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BibleExploring Christian Ethics

A friend of mine is taking a class on Christian ethics and asked me to look at the textbook. So, I have put together an analysis of Exploring Christian Ethics by Kyle Fedler. As usual, I will be taking a cognitive perspective. I should emphasize that my purpose in analyzing this book is not to focus specifically upon the thinking of the author but rather to gain a general understanding of the type of ethical reasoning that is being used in Christian circles.

Explicit Vs. Implicit Image Of God

In order to analyze this book properly, we need to look at the difference between an explicit image of God and an implicit one. We shall see in this book that these two are not necessarily the same.

I was taught to approach theological questions from a doctrinal perspective: Find the Bible verses that talk about a subject and then use logic to reason from these verses. Obviously, this method is only applicable for people who believe in the content of the Bible. My hypothesis is that it is possible to analyze both religious and scientific thought from the starting point of a cognitive model, and I describe this in more detail in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules. A cognitive model provides a far more universal basis for religious discussion, because one can analyze how a mental concept of God forms even if one does not believe in the existence of God. However, I have still assumed that quoting Bible verses is the valid form of discussion when interacting with people who say that they are biblically based Christians.

As I continue to analyze the books of Christian authors, I am gradually coming to the conclusion that cognitive factors play a major role in determining doctrine even when authors are quoting directly from the Bible. This is especially true when analyzing an author’s concept of God. An author’s explicit concept of God is the one that he talks about, which he may carefully define using quotes from the Bible. His implicit concept of God is the one that results from cognitive mechanisms. I have suggested that a mental concept of a universal God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Thus, an author’s implicit concept of God can be determined by the overall theme that is applied to personal existence. In other words, what is the underlying structure that brings order to the complexity of the author’s life? These two concepts of God—the explicit and the implicit—are not necessarily the same.

Similarly, if one wishes to challenge a person’s concept of God, then quoting from the Bible is not necessarily the best way, even if that person himself is quoting from the Bible. That is because each person is viewing the Bible through the cognitive lens of his implicit concept of God, and throwing Bible verses into the situation probably is not going to make a difference—even if these verses agree with the explicit concept of God that the author is proclaiming. That is because there is a cognitive disconnect in the person’s mind between his explicit and implicit concepts of God.

If a person has not developed a general theory that applies to people, then his explicit concept of God will probably dominate. However, if he has taken the time to think issues through carefully and develop a coherent worldview, then his implicit concept of God will become dominant, regardless of his words or the verses that he quotes.

This means that we all have a finite window in which we can construct a concept of God. If we do not use our thinking to explicitly build a concept of God by searching for order-within-complexity that applies to personal identity, then the order-within-complexity that we do discover will eventually form an implicit concept of God within our minds.

In essence, we are looking here at a religious version of Thomas Kuhn’s description of paradigm changes. In the same way that mere facts are usually insufficient to change a scientist’s paradigm, so mere Bible verses are usually insufficient to change a Christian’s concept of God. This does not mean that facts and verses are irrelevant. Instead, one must recognize that facts and verses are always being evaluated in the emotional light of some paradigm/concept of God. And, this light can become so blinding that a person loses the ability to evaluate facts and verses.

Thomas Kuhn says that once the typical scientist acquires a paradigm, he is incapable of changing it. Similarly, I am coming to the conclusion that once the typical Christian believer acquires a mental concept of God, he is incapable of choosing to change it. This does not mean that such change is impossible. Thomas Kuhn states that when a paradigm becomes sufficiently inadequate, then most scientists are capable of leaving it and adopting a new paradigm. Similarly, it is possible for a person to change his concept of God if it becomes sufficiently inadequate.[1]

Obviously, this same analysis applies to me, for I view the Bible through the lens of the theory of mental symmetry. If this is true, then how can my analysis be trusted? I suggest that the answer lies in simplicity and completeness. If a person can analyze a verses of the Bible in a straightforward fashion, then this indicates that his theoretical lens is not warping his reading of scripture. And, if a person can explain a broad range of scriptural passages without having to limit his quotes to a few proof texts, then that is also a good sign. In essence, I am simply reiterating principles of sound exegesis.

