Almost every time I post an essay on religion and ethics, I am challenged by someone who thinks I am implying that one cannot be a moral person or an ethical person unless he or she accepts only the Bible and Christianity for moral and ethical rules of behavior and for motivation for acts of benevolence. I will be challenged by an even greater number of readers who discredit secular ethics as only a teleological, results based, situational ethic without ideological absolutes for defining good.
Ethics and Morals have Greek and Latin root words that carry a similar connotation, but in contemporary usage we usually think of ethics as interaction within group norms, and morals to encompass avoidance of vices and sexual improprieties.
The following is from Miriam-Webster: Ethics: (plural or singular) (1) the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. (2) A set of moral principles, a theory or system of moral values, the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group, a guiding philosophy, a consciousness of moral importance, a set of moral issues or aspects.
Having spent most of my life in a fundamentalist church, some of my impressions include the following: (1) the Old Testament God as defined by the writers was a violent God of a "chosen people." (2) The New Testament Gospels depict a historical person, Jesus, whom those of the Christian faith regard as the Messiah and Son of God. (3) Within that context there is an ideal code of behavior derived from the teachings of Jesus. (4) From this has come a religion, a church or compendium of denominations with beliefs, forms of worship, ritual, benevolence, evangelism, and a diverse set of codified rules governing human behavior. (5) Christianity has become the basis for civil law for most of Western Civilization, within which we have some state and orthodox religions with common boundaries with empires and governments. (6) This has in America given rise to the "Christian Nation" designation and the risk of a Christian nationalism that defines democracy, free enterprise, national defense, diplomacy, and a religious obligation to Israel based on biblical history. (7) In contemporary American politics, Christianity has become divided along parallel political lines of liberal and conservative principles that may be more cultural than biblical.
Advocates of religious ethics (morals) seem to believe secular ethics are situational, relative, personal, and without divine authorship. Advocates of secular ethics (morals) often view religious ethics as derived from sectarian rules of mandates and prohibitions that do not address intellectual and altruistic historical bases of human conduct and tend to promote a minimal and sectarian legalism.
Those of us who embrace Christianity as our "steeple of choice" are often accused of selective literalism, of picking and choosing what we want to believe. My guidelines are a harmony of faith and reason. The humanistic teachings of Jesus are consistent with logical human conduct. The claims of divinity, divine fatherhood, virgin birth, resurrection, ascension, second coming, and eternal presence are the crux of Christianity whether taken as inspired and literal or as figurative and oral tradition. The biblical accounts of the creation, the flood, Jonah and the big fish, the parting of the Red Sea, the plagues, God's relationship with Israel and vengeance against her enemies, his role in theological governance, the enlightenment of the prophets constitutes a parallel history often at variance with scientific reality and secular interpretations of history. In our history we have compromised Christianity to avoid conflict with, or maybe condone, slavery and violence. We have applied gender subservience of biblical culture to define family structure and deny equal rights to women. We have used bible doctrine to perpetuate corporal punishment, capital punishment, spousal abuse, discriminatory racial attitudes, intolerance of sexual orientation, and suppression of intellectual and scientific advancement.
Religion is sustained by faith. I respect all who believe and all who do not believe in God and the divinity and Messianic nature of Jesus, without the arrogance of certainty. My goal is no longer the doctrinal evangelism of the Church of Christ from the second chapter of the Book of Acts, but rather to promote ethics and logic and some ideal metaphysical reality that I perceive as God, no less real than the anthropomorphic depiction of religious tradition.
From that I have found a secular morality, which in no way is in conflict with the love and charity in the teachings of Jesus. The Old and New Testaments are replete with depictions of a vengeful God, both on Earth and eternal damnation of fire and brimstone. We are also taught that this vengeance and judgment is not ours to relegate. It is reserved to God. I don't know what God has in mind for humanity. I don't know what Jesus envisioned when he promised to build a Church.
There are many fears and misconceptions in our culture today. Many believe there is a war on the church and on Christians. There is a counter claim that the voices coming from religious groups, not necessarily Christian, are the real warmongers against anything they designate as secular, un-Christian, liberal, or culturally elite. I really believe that Christianity is at peace within itself, but our challenges are many. We have to separate Christianity from the evils of politics, greed, violence, intolerance, and war. I feel compelled to extol its virtues in some rational harmony of faith and reason to interact with and convince the unbeliever. When I envision Christianity I see metaphorical images of a lamb among wolves. I like to identify with the lamb, but my image of the savage beast also frequently comes in a cloak of sectarian piety.