Grey Thoughts
Morality and God
I just completed my second semester of a Philosophy Masters and one of the subjects I did was an introduction to ethics. The 'text' and I use that term loosely, was Blackburn's "A very short introduction to ethics" where the author doesn't try very hard to reveal his disdain (and ultimately his manifest lack of understanding) of Christianity and Christian Morality.

Most people think Christian morality is all about following the rules (What is known as 'deontological ethics'). The ten commandments and all that. I can only conclude that this misunderstanding comes from the Catholic church's somewhat (and understandable) misunderstood teachings. The thing is, Jesus taught quite clearly that it isn't just your actions, but your heart that matters. If you lust after someone, that's adultery. If you hate someone, that's murder. (It also mentions this idea hundreds of years before Aristotle/Plato, who are normally talked about as the founders of virtue ethics. See Isaiah 29:13)

Christian ethics is therefore more what is known as virtue ethics. That is, the moral question is are you there right kind of person, as opposed to do you do the right actions or cause the right consequences. So what 'virtues' are considered good virtues? There is a simple answer and a more complex answer.

The simple answer is also supplied by Jesus. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself'. Jesus then goes on to explain that everyone is your 'neighbour'. Having this as the virtue that is good means that other things considered as virtues (e.g. compassion) are only good in light of their being loving. (Handily resolving any conflicts between the many virtues which is put foward as a problem for virtue ethics)

The complex answer is investigating what it really means to love God and your neighbours. Dr. J. Budziszewski defines loves as a 'commitment of the will to the true good of another person'. Curiously, this means that Christian virtue is wanting to get the best consquences (i.e. the true good) for other people. (which brings us close to 'consequentialism' which defines an action as moral if it maximises the good consequences). The question then do we know what the true good is and how do we know what actions will bring about those consequences?

The bible again provides the answers. How? It tells us about certain rules that we can follow. Yes, we are back to the 10 commandments. The instruction to love God and neighbour was followed by pointing out that ALL the laws of Moses and the prophets were designed to fulfill this idea of love. (which brings us back to deontological ethics)

Of course, in the original notion of Aristotlean virtue ethics, the way to become the right kind (i.e. virtuous) of person was to practice doing the things that a right kind of person would do. The bible also says the same thing, saying that we should train our children in righteousness (so they do not depart - Prov 22:6,) and that the bible is useful for training in righteousness.

Ultimately, this means that Christianity is about virtue ethics, but the virtue is one which tries to maximise consequences by following rules set out by the one who would know how to maximise those consequences, God. A kind of deontological virtue consequentialism.

One final point to note is that, as Blackburn notes, the atheistic philosophers (almost all philosophy at my uni is done on the assumption of atheism) have no answer as to why anything is 'moral'. There is no such thing as morality in a mechanistic universe with no supernatural. This is why the argument from morality is, in my opinion, a great argument for the existence of God.
Just for some clarification: You don't mean that Jesus was preaching virtue ethics before Aristotle/Plato, do you? They existed hundreds of years before Christ.
The bible was teaching virtue ethics before Aristotle/Plato. This was before Jesus was born.

I always find it interesting how often people bring up how Christianity was influenced heavily by Plato, yet never think that maybe Plato and Aristotle were influenced by the Bible....
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