With this in mind, let us look at Fedler’s book on morality.

Basis for Morality

Fedler points out in the preface that “All Christians know that the Bible is an essential resource, but when it comes to formulating a core here and ethical framework they are often confused about how to use the Bible responsibly” (p.ix). Thus, Fedler recognizes the need to base ethics in a coherent framework.

Because this is such a significant point, I will quote the entire paragraph where Fedler describes the basis for his ethical framework: “‘Why do you think humility is a virtue?’ To this question my response would begin with an appeal to Scripture’s call for humility. But if a person asked why the Bible thinks humility is a virtue, I would have to tell a much larger story about God’s greatness and our human sinfulness. The story would be a Christian interpretation of who God is, what God has done, who human beings are, and what our destiny is. In other words, humility is a virtue in Christianity because of the grand narrative we tell about God, Jesus Christ, creation, human sinfulness, and the redemption on the cross, in addition to an explanation of how we are called to be servants because our Lord became a servant. To explain why humility is part of what it means to be a good person would require an explanation of why humility is a constitutive part of what it means to be a good Christian, because my understanding of ‘good person’ is defined by my Christian faith” (p.36).

Thus, we see that Fedler does not have a universal basis for morality, instead he has a Christian basis; he believes in a virtue because it is a Christian virtue. However, he does not take the purely fundamentalist view of basing his ethics in the Bible. Instead, he goes one step further and summarizes Biblical doctrine as a ‘grand narrative’. However, it is still a Christian narrative and not a universal narrative. In Fedler’s words, “No ethicist is free to completely ignore the Bible and still claim to be a Christian ethicist. What unites all Christian ethicists is their common appeal to the revelation of God as witnessed in Scripture” (p.52).

I suggest that this is because there is a fundamental contradiction between the methodology of a ‘Christian ethicist’ and the message of a ‘Christian ethicist’. The methodology is fundamentalism: “What unites all Christian ethicists is their common appeal to the revelation of God as witnessed in Scripture.” The message is monotheism: “There is only one God and that God is absolutely sovereign...God is the ruler and lord of the universe.” This leads one to the conclusion that a person can only truly claim to be a Christian ethicist if he comes up with a system of ethics that can ‘completely ignore the Bible’ while still being consistent with the content of the Bible. Otherwise, the methodology will distort the message.

Fedler describes the essence of the Biblical message about God. He states that “There is only one God and that God is absolutely sovereign...God is the ruler and lord of the universe; there is no power greater than or even equal to God” (p.69). He then states that God’s sovereignty has two ethical implications. First, nothing else in the world is absolute or worthy of worship. Second, no other power can ultimately thwart the will of God (p.70). Going further, he adds that “God creates out of love and therefore creates with a purpose, consequently, one of the foundational ethical presumptions of Christianity is that the world is orderly and purposive. It is our task, as creatures of a God who creates with a purpose, to discern God’s will for us and for our fellow creatures...there is a purpose, or telos, for all things, including humans” (p.74). And, he clarifies that “The God who brings order and life into the chaos and death of the universe is the God who brings order and life to our own tohu wa bohu” (p.75).

Putting these points together, we see that God is universal, emotional, and driven to create and build order. We also see that God has made creation with a purpose which cannot be thwarted, and that this purpose includes bringing order into our personal lives. These points, I suggest, are crucial for forming a universal morality. But, when one examines the rest of Fedler’s book, one comes to the conclusion that the methodology of fundamentalism is preventing Fedler from fully understanding the implications of what he is saying. On the one hand, he analyzes the purpose of God in detail, describing the various covenants which God has had with man throughout history. On the other hand, he replaces the concept of a universal, emotional, order-driven being with a Christian narrative. Science does the opposite: It is a search for the universal order that lies behind the physical world, and the scientist waxes emotional about this universal order. However, science rejects the idea that the universe has a purpose. Thus we see that science studies universality but rejects morality, while Fedler describes morality but glosses over universality.

