Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I'm taking an Ethics exam - Section A

David Field has posted the Ethics exam he gave his theological students HERE .

I have decided to take the exam myself and David has agreed to mark it if I do.

Considering the average age of the persons taking David's exam is 26 that makes my brain nearly twice as old as theirs so be gentle with me David.

The exam consists of 3 sections containing 3 questions each and the examinee is required only to answer one question in each section. So I have decided to answer Q3 in Section A ; Q6 in Section B and Q9 in section C

Here goes.

3. Discuss the idea of "the lesser of two evils" and illustrate how confusion on the issue could cause serious pastoral damage.

Answer to Q.3 : The "lesser of two evils" can be taken in a number of ways. Here are only three of the ways we might see the expression used.

First, there might be a national election in which you consider it your Christian duty to vote. But, who do you vote for ? There are only two candidates and you must vote for one. But which one ? Answer : you vote for "the lesser of two evils".

Second, it's WW2 and you are hiding Jews in your home. The Nazis knock on your door and ask if you are harbouring Jews. Do you tell the truth and so condemn the people you are hiding to death ? Or do you lie. You say "No, I am not hiding Jews" and so commit "the lesser of two evils".

Third, you are given a pistol and told to kill a particular person. If you refuse, 10 other people will be murdered by terrorists. If you kill this person the 10 persons will be spared. What do you do ? You kill the one person in order to prevent the murder of 10 others -- i.e. you take the "lesser of two evils".

Now let's look at these three examples and the pastoral implications of each.

In the first case, there is no element force or coercion. One is not required to participate in the activity yet participation is not in itself evil, sinful or harmful. In fact, participation is seen by some to promote general social moral good. The participant is allowed to exercise his/her freedom and rational deliberation in the process of participation and all outcomes are legal and morally sound. Therefore, it not conceivable that any "serious pastoral damage" would result.

In the second instance, by committing "the lesser of two evils" one has prevented the commission of a greater evil by someone else . Not doing so would mean participating in the sins of others which the Bible also prohibits us from doing (1 Timothy 5:22 ). Again there might be some distress that a lie was told and the person should be encouraged to acknowledge that fact and to bring it before God in confession. Neither should this lead to "serious pastoral damage" as the lives of innocent persons was saved.

In the third instance, one is engaging in the same evil as that being contemplated by another. Moreover, there is no certain or causal relationship in the good outcome which is hoped for as was the case with in the second Nazi Germany example. For in the second instance the Jews will continue to remain safely hidden when the lie is told whereas there is (and would always be) uncertainty about the truth value of the terrorists promise not to kill 10 other people. In fact there would be much reason to utterly doubt the truth value of such a promise. Yet, even if the 10 others are spared as promised, there will always be the nagging doubt about whether the terrorists would have proceeded with the murder the 10 others EVEN IF the hostage refused to murder the one person he was told to murder. So going ahead with killing 1 person that 10 might be spared would cause very "serious pastoral damage" indeed for a horrendous sin would be committed and remain on the person's conscience despite even the fact that the 10 other people under threat are indeed spared.

Therefore, in summary and in conclusion all courses of action dubbed a "lesser of two evils" should be avoided in all instances where a) both horns of the dilemma presented are both equally evil b) the non-performance of evil by another moral agent is contingent upon my performance of evil and c)where there is no prospect of a greater good outcome from my undertaking a lesser of two evils.

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