Saturday, November 27, 2010

A return to the Ethics of Anabaptism with James McClendon

This first personal introduction to James McClendon was a return to my roots. Having been raised in an Anabaptist family and tradition, I was able to appreciate as never before how the ethics of this community coincides with the universal ethics that I now incorporate as my own life’s perspective. Many might shy away from a book that is not technically a part of “their worldview”, but I am at the point where I not only appreciate where I’ve come from, but I also want to learn more about how religion, atheism, humanism, secularism, philosophy, science, etc… all strive for what we consider to be the “good” or “truth”.

Theology is seen by McClendon as a “drive for truth”. So, theology (and Ethics) by his definition does not have to be inherently religious. He does say, however, that theology is a NARRATIVE. It is a way of living, and is not reducible to a single moral principle or value. Only through the course of a lived life can we see a specific moral pattern and place it in its context in time, place and community. That according to McClendon is what makes “Christian ethics” Christian, and, even though he doesn’t mention it, what would make “Muslim ethics” Muslim, etc… Where I find McClendon’s verbiage a bit misleading is that he seems to discard the universality of ethics. He downplays the importance of our basic relation to the “other” for the sake of elevating Christianity. I understand that in order to consider one’s self Christian, then it can only be done by the “Christian narrative”. However, I found his emphasis on the specifically Christian to be a bit too focused. The ethics of Christianity ARE present in other belief systems, but it will not be displayed in the “Christ narrative” or by acknowledging the supremacy of Christianity. However, is that what is ultimately important when we are considering the hungry, the weak, the oppressed and the poor?

I am appreciative of McClendon’s prophetic leaning Christianity in that we are to practice the high principles of that tradition (social justice, compassion, love) in the here and now. I just wish he would have looked for that common ground (which is there) in the other traditions a bit more, but that is my issue, and he clearly was out to show what it means to live the CHRISTIAN life vs. anything else. Although, I consider this recommended reading for its great insight into the Anabaptist tradition (including examples of lives such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dorothy Day), which is one that will resonate for anyone pursuing the causes of justice, universal truth and the guiding force of love.

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