Natural Moral Law

Fedler’s book basically ignores science except for one section in which he relegates scientific research to the level of specific information: “Scientific data cannot determine the general ethical stance that Christian should take. Nevertheless they do provide invaluable information that Christians can employ in making their judgements. While we should always read scientific data with an awareness of the limitations of the methods employed and with sensitivity to the origins and biases of the study, science can provide levels of information that are simply beyond the expertise of most Christians, even professional ethicists” (p.66). This is a valid statement, however I suggest that it confuses what science usually does with what science ideally does. As Thomas Kuhn points out, the typical scientist spends most of his time working out detailed technical problems and not constructing general scientific theories. Thus, Fedler’s limited acceptance of science makes sense when examining what scientists usually do. But, if one is to form a universal basis for morality, then I suggest that one must learn from ideal science, and search for universal order and natural law.

Fedler describes the search for natural moral law: “Christian natural law theorists argue that even without Scripture we can know a great deal about how human beings are supposed to behave toward God and one another. Most natural law theorists, such as Thomas Aquinas, argue that the moral laws revealed through observation of the world and through the use of human reason will never contradict Scripture (if properly interpreted), since the God who creates and a God who reveals God’s self in Scripture are one and the same” (p.65). Fedler’s advice is sound. If God is a universal being as Fedler states, and if the God of Scripture is the same as the God of the natural world as Fedler states, then it is imperative to search for universal moral law.

However, Fedler concludes that “Protestants, with their emphasis on sin (note how this is an element of the Protestant tradition) have generally been suspicious of such appeals, arguing that human reason is too deformed by sin to function as a proper guide for human behavior” (p.65). But, we are surrounded by evidence which is inconsistent with this statement, because we live in a technological world in which human behavior has been globally transformed by fallen humans who have used human reason to study universal natural law. Meanwhile, Christian theorists are still theorizing largely at the level of Christian narrative while Christian believers struggle to resist the worldviews of fallen men. Thus, the entire modern world contradicts the Protestant assertion that fallen man is incapable of comprehending and acting in accordance with the universal order of God, and the typical atheistic, scientifically trained, fallen human is far better at using human reason than the typical Bible believing, God worshipping, saved Christian.

Does this mean that Christianity is false or that man is not fallen? Not at all. Scientific thought is profound when dealing with topics which do not touch the human heart, but becomes quite jumbled when attempting to analyze the subjective. Thus, fallen man is capable of saving his world but he is incapable of saving himself. And, historically speaking, Christian thought gave birth to science. Thus, fallen man is only capable of saving his world because the Bible originally taught him how to think. Saying this another way, modern ‘fallen man’ has succeeded in transforming the physical world because he has applied the Christian message to the periphery of his existence, while the modern ‘Christian’ remains mentally stuck because he is clinging to the method of fundamentalism.

When science with its universal rational theories transforms the entire world, then this creates a very potent worldview (through the formation of mental networks), and this worldview will determine a person’s ethics. Fedler makes this connection quite forcefully: “If Christians really do act and feel differently than the rest of the world, and we are at all distinguishable from nonbelievers in terms of morality, it is because of what we believe about the universe...because Christians see the world differently, they act differently. If Christian morality has been overrun by secular morality, that is only a symptom. The underlying cause is that many Christians no longer view the world from a Christ-centered and biblical perspective” (p.12). A “biblical perspective” may have sufficed to give birth to scientific thought, but now that science has developed universal theories and has used these theories to transform the globe, a Christian narrative is no longer an adequate basis for morality. That is because, as Fedler states, secular beliefs about the universe have created a world view, this worldview has become the basis for ethics, and this system of secular morality has overrun Christian morality. Here too, I suggest that a distinction needs to be made. Science applies the message of Christianity in a limited manner, whereas scientism insists that the Christian message must only be applied in a limited manner to the physical, natural, material world.

Fedler’s Reoccurring Theme

As one reads Fedler’s book, one notices a consistent theme being repeated. In simple terms, Christian morality is portrayed as the opposite of how the world normally behaves. Thus, Fedler’s ultimate reference point is secular morality, and Christianity becomes reduced to a counterculture which assumes the existence of a secular fallen world. We will now take a few pages to provide evidence for this conclusion.

