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RELIGIOUS FOUNDATIONS FOR A GLOBAL ETHIC An Interdisciplinary Exploration Robert B. McLaren TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter One: The Moral Proclivity "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within." Immanuel Kant Are we born with a sense of right and wrong? Some answer the question with a resounding yes, while others wince at its seeming absurdity. The Nurnberg trials after world War Two , evinced that much of western civilization, at least as represented by the jurists involved and the public press, concurred that the war criminals knew "in their hearts" that their actions were wrong and they should have disobeyed their Nazi superiors. The traditions of philosophy, psychology and religions have responded to this question in distinct ways, sharp differences even within the disciplines. An Introductory Overview a. Origins of Philosophy and Religion b. Contributions from Leading Religions East and West c. Interfacing with Psychology A. Four Philosophical Traditions Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, Existentialism B. Contributions from Leading Religions East and West Eastern: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism Western: Judaism, Christianity, Islam C. Interfacing With Psychology and Related Disciplines Experimental, Psychoanalysis, and Developmental with a special note on Sociobiology and Neuro-physiology. D. Implications for Global Ethics While each of the disciplines briefly explored here offer different approaches to understanding the human quest for moral certainty and a better life for all, there is clearly some common ground. They provide a kind of lens through which we may proceed to consider the nature and prospects of the moral person, the family as moral context, and other matters which comprise the balance of this undertaking. Chapter Two: The Moral Person I myself am heaven and hell. Omar Khayyam Two souls dwell, alas! in my breast. Goethe's Faust From the standpoint of evolution it may be that the emergence of sentient, loving, moral beings is the most significant event in cosmic history. Anthropocentrism aside, we are surely a unique creature in our solar system; there is no evidence for anything comparable. Self awareness ( which most higher animals exhibit) is not yet self-transcendence, the capacity to stand apart from one's self and judge even one's moral judgments. But from the Roman Lucretius to Charles Darwin, and more recent naturalists, alternative views of human nature challenge us to re-examine the issues of the nature and destiny of the species. Are we essentially animals destined to claw our way to whatever eminence we can achieve; machine-like creatures to be programmed; beings at some balancing point between the physical and spiritual ? A. The Idea of Personhood B. Fostering Personal Morality C. Contributions of Major Religions D. Variations on the Golden Rule: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Unitarianism, Zoroastrianism E. Insights from the Social Sciences F. Implications for Global Ethics Chapter Three: The Family as Moral Context Filial piety is the root of all virtue, and the stem out of which grows all moral teaching. Confucius Among the most popular of cliches is one that insists "the younger generation is going to the dogs," and another that lays the blame at the doorstep of the family. Despite much talk of "family values" and a 1994 Congressional institution of "National Parents Day," families in America as well as in Britain and Europe show serious signs of disintegration. It is not simply a case of benign change when the rise in divorce rates is paralleled by rises in child abuse, abandonment, homicide, runaways, and a 250% increase in teen age suicide within a single decade. Yet since the ancient Confucius, it has been understood that a secure family system is essential to a secure society, and honoring one's family is one of the foundations of a moral society. A. Some Historic Configurations B. Light from Six Major Religions East and West C. Changing Families, Changing Mores D..Parenting Issues: To Be or Not to Be 1. The Sex-Gender Tug of War: Religious Perspectives 2. Children and Youth:Preparation for Life 3. Is the Nuclear Family Obsolete? E. Implications for Global Ethics. Chapter Four: Can Schools Create an Ethical Society? Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know, but teaching them to behave as they do not now behave. John Ruskin Educators have traditionally been optimistic about their role in inculcating the standard virtues of their societies in their students. Patriotism; respect for the life, property and the beliefs of others; basic honor and decency have been among the values they have sought to preserve and pass along. Yet there are critics who insist that, while we can certainly teach rules and coerce conformity, morality is beyond the scope of pedagogy. A brief disclosure of the debate throughout the history of formal education will be a useful prelude for what follows. A. The Evolution of Formal Education 1. The Graeco-Roman Era 2. The Dark Ages, Reformation and Beyond 3. The Assumed Moral Mandate B. Families, Congregations and Schools in Interaction C. Religion and Education in a Pluralistic Culture D. Implications For Global Ethics Chapter Five: The Just Society Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr Since Aristotle's dictum that justice must be rooted either in divine law, or "primal order" (phusai dikaion), those who followed him accepted the notion that a just society must be based on law and order. But if such governance is imposed by tyrants who scorn the sacred, and the people have rejected divine guidance as a myth (as largely happened in the l8th century's "Age of Reason," ), where will justice be found? Are the roots of its opposite, injustice, to be found in some perversity of human nature, or in warped social structures? Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that justice derives from law, but that the law is simply what the courts decide. Is this a sufficient conclusion? What if the courts are wrong? In an effort to explore these issues, we will consider the following: A. The Nature of Justice B. Religious Sources of Justice C. Sources of Injustice; Religious Reflections D. The Issue of Human Rights E. The Primacy of Human Rights F. Implications for Global Ethics Chapter Six: Morality and the Community of Culture All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree. Albert Einstein Developmentalists are aware that we do not grow up in a cultural vacuum, but our values are molded and shaped in large measure by the artifacts and icons of our cultures. From earliest cave paintings to the soaring cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the sculptures of Michelangelo, the music of Mozart and the writings Shakespeare to the present day, the arts have both reflected and inspired the values of their times. Culture implies all the patterns and products of learned behavior, and this includes the sciences as well as the arts, which have challenged the easy assumptions, including moral and ethical assumptions, of every generation. A. Religion and the Arts B. Religious Reflections on Science C. Science and Religion in Dialogue D. Technology: Benefits and Challenges E. Implications for Global Ethics. Chapter Seven: Value Conflicts in a Pluralistic Society The measure of a civilization is how it respects the rights of its weakest members. Katherine Dowling Political Upheavals, economic necessity, religious inspiration as well as persecutions have prompted countless numbers of people to resettle in lands foreign to them, and to take their languages, religions and social customs along. As new minorities, their traditions often clash with those of the resident majorities, and these customs along with racial and ethnic differences provoke unanticipated conflicts. Even within more homogeneous societies there are certain "hot button" issues that incite hostilities. Religious groups may seek to gain legal bans on sexual and medical practices, enforce their unique ceremonies and taboos, impose dietary habits including food prohibitions. Civic groups may seek to enforce or eliminate bans on such practices as gambling, abortion and stem cell research, etc. Each of the major religious traditions has its own approach to resolving these issues from which may be devised a workable, mutually compatible ethical system. We will try to deal with these areas first in broad categories, then focus more narrowly on specific issues. A. Migrations; Religious and Cultural Perspectives B. Majority Rule vs. Minority Rights C. Freedom vs. Ideological Coercion D. Some "Hot-Button" Issues 1. Ecology's Impending Crisis 2. Gender and the Defining of Roles 3. Freedom to Choose? Abortion 4. Freedom to Choose? Homosexuality E. Implications for Global Ethics Chapter Eight: Morality and the Culture of Violence History is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes. Voltaire Humankind has been termed "the tool-making animal," and "the thinking animal. " Students of Socrates even entertained such designations as "the only animal that cooks its food," and "the only featherless biped." We might also be called the violent animal, the only species that persistently and with technical ingenuity wars against our own kind, not only on the battlefields but in our streets and homes. We prize violent combat for amusement, and the media exploits our thirst for sex and mayhem. Yet we are also a species that, among our better exemplars and even perhaps most of us in our better moments, worry about all this. The latent and often suppressed urge to love and protect our neighbors, and even in extremis to love our enemies, continues to haunt some deep, inner chamber of judgment. A. Death as Entertainment: Freedom and Responsibility B. The Death Penalty; A Dead End?
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