Monday, May 16, 2005

Reclaiming Moral Language: Part 1

In a recent post on stem cell research, I made reference to the reality that our culture is adept at euphamizing its way out of morality. We give palatable and semi-scientific names to technologies and actions that, if called by their real names, would raise ethical concerns. Jeff from Dawn Treader posed an important question: how should we go about combating this loss of moral language and reestablish a moral language in the church? Good and vital question indeed.

A recent read of mine dealt briefly with this issue. In his book, The Revenge of Conscience, J. Budziszewski lists a handful of means we can use to confront the loss of moral language; in the context of his book, it is a loss or suppression of moral memory. The book as a whole is a great read. His style of writing is abundantly clear and almost disarmingly straightforward. I recommend it as a thoughtful and clear piece of moral reasoning. Near the end of the work he lists several ‘tactics’ he sees as helpful in trying to help people regain or remember moral realities. The book deals with the establishment of moral language in the public square, and that is what I want to note here, but I also want to address the concept of reclaiming moral language within the church in another post.

He calls the first the act of dissipating smoke. Most people’s objections to Christianity are masked in pseudo-philosophical language, and many times helping them recognize their deeper issues can be illuminating. The next two are connecting the dots and releasing the catch. These refer to the acts of helping people see their way through their own denials or the logical extensions of their own train of thought. More and more I think it is a truism that many people have trained themselves to think poorly so they can feel justified in their own conclusions.

Budziszewski labels the next two approaches playing back the tape and calling attention to the obvious. By these examples he means to tell us that when we discuss with people in the form of well guided questions and questions that fold back on their own comments, we may be able to open them up to their suppression of moral issues. The Socratic method is a powerful tool, and for some of us, it is a difficult tool to master.

The last item on the list besides prayer is what he calls tightening the noose. There will come times in our discussion with people that we will be able to press an issue philosophically and talk our interlocutor into their own corner. Probably the most common form this kind of discussion may take in our cultural climate it the matter of truth. Many commentators on this blog, for instance, have disputed the existence of anything like absolute or objective truth. Those comments are easy to dispense with-if those writers really did not believe in objective truth, they literally could not, and therefore, would not disagree with me.

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