Posted By bravelass on August 23, 2011
The gals over at Her.whatever have been discussing “narrative ethics,” which turns out to be an odd sort of amalgamation of situation ethics and post-modern “what’s-true-for-you-may-not-be-true-for-me”ism. The trouble with such folks as the blogger is that the more they clarify and engage the discussion, the deeper the hole they dig for themselves. Ellen Painter Dollar should have been banned
from the electronic pages of CTs website a year ago when she wrote this dispassionate re-telling of how she directed the medical murder of three of her children:
PGD is in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with the added step of genetic screening. Only one of four embryos tested negative for OI[a genetic disease she carries] and was implanted, but I did not get pregnant. (We eventually conceived both our second and third children naturally; neither of them inherited OI.) We had the other three embryos destroyed.
The sub-title of the article is, “Christians need much better resources for ethical and theological reflection.” The problem is, Mrs. Dollar (in her latest her.whatever blog post), wants to turn to a bastardized sort of situation ethics in which we may choose to give, “some moral value…greater weight than an individual’s story.” Which means that the more emotionally wrenching the story and the more manipulative its telling, the more likely it is that eternal moral prescriptions will be tossed out like a week-old piece of flounder.
Oh, it is certain that Dollar will object to this characterization, as she already has in the comments on the blog post. But her closing response in the comment thread puts the lie to that objection. You see, she doesn’t believe holding to eternal moral principles provides a safe space for our story telling. If that story telling includes her deliberate omission of the moral status of the embryo because, “the moral status of embryos is, for me, not the central issue with reproductive technology,” there is little doubt she would think a conversation bounded by eternal moral principles a remarkably unsafe place to tell her story.
On the contrary, such a place bounded by the unchanging word of God provided in Holy Scripture, the moral precepts the church has given us and held to for 2000 years, the weight of that tradition is the only safe place. It is the only place that will prevent Ellen Painter Dollar, you, I and everyone else from careening into the abyss while telling our stories
Explanatory note: Narrative ethics is an attempt to place some weight on personal stories and experiences when forming moral or ethical opinions. It sees more traditional ethical systems as being too focused on making black-and-white judgments. Rather than having a clear method, it is more like an operating philosophy which holds “narrative” as being fundamental to the Christian faith and foundational to human understanding. While it makes a serious attempt to put Christ back at the center of Christianity (arguing that most have placed the Pauline epistles in the center), it cannot guard against the dangers of a poorly formed conscience or the lone interpreter.
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