In the lectures “Thinking Sociology” and “Thinking Ethics”, the fundamentals of a Christian approach to sociology and a Christian approach to ethics are summarized. With regards to sociology, Christian sociology is developed in contrast to what is termed in the video humanist sociologies, such as Marxism. The main point of differentiation, according to the lecture, is that Christian sociology views individuals as free beings, whereas humanist sociologies construe the individual as determined by society. With regards to ethics, Christian ethics is identified as possessing a clear moral code, whereas, without this religious foundation, secular approaches to ethics cannot establish anything other than an ethical relativism, where moral values are merely, to paraphrase, issues of personal taste.
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Certainly, the point regarding Christian sociology and its emphasis on the worth of the individual life is compelling. However, this summary presents many contentious points with regards to a Christian sociology. First of all, the history of the Christian faith is the history of the Christian Church, namely, of a community of believers. From this regard, the view of Christian sociology in the video is above all a particular Protestant view of the Christian faith’s conception of the human person. Namely, community and society are also crucial to Christianity, as the history of the Christian faith and the Church demonstrates. This point of contrast with what is termed in the video “humanist sociologies” overlooks the social community of Christian believers. Another point of possible contention with the article is the distinction between Christian sociology and “humanist sociology.” For example, humanist philosophies, which developed in the Renaissance, also emphasized the importance of the individual. It is therefore a simplification to state that non-Christian sociologies are deterministic models, where society determines the individual and not vice versa. Furthermore, the Christian faith can also be considered deterministic, since, for example, the Christian faith makes very clear claims about the future of the world, namely, that the world will end. From this perspective, the distinctions made are too simplistic to make an effective comparison.
With regards to ethics, the video makes compelling points about how a Christian ethics is not subject to relativism and moral decay. Namely, Christian ethics has a very clear set of morals that are to be followed, as the video argues. In one sense, this is problematic because we can see that Christians disagree on many ethical questions. In another sense, such an ethics will not be unique to Christianity, since all religious possess similar ethical codes, for example, in Islam, where ethics is very clearly defined. Furthermore, does the point really hold that it is only in a Christian ethics that ethics is not relative? For example, secular societies also have very clear norms, rules and laws. The Christian religion, as with any other religion, can certainly appeal to the truth of its ethical system as based on the revelation of God. This is a clear problem with regards to secular morality, where the morality is created by human beings and can be subject to change. In this sense, the distinction mentioned in the video appears valid. However, of course, there are those who would oppose this argument by questioning the authenticity of the revealed religions. This has been a common move in the history of sociology and philosophy, for example, with Marx declaring religion the “opium of the people” and Nietzsche calling Christian morality one that encourages us to be slaves to destiny as opposed to masters of our own fate.
Nevertheless, despite these open questions, both lectures present clear and compelling synopses of what makes a Christian sociology and Christian ethics different from other world-views on these topics. The lectures provide a starting point for reflection on these crucially important issues.
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