When the media need an advocate for an unethical position, they often turn to ethicists. They can usually count on modern ethicists to badmouth traditional ethics.
Take Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School. Time magazine turned to this professor of ethics for a recent piece on the evil of fighting evil. Hauerwas expresses outrage at President Bush’s religious zeal and war against “evil.”
One might think the whole point of being an ethicist is to fight evil. One might think a theologian and ethicist would even count religious zeal and intolerance of evil as points in a president’s favor. But no, modern ethicists are far too enlightened for that reactionary response. Now the goal is to ensure that religion isn’t religious. Under the light of post-1960s secularism, many theologians don’t want to hear about God and many ethicists don’t want to hear about evil. Just as they bristled at Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as an evil empire, now they bristle at Bush’s war against “evildoers.”
Americans, says Hauerwas, “should worry when the President of the United States uses the word evil to justify war.” What word should Bush use? The ethicist doesn’t say. But he is sure that he doesn’t want evil “eliminated.” To the question, “who in the world is against eliminating evil?” he bravely answers, “Well, I am, if war is the means for its elimination.”
Saddam Hussein is not so bad, judges Hauerwas. “I doubt,” he says, that any of Hussein’s evil “makes him more ‘evil’ than a number of other current officeholders around the world.”
After Hauerwas daintily calls Hussein an officeholder, he opens fire on Bush. Even as Hauerwas relativizes evil, he can declare with certainty that it is evil for his country’s leader to fight against it. Why is it evil to fight evil? And if ethicists don’t think evil can be easily identified, how is it that they can declare their country’s war aims evil?
Hauerwas’s skepticism about evil seems to vanish when chastising his own country. He goes from skepticism to certainty in a flash — “Bush’s use of the word comes close to being evil,” he says. This divinity school professor also has no doubt that President Bush is wrong to think about his duties in religious terms. This divinity school professor will not stand for Bush’s “religious rhetoric.”
Indeed, this divinity professor, who is supposedly teaching ethics to Christians, is positively frightened at the prospect that people might consider America a Christian nation. This isn’t “good news” for Christians, he warns darkly. Somehow it is far better news for Christians if the nation is de-Christianized.
Liberal theologians and ethicists show zero zeal — except when undermining their own traditions. They won’t fight for religion, but boy will they fight for a secularized America. Usually skeptics uncertain if right and wrong even exist, they can nevertheless declare with dogmatic certainty that their country is dead wrong.
Hauerwas’s concerns about arrogance of course don’t extend to himself. His pacifism is quite pushy. He doesn’t want to fight evil himself, and he doesn’t want anyone else to fight it either. We all must be pacifist chumps like him. Americans aren’t good, he suggests, if they don’t reject the “assumed righteousness” of their cause.
Ordinary Americans, thankfully, haven’t studied enough ethical “theory” to lose a sense of common sense ethics. They know that it is unethical to let savage dictators menace innocent people. Modern ethicists may consider it ethical to sit idly as one’s neighbor is killed. But they don’t. Their understanding of the Golden Rule is far more expert than the supposed experts who fail to teach it.
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