Küng and the origins of the World-Ethos
Review of Hans Küng’s, Der Anfang aller Dinge, section E, Pt. 4 of 4.
5. Beginnings of the human ethos
The development of human ethical behaviour is linked to evolutionary and socio-cultural factors. They belong together. Indeed, there has never been a people group, Küng asserts, without a religion or an ethos. Even in the earliest cultures there has been a sense of justice, respect of life etc., and notably so the world over. This means that ‘Today’s living in space “World-Ethos” is based ultimately upon a biological-evolutionary pre-given, in the time tested “Original-Ethos” (Ur-Ethos)’ (213).
How does an Ur-Ethos relate to biblical ethics? First, those found in the bible are not necessarily original in and of themselves. The accounts of the giving of the law are original, not so much in the content of the morality commanded, but in the fact that it is a covenant command, involving exclusive allegiance to Yahweh. What about Christian ethics? Is there a specifically Christian ethic? Actually, the only thing unique to Christianity, Küng insists, is not morality, an abstract idea, or anything else, but the concrete and crucified Jesus as the living Christ’ (cf. 215). This Jesus, this Person, possess a realisability, clearness and audibility, more than any idea or abstract principle. He becomes orientation for an ethically floundering, meaningless, drugged up and violent society. He is, after all, called ‘the light of the world’ (Joh 8:12). However, this is not, Küng goes on, to deny the presence of ‘other lights’, as indeed Islam, Confucius, Hinduism etc. is for millions of other people in the world.
And what does a World-Ethos have to do with the religions? Küng answers:
‘The instructions of the World-Ethos can be for this world-responsibility, a ground-orientation, and one that in no way excludes the special orientation in ones religion or philosophy. Quite the opposite, each can contribute, in their own way, to a World-Ethos’ (217).