A Moral Challenge

After producing books on three divisive issues (abortion, euthanasia and animal rights), Bob Wennberg wants to write something that brings people together. A philosophy professor at Westmont since 1968, he has focused his scholarly work on exploring issues of moral concern.

This summer he will begin work on a new book, “What We Should Care About: An Invitation to Enlarge Your Moral Universe.” He hopes to unite people by identifying issues of common moral concern. While people may reach different conclusions on these subjects, they will be engaged together in serious discussion.

As outlined, the book includes six sections. In the first, Bob will consider moral issues related to the living. He breaks these down into three categories: the unborn, ourselves and others.

While he will draw on the work he did in “Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy” (Eerdmans 1985), he will also depart from his earlier approach. “I want to call people to care for the unborn without arguing from a pro-life position,” he explains.

“What moral obligations do we have to ourselves?” Bob also asks. “I am particularly concerned with how we justify having more than we need in a world where so many people have less than they need. For me, the fundamental question is the legitimacy of the superfluous in our lives.”

His second section will feature issues related to the dying. This is familiar territory for him after writing “Terminal Choices: Euthanasia, Suicide, and the Right to Die” (Eerdmans 1989). What moral obligations should we have to those who are dying?

The next section represents a departure from traditional moral concerns. As he did in his 1998 article in Fides et Historia, “The Moral Standing of the Dead and the Writing of History,” Bob will explore obligations to our ancestors.

“At the intuitive level, it feels wrong to slander the dead,” he suggests. “They have a right to their reputation. But why don’t we take this more seriously? Is it because we think they can’t be harmed? Can we wrong people if they never discover it?” He points out the ramifications for the living: if it is wrong to slander the dead, it is also wrong to gossip about the living even if they never know about it.

Bob believes we should exercise caution toward the dead and write only the truth — not because the dead can be harmed, although he thinks they and their descendants can be — but because it is wrong to misrepresent them. He sees evil in forgetting people’s lives and suffering. Remembering and regretting their pain is one way to bring partial redemption to it.

After looking to the past, Bob examines the future in the fourth section by

considering future generations. What sacrifices should we make to provide for the well being of our descendants?

Bob also stretches his readers with a section on animal rights. Although evangelical Christians founded movements in the 19th century to prevent cruelty to animals, most believers today don’t consider animal advocacy a moral concern.

“Studies have shown that the more religious individuals are, the less concerned they are about moral issues related to animals,” Bob points out. “How many churches welcome speakers who are animal liberationists?”

As he argues in a yet unpublished book, Bob believes we are too insensitive to the suffering of animals. “I invite Christians to wrestle with this issue and give animals moral standing.”

In the final section, Bob looks at the environment. “I want to avoid an anthropocentric approach,” he notes. “I believe the environment itself has value apart from our use of it. The question is: should we be sacrificing to protect the environment?”

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