About the Book
This is a breakthrough work expanding the debate of the dilemmas of life and death in contemporary American society by carrying it beyond the insights of Western religious and philosophic thought to include ethical perspectives of the Hindu tradition.
The topics covered are the timely ethical issues that concern both Americans and all people of the world-abortion. Suicide, euthanasia and the environment. A lively East-West dialogue probes the roots of each issue in its native setting and the fruit of this historical approach is a clear-cut analysis of up-to-date cases. giving their current status in terms of ethics, religion, philosophy, medicine, and law. Unlike traditional textbooks that concentrate on a theoretical analysis to the exclusion of practical issues this nook does justice to both theoretical and practical ethics.
About the Author
At the University of Hawaii. S. Cromwell Crawford is Professor of Comparative Religions and Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the School of Hawaiian. Asian, and Pacific Studies.
THE CURRENT PROBLEM
"Most ethics become important when the roof falls in." So said TV Producer Fred Friendly as he began the timely task of making a PBS series aimed at examining "the tangled state of American ethics."! Indeed, beginning with Watergate, which did for the cause of ethics what Sputnik did for mathematics, we have become increasingly aware that wide sections of the nation's ethical roofing are perched perilously, "from the White House to churches, schools, industries, medical centers, law firms and stock brokerages-pressing down on the institutions and enterprises that make up the body and blood of America."?
Nowhere is this crisis more pressing than in respect to life and death issues, the subject of this book. As we survey the scene, we find "a widespread sense of moral disarray," to cite Church historian Martin Marty. Joseph O'Hare, president of Fordham University, adds, "We've had a traditional set of standards that have been challenged and found wanting or no longer fashionable. Now there don't seem to be any moral landmarks at all."!
The prospects for repairing the damage, and for America rebuilding a firmer structure of values than we have had in the past, are not immediately apparent. The situation is complex. But a major reason for apprehension is that with the breakdown of the traditional consensus, which was partly based on biblical sources, there is no more debate. Instead, activist groups, determined to preserve their partisan interests and ideologies, have taken to legislatures and lobbying, and we are now witnessing the politicization of this nation's moral problems.
The role of the media in shaping this turn of events is pivotal. Questions of life and death are fundamentally matters of religion, philosophy, and ethics, and are only secondarily connected with law and politics; but this fact has been obscured by the national media, which have presented these issues as political stories. Political stories, like sports stories, always have a final score with a winner and loser. Clear resolutions are much easier to write about and make for catchier headlines than the ambiguities that hide behind the headlines. And so the basic questions go unanswered:
When does life begin?
Whose right shall prevail-the mother's or the fetus's?
Does an individual have the right to end his or her life when it becomes permanently meaningless and painful?
Do animals exist as means to human ends?
Must economic survival take priority over environmental survival?
The politicizing of abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and other life-and-death matters highlights the paralysis both of the press and of the public. There is a pervasive failure to come to grips with the dilemmas that divide us. As a result, in the place of open debate, moral issues have become the litmus test for political appointments, all the way to the Supreme Court. The full fury of "abortion politics" was felt at the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the position of Supreme Court justice and also during the 1992 presidential campaigns, in which the Republican party tried desperately to put the focusori "preserving family values" instead of confronting the greater threat of economic loss.
In earlier times, when America was more homogeneous, we could look for answers to our moral questions within the judeo Christian tradition, and today, a self-proclaimed "Moral Majority" would nostalgically wish to keep it that way. Founder Reverend Jerry Falwell has stated how the New Right movement is "contributing to bringing America back to moral sanity." Their methods include "mobilizing millions of previously 'inactive' Americans," lobbying intensively in Congress to defeat any legislation that would further erode our constitutionally guaranteed freedom," "informing all Americans about the voting records of their representatives," and "organizing and training millions of Americans who can become moral activists."
Moral Majority, Inc., is now dead as an organization, but its spirit is very much alive. As a salute to the members of the Moral Majority, Catholic theologian Father Robert Burns, C.S.P., writes that they "believe in fighting for the basic moral values on which this nation was built and upon which its strength rests. They are determined to prevent materialists, secular-humanists, and nonbelievers from destroying these values by replacing them with a value-less, amoral society.
Some Roman Catholic prelates are turning excommunication into a political weapon. When John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency, he quelled the fears of voters by promising that he would resign if his Roman Catholicism ever intruded upon his political duties; but that stance of nonalignment was overturned recently when New York's John Cardinal O'Connor declared that Kennedy was wrong, and that Catholic officeholders must fight, not quit. In a twelve-page statement the cardinal pointed out that Catholic officeholders were obligated to support their church's moral teachings, or face excommunication. The most prominent target was New York's governor, Mario Cuomo, who called the statement "profoundly disconcerting." For his part, Cuomo, a devout Roman Catholic, accepts his church's stance on abortion, but has argued that it would be imprudent to politicize his position by imposing his personal views on the state.
Auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughan of New York has warned Governor Cuomo that unless he becomes more forthright in respect to his Catholic beliefs, he "is in danger of going to hell if he dies tonight." Disinterested citizens may find all of this inquisitorial rhetoric about excommunication and damnation medieval, with specters of penitent royalty shivering in the cold at Canossa. But America cannot "walk backward into the future." The tides that are washing across the country are moving society toward pluralistic ways of thinking. The New Right perceives this as a problem; instead, it could become the wave of the future.
Indeed, there is a new wave of internationalism that is now affecting the way we think in politics, business and industry. Social scientists are agreed that global interdependence and interaction constitute the common challenge facing mankind in the final decade of the twentieth century, and beyond.
THE ASIAN PERSPECTIVE
This book is a response to that challenge. It is presented to the reader in the spirit of East-West dialogue. It addresses the moral dilemmas Americans face from an Asian perspective. The justifications for this move in terms of comparative ethics are many and varied.
First is the basic matter of demographics. A headline reads: "Asian wave is changing U.S. scene." The new 1990 census shows that Asians are the nations fastest-growing minority group (up 80 percent since 1980, to 7 million), that their median household income is highest of any group (including whites), and that they are the best educated (40 percent are college graduates, compared with less than 25 percent of whites). Says economist Louis Winnick, author of New People in Old Neighborhoods, "Their impact will be far greater than their numbers."?
Second, as a result of this dynamic Asian presence, the concept of multiculturalism has evolved. Multiculturalism is "a new concept of American culture as a commingling of many distinctive strands, each equitably accepted within the fabric of our national life and all part of the rich interweaving of cultures that will be part of our emerging twenty-first-century civilization.?"
Here in Hawaii, the "rainbow state," it has always been natural to think of ourselves as a "melting pot." However, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education (6/19/91), "melting pot" is now passeas a metaphor for cultural diversity, and has been replaced by "salad bowl" because "though the salad is an entity," its various parts can be distinguished. The special Hawaiian setting might better suggest the metaphor of "stir-fry" because there is a singular, identifiable flavoring that saturates all elements without submerging or subduing the identity of any.
Third, exposure to Asian spirituality has launched many Westerners on journeys of self-discovery through interreligious dialogue. Ewert Cousins of Fordham University observes, "In an unprecedented way, the religions of the world are meeting one another in an atmosphere of trust and understanding. The members of the different traditions not only wish to understand the others, but to be enriched by them."?
Fourth, Christian ethicists on the cutting edge of the discipline are becoming aware of the need to reconsider their positions as a result of encounters with Asian thinkers. John B. Co bb, Jr., a leader in the Buddhist-Christian Dialogue movement, states in the introduction of his book, Matters of Life and Death:
We Westerners have inherited a way of thinking that holds that there is a radical gulf between human life and all other forms of life. This can express itself in the idea that humans have both the right to live and the right to kill other animals with no compunctions at all. This drastic difference between human beings and animals of other species has been challenged and extensively debated in recent decades. The awareness that acting on the dualism of humanity and nature has done enormous damage for which human beings must pay a high price is forcing this reconsideration.
Fifth, from the side of higher education in America, scholars are making a strong case for putting Asia in the core curriculum so that students can be exposed to the diversity of Asian culture and the richness within each culture. John B. Buescher believes that, Asia provides places where we can stand and look at our own culture with a new and comprehensive perspective .... We can study these cultures to illuminate our understanding of human culture. We can see what other human beings have accomplished and thereby what we, too, are capable of achieving.
Asian cultures offer the West a treasure house of alternatives in everything from clothing, music, medicine, language, and art, to religion, ethics, politics, economics, and social organization.
This is precisely what we wish to accomplish in this book. We view Asian culture as "a treasure house of alternatives," and seek to employ these resources "to illuminate our understanding" of the moral dilemmas confronting American society.
The Asian locus from which we wish to look at our own culture with a "new and comprehensive perspective" is the ancient tradition of Hinduism. This vast body of religious experience is a singular blend of spirituality and practicality, propelled by ideas and ideals that are pluralistic and progressive, and that embrace the well-being of humans and of all creatures alike. One verse sums up its entire body of ethical wisdom: "May all be at ease; may all be sinless; may all experience happiness; may none experience suffering. "
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