The Elastic Yardstick

Basic Christian Ethics, by D. Paul Ramsey (Scribners, 1950, 404 pp., $3), is reviewed by Edmund A. Opitz, a founder of The Remnant, a clerical fellowship, 30 South Broadway, Irvington, New York.

Churchmen are not consulted for expert economic or political diagnosis, but when social problems impinge on moral values it is expected that men of God will have something to say. Ethics, most of us would concede, is a vital part of our religious life: ethics is also intimately concerned with human relationships in economic and political spheres and elsewhere. Therefore, it is proper that churchmen bring the sensitive religious conscience into the forum and market place, so long as they are willing to observe the rules of the game. This point poses two requirements. The first is: Before you moralize get the facts straight. Economics and politics are disciplines in their own right, and their integrity must be respected. Competence in these studies does not come easily, least of all is it conferred upon a person merely because he knows metaphysics, biology, literature, or whatever. The second requirement, which will be considered in more detail, is that the moral values against which economic and political practices are to be measured must be sound. An elastic moral yardstick at the center will spread an infection throughout the whole inquiry. On this point, it is instructive to examine a significant “new look” in Christian ethics.

The moral norms and standards by which we generally judge conduct are part and product of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. Sermons from thousands of pulpits Sunday after Sunday are premised on the assumption that congregation and clergyman alike draw inspiration from the same code of values, ...

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