The Primacy of Ethics in Christian Education

by Nestor Ravilas

They are re-posting every fake news available in the net. Call their attention on such impropriety and they would just shrug off their shoulders, then, tomorrow they would parade again another set of fake news from malicious sources. They love joining the throng in maligning those perceived enemies of the state. They are always ready to assist in everything they can in disseminating malicious rumors. And worst, they applaud and encourage the brutal killing of suspected addicts as if addiction is the most irreversible and irredeemable pathology this world could have, unmindful, on the other hand, of true and injurious criminals who are roaming free and unscathed simply because they are friends to the power. And just recently, they are up to provide biblical support on the reactivation of capital punishment, a legalized form of killing. These are professing Christians, known as leaders of both big and small religious congregations, Bible believing people. And that is the twist of this show!

The rise to power of President Duterte and the current actuations of the president himself plus the policies this administration is implementing with regard to the problem of illegal drugs is an interesting point of study. None would come as urgent, however, as the reaction of many religious people I succinctly mentioned above. As an educator myself, prior to Duterte’s rise to power, I find it a little harder to convince my students that the decision of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to eliminate Adolf Hitler so as to save more innocent lives during the Nazi period is a sign of Christian spirituality. I was always rebutted with the reasoning that however evil Hitler might be, killing him remains unchristian. Something gone awful, however, this past six months. Indeed, change has come. Six thousands suspected pushers and addicts were summarily executed. Our streets are littered with thirty dead bodies every night with their loved-ones and families sloshed in blood crying helplessly beside the carcasses. Disturbing more is the apathy of many Evangelical Christians on the carnage that is taking place every night. They would even join the crowd in posting in the internet pictures of alleged victims of drug addict criminals to justify the current effort to annihilate them. And just recently, they sing with the president in mocking those who value human rights to adopt an addict if they want to save them, otherwise, they must shut up and let this gruesome war on drugs to roll on. This reaction of many Evangelical Christians is baffling that compels us to ask, “Where did we go wrong in Christian education?”
What is particularly obvious with the problem I mentioned is ethics; it is all about relating with other people. You might not agree with this, but ethics is the oldest academic discipline. It was born out of the problematization of the “other,” who is standing in front of me blocking my way to sovereignty – my journey to become like god. Should I restrain my “drive-for-more” and hence respect the rights of the “other” for a benevolent space, or should I run over her and usurp the space reserved for her and pursue this craving for more-of-the-self? All reflections then, or as technically called, epistemological knowledges, proceed from this ethical relation with the “other”. But why, in recent taxonomy of academic disciplines, or in life in general, is ethics relegated under thinking or reflections?
Generally, we have four theological courses, and only one course on ethics, which, often times, fall as elective subject. The dominance of theology in Christian Education might be the reason why ethics was down-ranked into mere study of set of rules on how to lead a good life. Theology on the other hand is about truth, specifically truth about God. Like its mother, metaphysics, it is particularly geared towards satiating the query, “What is?” Everything this question would generate is the essential core that is universal and necessary, as in Kantian language. You have in theology then all linguistic propositions, the final languages as Richard Rorty used to call them, which embody the truth about God. All the disciple has to do is memorize, disseminate, and defend them from heretics; to be a faithful disciple then is to religiously memorize them, intensely disseminate them, and gallantly defend them. The power of the mind was absolutized in theology for it has this frivolous idea that the gift of salvation could only be accessed through mind allegiance. Try to confuse it with praxis and you will lose heaven. In theology, ethics has lost its rightful place.
Biblical Studies come in rescue. Now it has surpassed theology and almost covered more than half of the student’s seminary time. Three New Testament studies, four in Old Testament, four in Greeks language, four in Hebrew, one Aramaic, and a series of focused study on different biblical books as elective. It is called out basically in recognition of the errors of most of the conclusions done in service of systematic theology. To correct these, exegesis challenged those end-road theologies and clamor to return to the text itself. Is biblical studies then better than it wishes to correct?
Biblical studies and its discipline, exegesis, is no better than theology. Like theology, it is bewitched by what Rorty called “the quest for truth” or in Levinasian language, “the chase for the invisible”. It was fooled by the illusion that through the elaborate and tedious practice of all the discipline of exegesis, both higher and lower criticisms, truth could be ferreted out and settle once and for all the disparity in readings. All we know, however, that even out best practitioners of hermeneutics never agree as to what the elephant looks like even without their blindfolds. Worst, exegesis is a discourse in confinement. As if they are set of aliens in a cell arguing as to how many possible meanings a certain word were implied, as to how many variants are available, as to how many sources are visible in the text, and many more of such idiosyncrasies. While outside a president who is blood-lusting was elected to power, and an ass-licking congress is about to offer more blood to this monster to please him more by reinvigorating the death penalty.
This is not a diminution of those academic disciplines. But unless those disciplines are geared towards a better future for every living creature in this planet, they are not fulfilling the mandate of God. If it is not aimed towards training us to seek adjustment rather than forging walls of division, they are not about life. Let me reiterate it, ethics is the oldest and first discipline. The moment Adam became aware of the presence of Eve the question of ethics was called out. The moment Cain became aware of the presence of Abel, ethics was evoked. Whether you kill the “other” or support her into flourishing and betterment of her life, it is a call for ethical decision. Theology and exegesis that will not end to the injunction to love, which Levinas defines as the responsibility to take the plight of the “other” to oneself, are dead epistemological disciplines. And that is probably the reason why we have these Christiantards today.
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