ETHICS VERSUS ETHOS: AN ORTHODOX APPROACH …
TO THE RELATIONS BETWEEN ECOLOGY AND ETHICS
Owing to a growing awareness of the impending environmental catastrophe, the church is waking up to its past and present responsibilities and it is being gradually accepted that science cannot solve the problem alone — it needs people's co-operation, and religion has a vital role to play there. We need to remember, though, that secular ethics can function in the absence of religious ethics.
Ethics is the evaluation of behavior on the basis of the good, the right, or of what makes for happiness. Plato identified the good with the beautiful — aesthetics. Bad was what disturbed the harmony of the cosmos. In the Roman period in the West, right and good became one concept and thus rationality emerged as the focal concept. In the Middle Ages, in accordance with ideas that originated with the Stoics, the good and the right came to be identified with natural law and this "back to nature" idea is still with us today!
Today, the pursuit of happiness has become an ideal of Western culture — it is even enshrined in the US Constitution — and thus what is desirable has become good. Thus, ethics has become responsible for the ecological problem. Utilitarianism. and the pursuit of happiness have led to the exploitation of the world's resources by making that a good because it makes people happy.
No ethical critique can force us to behave in an ecological way. Ethical conflicts arise the whole time-- e.g. you have to choose between closing a polluting factory or keeping people employed and fed. It is ecology versus starvation. For solutions we need the consent of the people.
So we must revise our ethics. We must move from an anthropomonistic ethics to a cosmic ethics. Human beings are a part of the natural cosmos, and thus their salvation is a part of the salvation of the cosmos. There are two key questions here:
There is a strong distinction between ethos and ethics, in that ethos is applied within a culture and presupposes community, whereas ethics operate on the basis of principles and are rooted in systems of thought. The Orthodox tradition can contribute the following three elements of ethos (or custom, the accepted way) to produce such an ethics.
The Liturgical Ethos
Especially the eucharistic ethos, referring creation back to God ("Thine own of shine own do we offer thee").
The Iconographic Ethos
The Ascetic Ethos
The ecological problem requires not just a prescribed code of behavior but a rediscovery of culture — an accepted way of being. The church no longer seems sure that it can influence culture. We must apply the Orthodox ethos in a culturally creative way and explore the human body as a vehicle of communion with God and with others.
The Most Reverend Metropolitan John of Pergamon was born in 1930. He studied at the Theological Schools of the Universities of Thessaloniki and Athens, and became a Doctor of Theology in 1965. He has taught Theology at a number of universities abroad, including fourteen years at the University of Glasgow. He has represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate on international church bodies and at international academic conferences, and he is the author of many scholarly studies in various languages. He was elected a metropolitan in 1986.
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