Ethics scholar packs Travis Auditorium for annual School of Theology series
It was standing room only in Travis Auditorium at Fuller’s
Pasadena campus on January 30 as students, staff, and faculty gathered to hear
Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain, featured speaker of the School of Theology’s annual
Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller
Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the Divinity School of the
University of Chicago, addressed the topic of the Winter Payton Lectures:
Ethics in Troubled Times. Her first lecture was titled “Is There a Crisis
Ethic?” and explored the subject of torture.
“I started and stopped about three or four times, berating
myself for choosing this topic and wondering if I should just get rid of it and
do another one,” Elshtain joked at the start of her lecture.
She explained that before the tragedy of 9/11, she hadn’t
reflected critically on the topic of torture. It didn’t seem possible that the
United States would face the dilemmas favored by moral theorists on whether
torture could ever be permitted.
regimes tortured. End of question,” Elshtain shared. However, as the discussion
opened up it became clear that there were two dominant camps in the discussion
of moral dilemmas: deontology and utilitarianism—the well-known theories of
moral philosophy that would invariably condemn and permit torture, deontology
and utilitarianism, put forth by Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham.
She noted that she found herself standing with neither camp.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but this neither/nor
surely reflected my ethical formation within the Christian theological
tradition,” Elshtain said. “Instead what is called up and called upon in
Christianity is the concrete responsibility of neighbor love and neighbor
Elshtain went on to present that deontology makes torture
impossible and utilitarianism makes it too easy. She highlighted the
difficulties with categorizing torture itself, and discussed the political
implications for a crisis ethic.
After her lecture, Fuller’s Hak Joon Lee, professor of
theology and ethics, offered some comments. He agreed that this is not a
perfect world of deontology or utilitarianism, but he also stated that to ask
moral questions in the face of imminent war is probably too late. “We need to
put the whole just war theory in the framework of wide social and historical
context,” he said.
Dr. Lee also urged Christians to invite enemies to one
table, explaining that this is one way of emphasizing Jesus’ teaching to love
our enemies, and is a first step in hearing the other side of the story. The
floor was then opened up for a question and answer period.
Elshtain will be delivering the second of the Winter Payton
Lectures on Thursday, January 31 at 10
a.m. in Travis Auditorium. The title of her lecture is “Humanitarian
Intervention…Or Not.” Professor Erin Dufault-Hunter will be responding.