When examining God’s relationship with the Jews, Fedler states that “it is worthwhile, however, to point out a major theme that runs throughout the Torah—the emphasis on protection of the vulnerable and weak” (p.106). It is true that one of the main symptoms of a lack of morality is that the strong take advantage of the weak. But, if one bases morality upon protection of the disadvantaged and the oppressed, then the final standard becomes lifting up those that society puts down. In contrast, a system of morality that is based in a universal being will attempt to apply law universally. Fedler recognizes this point: “The Bible is particularly concerned about ensuring that those persons without economic or political power get what they deserve and are not cheated by those in power” (p.106). However, one gets the impression that Fedler regards the byproduct of helping the dispossessed as more fundamental than the root principle of loving and serving a universal being: “Caring for the weakest, the marginalized, and the powerless is a characteristic mark of this new community” (p.108).

Fedler goes further to state “People should not always get what they deserve; they should get more than they deserve. Is not this the heart of the good news proclaimed by Jesus? Is not this exactly what Paul means what he preaches that “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’” (p.108). There is a place for going above and beyond the call of duty but I suggest that it has to do with God and not the poor. For instance, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven...When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6).

If one realizes that God is a universal being, then Jesus’ statements can be seen as a contrast between Kant’s categorical imperative and his hypothetical imperative—a distinction which Fedler describes on page 22 but then ignores. When one gives a person what they deserve, then one is living according to Kant’s hypothetical imperative; the connection between cause and effect is being maintained. However, following Kant’s categorical imperative gives a person more than they deserve; it is motivated not by cause and effect but rather by the universal character of God—a law is being obeyed because it can be described in a universal manner.

Cognitively speaking, this is how a person becomes righteous—or acquires a character that is consistent with the nature of God. Giving a person what he deserves leads to a mindset that is law abiding. Giving a person more than he deserves leads to a mindset that is righteous. Thus, the primary goal should not be to give the poor more than they deserve, but rather to obey the Father and be rewarded by the Father; this approach focuses upon God rather than humans. Fedler says that Jews “must live lives that reflect their devotion to God by demonstrating the kind of justice and mercy that characterizes the very nature of God” (p.92). But, what Fedler emphasizes is not being like God but rather being unlike the other nations: “They are to be God’s special people... God calls them to be different, to be what Walter Brueggemann calls an ‘alternative community’. They are to be unlike all the peoples and nations around them, including the nation they once called home, Egypt” (p.92).

In a similar vein, when describing the prophets, Fedler says, “It is simply impossible to be a follower of the true God and not show concern for one’s neighbor. Those who worship Yahweh and fail to do justice are, in a very real sense, failing to worship Yahweh. If they are unconcerned with the fact that widows are starving, if they are deaf to the cries of orphans were being denied justice in the courts, if they are getting rich at the expense of the poor, then they are worshipping some other god since our God cares deeply about those people who are considered the outcasts of society” (p.130). This is a valid observation. Denying justice to widows and orphans is a major sign that one is not following Christian ethics, but the ultimate goal must remain applying justice universally. If one wishes to construct a coherent system of Christian ethics then the final reference point must be the universal God and not specific individuals whom society has rejected.

The same concept is repeated when talking about the teachings of Jesus: “Andrew, Simon, James, and John are called to leave everything they know. Jesus asked them to give up their old ways, their financial security, the relative comfort of their homes and friends... All four men are called to give up family, home, and security in order to follow a traveling preacher from a remote village in the north of Israel. To follow Jesus means a total reorientation of their lives” (p.139). Again, this is a true observation. But the focus should be upon pursuing the kingdom of God and not upon denying human existence. As Jesus says in Matthew 19, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for my name sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” We see that leaving the old that is not the bottom line, but rather leaving it for the sake of Jesus’ name, and the ultimate goal is to inherit eternal life.

