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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
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EXPOUNDING ON THE ETHICS OF WORK

Work gives dignity and substance to a human person. Of course, it is within the dynamism of God's creative and redemptive plan. The Scriptures give us the basis of all this, and the Magisterium takes it up seriously as part of her responsibility to value and substantiate the importance of human activity. This necessitates that we cannot negate or neglect the aspect of ethics of work. It is our duty as Christians to expound on it. Thus, in order to develop substantial reflection on the ethics of work the first step consists in considering those mechanisms of exploitation and alienation that prevent work from being a human activity. Whereas traditional theology would dwell on the duty of work; today, it is more common to stress the right and duty to work in the context of the solidarity and subsidiarity which are the main tenets of Christian social ethics. Statistical evidence of employment and forms of sub-employment contribute to the theological debate because of the consequences they have on society as such, especially on those who are looking for their first employment.

In the second place, the theological reflection stresses the commitment of public authorities of employers as well as of workers' unions or associations and ecclesial communities to work out ways of humanising work and work places. The encyclical "Laborem Exercens" gives indications of priorities (cf. nos. 12-13). In the third place, we consider the controversial theme of building an economy which has a human flavour or as some people say, "human face;" that is, an economy which is not based exclusively on criteria of production and competition. The problem is how to combine production, competition and solidarity. It is a controversial problem because there is no ready answer to it; it implies to go over the theory of maximum profit and money which is at the root of economic activity.

On the basis of these reflections, the theology of work is able to concentrate on the rights and duties of employers and employees, stressing the quality of work. Amongst the issues of concern in theology as well as in economics and politics, we may stress the following: job security in the light of technological developments, youth employment according to their abilities and qualifications, and protection and insurance especially in relation to weak social groups like the disabled, immigrants and occasional workers. Surely, at this juncture, special consideration should be taken on the issue of child and forced labour! The discourse here becomes utopia and there is the danger of falling into exhortations which are not applicable to the economic situation. Utopia may be, but there are also considerations which are basic and which ought to put the economic issue on a different basis. We are still in the field of possibilities, and research is needed, but we can trace the paths along which the discourse will proceed. We do realise that profit dominates the economic scene. Theology and official documents point to a type of profit, as a result of work, that will be more equally distributed among people in a context of a society which is marked by solidarity, but also where everyone gives his or her own contribution.

The search for the Code of Conduct has been part of the ethical reflection. In the first century, as Christianity came into contact with the particular society of the Greek and Roman world, there arose a critical attitude towards some professions which were reputed to be against the spirit of the Gospel. For instance, the military and judicial professions were object of a long standing debate and many authors thought them to be unfit for a Christian, probably because their codes of conduct implied courses of actions which were against the Gospel attitudes. But as Christianity penetrated more and more the social texture, there prevailed the position that all professions which were considered honest by public could be lawfully exercised by Christians. Justification for the Code of Conduct that a person had to follow was founded on the correct intention of the one who acted. With the growth in awareness of professional competence, moral theologians have emphasised the need to develop  one's professional life to the full, following the formation of specific Codes of Conduct that were being developed in greater detail especially in the secular field.

Today we realise that these criteria are no longer valid to base professional ethics. The correct intention of the subject as well as his or her personal honesty is no longer sufficient elements to justify the morality of a profession. Likewise, professional deontology cannot be identified with ethics. Examples are the military profession, the research into and the programming of weapons, whether conventional or nuclear, the exercise of the medical profession in areas like abortion and human experimentation, which professional deontology as well as the law consider acceptable. We could add also some aspects of the acting or media profession. The reflection on whether similar professions may be acceptable in a Christian context will have to consider their contribution to the development of society, to those values that make up social relationships, to the attitudes of solidarity.

-FR DR JAMES NGAHY, M. AFR.

 jngahy@yahoo.com

 


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