect the unborn, this then of course means you want them to be born, and have a chance at life, hopefully a long life. You are after all, pro life! Thought through to it’s logical conclusions then, you should want for that life the things that make for a good and healthy and moral life, not just any sort of life. It’s no good being pro life while living on top of a nuclear waste dump, or near a factory that belches out fumes that cause lung diseases and cancer of various sorts. My point is simple— any logical pro-life person should also be very much a pro-clean air, pro-clean water, pro-healthy food person, and so on wanting a healthy lifestyle and environment for their child. If all you care about is that someone get’s born but you don’t care about the environment and circumstances into which they are born, you are simply not thinking through ethical issues to their logical conclusions. You have to ask yourself seriously— what sort of world am I bringing this child into?

And of course this also leads to a discussion about birth control. No loving person should be so careless about their sexual behavior that they leave themselves wide open to pregnancy when, for example, they live in a town like Homa in Syria at a time like now. Selfishness about sexual desires, or wanting children must take a back seat to being careful not to bring a new vulnerable life, (especially if you are part of a poor and immobile family), into an environment where it is highly likely the child will not survive infancy. That’s just bad ethical judgment.

It is precisely because I am a totally pro-life person that I am also very much concerned not only about the environment, but also about food production, work that is not harmful to your health, working for peaceful solutions to human dilemmas and recognize the realities of a global economy. This recognition is the same reason why I could never be a one issue voter. Everything is interconnected, and much is at stake for life whether we are making decisions about abortions, or what constitutes marriage, or war, or nutrition, or about the environment. The desire to conserve human life requires of us the desire to conserve the only environment in which human life can currently live— the earth, with its delicate eco-sphere and many raging human problems and wars.

But there is yet another reason to think in terms of all the interconnections and think globally and thinking ethically, and it is not just because what I buy in a store here helps someone in China to make a living over there. It’s because I believe every person is created in the image of God and is of sacred worth in God’s eyes. It is because of what John Donne, my favorite Christian poet, once said……

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

Think on these things, and think ethical thoughts through to their logical conclusions.

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