Again one receives the impression that the bottom line for Fedler is disrupting the status quo: “The kingdom of God represents a great reversal of the status quo. It is not just a continuation of the current situation but marks revolutionary and unimaginable reversal. Richard Hayes describes it this way: ‘The appearing of the kingdom of God in Jesus ruptures the status quo, just as new wine bursts old wineskins.’ Jesus embodies the kingdom of God, and much of his ministry involves subverting the status quo by raising up the outcast, suppressed, and downtrodden and bringing down the rich, proud, and comfortable” (p.145). By definition, the kingdom of a universal being submits to universal law. When the focus is upon rupturing the status quo, bringing down the rich, and raising up the downtrodden, then one is heading in the direction of liberation theology and not building the kingdom of God.

Similarly, “If we are to do the work of the kingdom, we must overcome hatred, injustice, and violence by siding with the outcast, the powerless, and the unpopular” (p.152). Likewise, it means standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed against self-serving politicians, against multinational corporations when the focus solely on profit, against international policies that seek to perpetuate a system in which the rich get ever richer at the expense of the poor” (p.160). Again, Fedler’s complaints are valid. But one does not stand in solidarity with the poor; rather, one stands in solidarity with God. And, when one submits to God, then one will apply laws universally without respect of person or status.

Jesus’ statements against divorce are also interpreted in the light of societal oppression: “Since there was little possibility for women to gain employment, divorce left many women destitute and helpless... No longer can men discard women at will, rendering them social outcasts. As is so often the case, Jesus is here displaying his unrelenting concern for the less powerful. This prohibition against divorce, therefore, represents Jesus’ effort to protect the weaker members of society against the whims of the more powerful ones” (p.161). In contrast, Malachi 2 says, “Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, and him who covers his garment with wrong, says the Lord of hosts.” The focus here is upon preserving internal integrity and long-term commitment, and we see a universal being emotionally reacting against a lack of personal integrity.

Restating this in the language of mental symmetry, a concept of God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Teacher thought wants order-within-complexity and finds it emotionally painful when there is complexity without order. Divorce fragments personal identity at a very deep level and faces a concept of God with irreconcilable complexity. Thus, cognitively speaking, God hates divorce.

The Sabbath is also interpreted in the light of social injustice: “for Jesus the Sabbath is an anticipation of the reign of God, when toil, competition, and hierarchy are put aside” (p.165). There is a Sabbath rest, but keeping the Sabbath also has a cognitive byproduct. The mind can use either concrete thought or abstract thought. A Sabbath rest prohibits the use of concrete thought, giving a person no choice but to use abstract thought. This is like telling a child to sit in the corner and think. The development of abstract thought is important in religion because a concept of a universal being emerges when a universal theory in abstract thought applies to personal identity. Consistent with this, Leviticus 26 talks about Israel being sent into exile to experience all of its missed Sabbaths, and during the Babylonian exile, Judaism was transformed into a synagogue based religion that used abstract thought.

Finally, the sermon on the mount is also defined in terms of social injustice: “Once again, we can see how Jesus is defining a kingdom ethic. In the kingdom of God, it is not the rich, satisfied, laughing, and admired that are the focus of God’s blessing. In a world where God’s values overwrite human values and expectations, it is the poor, the hungry, the hated, and the excluded that are blessed by God” (p.170). It is true that God’s values need to overwrite human values. But, what really matters to a universal being is universal law, not lifting up one group of people over another group.

Summing up, I have suggested that an attitude of fundamentalism leads to the byproducts of religious self-denial and intellectual inadequacy. In other words, if I submit to the words of a book that are written by a Very Important Person, that I will conclude that I am a nobody by comparison and that my thoughts are worthless compare to the thoughts expressed by this book. One finds the concept of intellectual inadequacy in Fedler’s rejection of natural theology. And, one finds a generalized version of religious self-denial in Fedler’s exaltation of social justice. Unlike the typical fundamentalist, he is not just telling people to deny childish personal identity, an approach which takes the believer ‘out of Egypt’ but leaves him to ‘die in the wilderness’. At the individual level, he recognizes that personal desires can be transformed and should not just be suppressed—one can go ‘through the wilderness to the promised land.’ But, he does appear to be telling people to deny the culture that results from pursuing childish personal identity. Thus, at the group level he still appears to be falling into the mental trap of fundamentalism. And, this negative goal of denying fallen culture is being turned into a universal law that is affecting his concept of God. Instead, the concept of a universal God should lead to the concept of a kingdom of God that is based in universal principles, which should lead to the positive goal of implementing these universal principles.

