Christianity bioethics in

As western culture moves ever deeper into the period characterized in the mid-twentieth century by historian Christopher Dawson as "secularized Christendom," the emerging interdisciplinary field that since 1970 has gone by the name bioethics can be understood only as a microcosm of the whole. In certain defining respects the impact of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was felt uniquely in the closing decades of the twentieth, in effects good and bad. The effacing of religious discourse from the public square, and the steady fragmentation of the professions under the reductionist pressures of economic and other social forces, show this delayed impact in contexts that have radically shaped the possibility of a bioethics rooted in the Christian vision of the western tradition. If religion is removed from the metaphor of public affairs, it is only in translation that the Christian worldview retains any opportunity to shape the public institutions of the culture. The predicament of Christianity in bioethics at the cusp of this third millennium c.e. lies precisely here. Yet at the same time, the subject matter of bioethics could hardly be of greater moment to those who hold the Christian view of the world.

The core question of which every bioethics issue is ultimately derivative is that of human nature. The vision of human beings defined by their creation in the image of God sets the Christian agenda, to be addressed within public and professional contexts in translation. As has been somewhat ruefully observed (Verhey and Lammers), the exercise of translation has itself led to the marginalization of religion. Stephen Lammers notes it at the micro level: The ubiquitous hospital ethics committees, often established under the tutelage of chaplains or other religiously-motivated professionals, immediately take their place in the secular institutional life and language of even religious hospitals. At the macro level, as the ebb tide of the sea of faith runs fast, it has become standard practice to translate Christian moral argument into secular language for public purposes. As a communications strategy in a changing culture, this is perhaps as inevitable as it is estimable. Yet the strangely invidious position in which it places the Christian religion has profound consequences for Christian engagement in bioethics. So it is worth exploring at more length the dynamics of bioethics on "Dover Beach" (Matthew Arnold's elegy on the collapse of the Victorian age of faith).

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