Citizen ethics in a time of crisis

By Simon Barrow
February 20, 2010

Ethics. Ah yes, a county just outside London, the old joke goes. But seriously, ethical discussion in Britain is remarkably thin at the moment. That's why a new initiative to stimulate proper debate, launched today, has the potential to be so refreshing.

It aims to move way beyond the 'let's assert our own interests', 'let's bash religion', 'let's bash secularism' yah-booing which often passes for intelligent conversation in the saturated media-space that is public life at the moment.

One of the originators of the new project, the estimable philosopher Mark Vernon (, who contributes to Ekklesia and a wide range of other newspapers, magazines and discussion fora, told us this week:

"With myself, Madeleine Bunting and Adam Lent, our idea is that in public life today we've almost forgotten how to talk about ethics. The financial and political scandals, and the looming issue of climate change, are all, in part, crises of ethics; no-one has done anything illegal, or at least hardly anyone. Our project is designed to address this hiatus, and that's why it's called called Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis.

"What we're doing is launching an online publication ( with the Guardian newspaper on 20 February 2010 with a four page spread". See:

The three main party leaders will respond in next Saturday's Guardian, along with reader comments and contributions.

"That will be followed by an event at the British Museum on 26 February at which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will be speaking, along with Michael Sandel, last year's Reith Lecturer, and the economist Diane Coyle.

"Sandel is involved not least since we're picking up on one of his key themes, how we've ceded ethical discussion to free markets, and any decent crack at democracy needs to have that ethical discussion in public, for all that we might not agree. The Guardian will also publish responses to the pamphlet from the main party political leaders on 27 February in another four page spread.

"The publication gathers together about 35 contributors, alongside Williams, Sandel and Coyle, Philip Pullman, Carey Oppenheim, Jesse Norman, Nicholas Sagovsky, Julian Glover, Richard Reeves, Jonathan Rutherford and Jon Cruddas, Robert Skidelsky, Will Hutton, Oliver James, Polly Toynbee, Tariq Ramadan, Alain de Botton, Camila Batmanghelidjh, Mary Midgley and others. All are concerned that we've forgotten how to think and talk about ethics, particularly with its traditional link to being the key to a flourishing life. The aim is to inject some energy and thought into this concern, not least as the election is not likely to feature it much at all."

Ekklesia will be promoting and participating in Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis. We hope it will also stimulate some renewed debate in the churches about specifically theological ethics - which is in danger of being lost, as Christians rush headlong into wider conversations without necessarily focusing on the distinct resources that flow from their own tradition - many of which pose sharp questions to themselves, as well as others.

Our own stall is set out in Ekklesia's own 'Values Statement' (, in which we say, inter alia: In proposing a renewal of religious-political discourse, Ekklesia is especially concerned to develop the public significance of concrete practices like reconciliation, non-violence and peace-building, economic sharing, hospitality (welcome and inclusion), restorative justice, social equality, forgiveness, neighbourly freedom, the community of women and men, nurturing life as 'gift', environmental sustainability, and global solidarity with all those pushed to the margins.

More on the theological, philosophical and ethical grounding of that approach anon...

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