Virtue Ethics

We have looked at the major shortcoming in Fedler’s approach. However, his book also contains a number of important insights which we will now examine. He advocates the viewpoint of virtue ethics, and mentions the following significant characteristics:

“Virtue ethics shifts the focus from particular, discrete actions to the person who is performing the action” (p.35). In the language of mental symmetry, this says that what really matters is the mental networks that drive personal behavior.

“We confront moral situations with a history of moral decision-making and character development that goes back to our earliest childhood. The very fact that we recognize a situation as moral or immoral is the result of a long history of decision-making that reflects and shapes our character” (p.37). In the language of mental symmetry, it is when the mental networks that guide behavior are being formed that free will is being exercised and choices are being made. Therefore, acting morally means making the right choices over a long period of time even when it does not appear important.

When a ‘moral dilemma’ does arise, then behavior will probably be guided by the mental networks that were built up over time: “Because of this deeply ingrained moral character, virtue ethicists contend than in most cases a virtuous person will not need to think about rules or principles, but will simply act in the virtuous manner because she has developed a certain type of character or set of virtues” (p.38).

As a result, what really matters is not analyzing moral dilemmas, but rather developing a consistent moral character over time: “Morality is less concerned with those rare instances in which we have to make difficult moral decisions, and more with what Birch and Rasmussen elegantly call the ‘quiet social vocation of soulcraft’” (p.35).

Mental symmetry suggests that behavior is ultimately driven by mental networks. Mental networks are emotional structures which lead to desires, and both emotion and desire occur prior to choice. In the language of mental symmetry, Mercy -> Exhorter -> Contributor. “In virtue ethics, there is a considerable emphasis on intention and motive. It is not enough that a person does what is right; a person must do what is right with the right motive, intention, feeling, or disposition. The truly virtuous person desires to do what is right” (p.39).

Mercy emotions by themselves cannot be trusted because they are unstable. However a combination of Perceiver truth and Mercy emotions leads to value, and value makes moral evaluation possible. “Since emotions are derived from what we value, we can learn to transform our emotions by changing our values. Through prayer, study, imagination, and action, we can transform our emotional response to the world around us” (p.41).

These preceding points are all extremely important. The problem is that they all apply to concrete thought; they describe what happens when concrete thought is being transformed. What is missing from Fedler’s analysis is an understanding of abstract thought and the essential role that it plays in transforming concrete thought. Fedler actually describes what is missing in religious terms: “We no longer base our understanding of the good person on what the world tells us, but rather on what we learn about God through Jesus Christ. We become set apart, sanctified. This does not mean that we take a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. We are made holy only insofar as God transforms us. God is the central actor in our transformation; therefore, we have nothing to boast about” (p.43). Unfortunately, Fedler does not analyze what it means to be transformed by a universal being. He says the right words, but then instead of proclaiming the kingdom of God, his ultimate reference point is still the fallen kingdom of man.

Secular Ethical Philosophy

On page 44, Fedler mentions the four cardinal virtues, which were originally developed by Greek thinkers. These are wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. These can be analyzed from a cognitive viewpoint. It appears that they describe what is required for Facilitator thought to function in a healthy manner. In the right hemisphere, Facilitator thought requires solid Perceiver facts together with the ability to examine Mercy experiences in the light of these Perceiver facts. Justice describes the presence of solid Perceiver facts, while temperance approaches Mercy experiences in a balanced and moderate manner, guided by the facts of justice. In the left hemisphere, Facilitator thought requires solid Server sequences together with the ability to adjust words and actions in the light of Server sequences. Courage is the ability to perform Server actions and carry out Server sequences, while wisdom is the ability to adjust words and actions in the light the current situation.

