So far, all i have described is a situation in which all ethical discourse is shut down – there are no questions to be asked – but how do we know that the moral exhortation we are hearing is right – how do we avoid the inevitable trump card from the Confessors.
The two ‘predictable reactions’ make people highly antagonistic toward each other.
loss of critical ability – regards the self-flagellants as deficient as ‘knowers’ and therefore not properly morally responsible agents.
loss of self-awareness – an audience that is entirely this way stifles questions – regards questioning as an exacerbation of guilt
we can only ‘do ethics’ as people who are caught within the stream – therefore our role as hearers of ethical discourse requires both critique and confession.
I personally found the evening disquieting. I think that was probably intended. I’ve just finished reading through the text of the lecture again and marking down some of my thoughts and responses.
The preponderance of the Biblical weight of argument rests in the Old Testament. This always makes me a little suspicious: it’s not the case that the New Testament is short on ethical reflection. What happened?
Well, particularly in the realms of political ethics, it can seem that the Old Testament has more to say about our situation because it addresses its ethics to a national polity. In contrast, the New Testament directs its discussions of distributive justice and political ethics into a context in which the reader is assumed to occupy a politically disempowered social role. In short, the New Testament seems to have a lot to say about ethical relationships within the Church and towards our neighbours, but little direct application to large scale political-social questions. Whereas, Old Testament ethics is addressed to a nation, and therefore appears much more useful for a question of national social justice.
When it comes to elaborating a Biblical perspective on the theft of land, and corporate responsibility – the two key ethical considerations behind Dr Adam’s argument – the question of whether we are in an analogous relation to Israel as a national polity becomes extremely important.
1. Theft of Land.
The basic theological assumption of Dr Adam’s argument is that God is sovereign over the world and its inhabitants. He created and sustains the land, and has given particular lands to particular people (and I would add: given people to the land).
“In many situations we do not know if God’s will includes the re-allocation of land. However our best moral rule for individuals and nations is to assume that theft is wrong. Even if we suspected that someone did not have full legal rights to the land on which they lived, we would not think it right to dispossess them: why would our rights be any more legitimate?”
“… loving our neighbours includes respecting what we call their property”
“… there have been many examples in human history of invasion and the taking over of the ownership of land. Similarly, there have been many examples of private theft over the history of the human race. We would not therefore defend or justify theft.”
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I believe that Dr Adam is aware of this difficulty (as was John Saunders 171 years ago). At a number of points he attempts to address these concerns and I think his argument is basically sound even if, on further investigation, the Biblical foundations may turn out to be shaky (I’m not even willing to say that they are, I might just need to be further instructed). Ultimately, I think that the same arguments could be mounted successfully on other (equally Biblical) foundations.
The Ethics of Reconciliation:
powerlessness – it is a contradiction of the divinity of humanity – the contradiction of their ability to judge rightly, to determine good and evil. The almost irresistable temptation in the face of this experience is to seek a new form of mastery. violence or asceticism. In either case, a profoundly flawed doctrine of reconciliation.
An aporia – a point through which we cannot pass. the problem of being The Wrong-Doer, and one who is called upon to ‘do justice’
Sometimes the discourse of reconciliation in our country simply fails to deal with this vital point. We cannot be both the Wrong-doer, and the Arbiter of our own guilt. It is precisely the pressure of guilt that tempts us to believe that we can.
The need for a mediator – if justice is to be done it must be complete justice, the total weighing of causes and effects
This is not simply a strategy to refer all justice to the final Judgement Day. There are just decisions to be made within the time allotted to us now, even if they can only be provisional in light of the end. Genuine justice would be best served by having a third party involved, perhaps an international tribunal competent to accurately determine the extent of damage and a just means of restitution.
1. theft of the land – the idea that God allots each people their land. Equal biblical warrant for the claim that God removes people from their land and gives it to others. Without specific biblical warrant, we are equally able to draw the one conclusion as the other. Peter Adam responds: even when God determines that one nation should displace another, he still holds them accountable for excessive violence in the manner of so doing. The difficulty of deploying this concept, all conquest is violent. It is simply not enough to say that the land was stolen – without a clear Biblical warrant we could also conclude that it may have been given.
2. The key ethical concept which underpins Peter Adam’s address is the notion of corporate responsibility – biblical theology – covenantal relationships – God and the nations – are there clear biblical cases in which corporate responsibility is on view in direct relations between nations? Rather, the taking of vengeance on the relatives of a wrong-doer is generally regarded as ethically suspect. The overwhelming drive of the OT Law is to limit the extent to which vengeance can be taken in order to serve the interests of justice.
this clearly does not excuse a case in which no recompense has been made, and in which the wronged party is clearly weaker.
2 (a) the limits of corporate responsibility – how far back does injustice go?
3. What difference does the gospel make? Do we need to address the Church as both political and spiritual reality? The problem with the Church being the recipient of government money (I’m a hypocrite, I take fee-help). Roman and Jew in the NT – the Church as the community of the reconciled. ‘One new man’. The Church cares for its poor out of love and solidarity, not out of justice. Speaking purely from within the Church, is it correct to say that Anglo-Australian Christians have a responsibility to compensate their Aboriginal-Australian brothers and sisters? (holding off for a moment the question of whether they have this responsibility as members of the Australian polity