CHRISTIAN ETHICS AND PUBLIC LIFE
Keywords:private / public morality, Christian ethics, arrogance, lies in politics, national / public interest, public policy
The paper relates the requirements of public office and an active participation in the public life of a modern liberal democracy with the substantive moral requirements of Christian ethics, and addresses the dilemma of whether it is morally recommendable for a Christian to take public office, especially at a high level. The author argues that the moral pluralism which characterizes multicultural societies presents methodological reasons for caution with regard to political activism by a Christian. Namely, the values of a multicultural democracy are no entirely congruent with the values of the Christian faith, especially with regard to controversial social practices that relate to alternative life styles and the assumption of social and value equality between the choices that, while belonging to the realm of privacy, still violate the principles of Christian ethics. Thus the public official in a multicultural democracy must necessarily pursue policies and choices which militate against the substantive Christian moral values. While in some cases compromises are possible between the two, typically in high political office democratic life requires decisions to be made which would be entirely unacceptable from the point of view of Christian morality. The author argues that contrary to Thomas Nagel and others, that there is no morally justified discrepancy between acting ruthlessly in public office and acting ruthlessly in private capacity. Given that ruthlessness is an irreducible dimension of political decisions in high political office there is an inherent tension between Christian morality and political activism. This tension is the dynamic element of moral drama which typically follows a Christian’s involvement in high level politics.
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