Facilitator thought observes and balances the rest of the mind. Therefore, even though the cardinal virtues describe the requirements for Facilitator thought, they also apply to the mind as a whole. However, I suggest that they should be regarded as secondary virtues and not as primary virtues. That is because programming the mind is even more cardinal than operating the mind. In computer terms, the cardinal virtues describe a computer that is functioning properly, but do not address the question of what programs are being run on that computer. Thus, the Greeks could be fighting among themselves incessantly and practicing slavery while still regarding themselves as virtuous.

In contrast, Fedler’s approach of virtue ethics does address deeper issues of mental programming and underlying motivation. Unfortunately, Fedler only analyzes the concrete side of this process, while quoting the abstract side from the Bible without analyzing it. Notice that the deontology of Kant makes the opposite error of analyzing the abstract side of ethics without including the concrete or the personal side. Regarding God as a universal emotional person makes it possible to unite these two sides.

Fedler also looks at the approach of utilitarianism and points out three shortcomings. “First, Christians recognize values other than human well being. Especially to be rejected is hedonistic utilitarianism, which argues that pleasure is the only value that must be calculated and human pain the only disvalue” (p.31). This is a significant point, but I suggest that it is possible to stated in universal terms without having to resort to ‘the Christian narrative’. As Fedler points out, in order to determine value accurately, significant mental programming and reprogramming is required. Economics illustrates the futility of hedonistic utilitarianism because it replaces value with the external bottom line of money. It does not take much observation to conclude that making money a bottom line ends up destroying value.

“Second, the focus on human well-being and flourishing recognizes no limits upon human refuses to recognize divinely impose limits upon human action...Utilitarians assume that we can do anything and everything to increase human well-being and decrease human suffering” (p.32). Fedler is correct in stating that human transformation is not possible without divine assistance. However, in order to experience this divine assistance, one must first construct an adequate mental concept of God. Human effort is involved in constructing a mental concept of God, and it is possible to analyze this process rationally. As Fedler says, “The Christian life moves from the indicative to the imperative. In other words, we are first told what God has done (indicative) and then how we are to act in response (imperative)” (p.42).

“Third, many Christian ethicists claim that utilitarianism is too one-sided a moral theory because it places entirely too much emphasis on human action” (p.32). This is a valid complaint, however I suggest that Fedler’s analysis suffers from a similar flaw, because it too is a one-sided moral theory that places entirely too much emphasis on concrete human thought.

Fedler uses prima facie reasoning to examine ethical dilemmas. In other words, he suggests that an ethical rule such as ‘do not lie’ can be overruled in extenuating circumstances (p.25). He points out that one should not obey rules in a legalistic fashion, and this is a valid point. However, even if one abandons a legalism, I suggest that there still remains a deep motivation for regarding moral law as universal. Cognitively speaking, when Teacher thought experiences an exception to a universal rule, then the result is emotional pain—and a mental concept of God is based in a universal Teacher theory. Consistent with this, the Bible tells us that God is holy and cannot look upon sin.

Thus, worshipping and obeying a universal being implies viewing moral law from the viewpoint of universality. How then does one reconcile this with the fallen nature of man? First, when the mind is partially programmed then both understanding and application will be incomplete, and there will be apparent paradoxes along with moral dilemmas. The important thing is to realize that the ultimate fault lies with human inadequacy and not with the universal law of God. One must never bring God down to the level of fallen humanity. When one suggests that moral law itself suffers from paradox, then I suggest that one is actually defaming the character of a universal being.

When understanding and maturity are inadequate, then one will encounter situations in which moral laws appear to be colliding with one another. When this happens, then I suggest that one must never violate a law, but rather submit to a higher law. Responding in this way recognizes the inadequacy of human thought while heading in the direction of ever-growing understanding and application of universal moral law.

[1] Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigms has created a lot of controversy over the years. Therefore, I should point out that I do not view Thomas Kuhn’s book on paradigms as a paradigm. Instead, I see it as a collection of perceptive observations about the behavior of scientists. These observations correspond with my experiences and fit well into my paradigm which is the theory of mental symmetry. I am suggesting here that these observations apply to theologians as well as scientists.