Positive vs Negative Ethics

4 02 2008

Christians in America have (and are) been characterized by what they are against, rather than what they are for. This is generally a strange set of affairs as it seems, at least in my opinion, that Christianity has historically–especially in antiquity–been known for what it was for.

If it weren’t for the friggin’ Nazis I’d probably describe this contrast as Negative Christianity vs Positive Christianity, however the phrase “Positive Christianity” has its own definition invested by the sinister demagogues of the Nazi regime. Thus we’ll avoid that language altogether.

Rather than Christians defining their ethos in positive terms (i.e. what they are for), Christians have for some time now–at least on this continent–defined their ethos in negative terms.

I think this is a highly problematic ethos because in having a negative ethos rather than a positive one the ethical activity becomes, itself, negative. A positive ethos means an active positive ethical framework by which to act ethically. As opposed to reacting on the basis of a negative (e.g. being against) ethical framework.

A positive ethos would be this: Christians are for helping widows and orphans, taking care of the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating the liberation of the oppressed, welcoming the stranger and the outcast, loving one’s neighbor (including one’s enemies), blessing those who curse them, et cetera.

It ought to also include gender equality, racial equality, class equality, an authentic pro-life and pro-livelihood (in contrast to the fairly sterile anti-abortion ethic) ethic; being pro-justice (to restore and make right, not exact vengeance), et cetera.

This is, by no means, to say that our ethos should exclude the negative aspect, we should be against violence, against war, against injustice, inequality, bigotry, misogynism, and the like; but such negative ethics ought to only be there because of the already existing positive ones.

We ought to be known for what we are for, and only known for what we are against by contrast and comparison. If we are for peace, then that logically means we are against war. But we should be known for our pro-peace ethic and our activity to actually live-out peace into the world by the way we live our lives.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

-Jon

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One response

23 02 2008
Cory The Raven

I don’t disagree, but this immediately made me think of the “woes” in Luke’s rendition of the Beatitudes. Is that strain of “saved for/saved from” an intrinsic and inexorable part of Christianity?

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