St Alban’s (Grand Cayman) & St Mary’s (Cayman Brac)

Church & Office
– 461 Shedden Road
PO Box 719 GT, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Tel – 949 2757 : Fax – 949 0619

email: rector@churchofenglandcayman.com

 

 "Covenantal ethics versus humanistic ethics."

 

It has been raised whether the "humanistic ethic" is indeed opposed to the Christian social ethic.  Here are some observations which I hope may be found helpful.

 

 

All systems of ethics are in broad agreement that certain things are wrong, such as murder, theft and adultery, though there may be many disagreements on whether a particular act has crossed the boundary into that wrongdoing. Nevertheless, systems of ethics do conflict very deeply at the level of authority and accountability. Systems of ethics will diverge and conflict whenever questions arise about in whose name an action is declared to be right or wrong.

 

Judaeo-Christian ethics are based on God's declaration of His authority for what is right. In this system of ethics, man is accountable to God for motives and acts that are right or wrong. Under this system or structure of ethics the laws of society are understood to be an approximation to God's law, and are fundamentally (even if only indirectly) dependent upon divine revelation. Because of their dependent nature human laws are accountable to God's higher authority as to their rightness and justice. This is a basic reason why legislative assemblies consist of persons who may visibly and tangibly be brought to account for their actions, even if only by the imperfect method of periodic elections. There are processes which ensure the possibility of their lawful removal, and the possibility, therefore, of the revision of unjust laws. To begin legislative sessions with prayer, an action of submission to the higher authority of God, is entirely consistent with this understanding of the legislative process as divinely dependent.

 

Humanistic systems of ethics, on the other hand, make the assumption that what is right or wrong derives entirely from the human experience. Whatever laws may be made are patterned not on divine revelation but on some human process which takes the place of that absolute reference. In the French Revolution human reason was consciously substituted for God in the polity of society, and it is from this and its Napoleonic succession that the European Enlightenment was derived, and the European Enlightenment, which was fundamentally humanistic, is the basis of the formation of modern concepts of "human rights", which by their very name project a "right"-ness that is sourced and referenced by humanity alone. This "right"-ness is not seen to be accountable to God or to be necessarily dependent upon Him, or measurable in terms of any divine revelation. The international Conventions are, in modern times, taking the place of God, for they are becoming the reference by which the laws of countries are being measured and revised for their rightness and justice. This is why the White Paper throughout refers to the commitment by Britain to her international agreements as self-evidently right and as a lodestar for the "good governance" of herself and her Overseas Territories. Unfortunately the revision of laws is proceeding apace not under the action of accountable legislatures, but by the actions of law-courts that are unaccountable to any populace through an electoral process. Their only measure of rightness is one of a self-determined conformity or otherwise to the European or international Conventions.

 


In the draft Cayman Ministers' Association Notes the Judaeo-Christian system of ethics is referred to as the covenantal ethic with which a traditionally Christian society is familiar. This structure of ethics is fundamentally relational, because what is right is inseparable from the Author of all good things. A thing is right because He created it so and declares it so. The agreement to this of the human conscience is an indication that Man has been made in the image of God, but the propensity of Man for doing what is wrong is the indication that the Fall of Man is a reality of our human condition. The Gospel declares that "in many and various ways" in the past, and in Jesus Christ in the present, God has come and revealed Himself to us, in His fulness in the Lord Jesus Christ, and has acted to redeem Man. The relationship He thus forms with Man is in the Bible called "Covenant". It is by means of this covenantal revelation that the rightness of our rulings and laws must always be measured and revised, and that what is wrong in them be put right.

 

If the State moves from the Christian covenantal ethic to a humanistic ethic the Church will either be progressively silenced on issue after issue, or it will be forced to be brought into an increasingly open opposition. It is far better for the Church to be fighting on fundamentally spiritual grounds than being vexed with particular issues that might never have arisen had the Church the courage and wisdom to fight where it ought to have taken its stands.

 


The Cayman Islands are within the ancient Episcopal Jurisdiction of The Bishop of London granted by the Crown in 1634.
© The Ecclesiastical Corporation, Cayman Islands