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Doing Christian Ethics From the Margins Paperback – November 30, 2004

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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About the Author

Miguel A. De La Torre, a Cuban-American professor of theology at Hope College in Michigan, is author of several books, including the award-winning Reading the Bible from the Margins.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Orbis Books (November 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570755515
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570755514
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Dr. De La Torre has offered a compelling response to Christian ethics as it pertains to populations who live "with their backs against the wall." (quote from Dr. Howard Thurman's "Jesus and the Disinherited"). I love this book! Although De La Torre was privileged to train in the academy, he chose to use his training to speak truth to power. He acknowledged the problem of "(dominant) culture, while truly wishing to remain faithful to their religious convictions, at times construct ethical perspectives to preserve their power, defining their self-serving ethical response as Christian." (33) He also raised the important issue of including the voices from the margins in the discourse on ethics. This includes women, minorities, immigrants (legal/illegal), and homosexuals, to name a few. To support his argument he quotes Malcolm X's insistence that "a new system of reason and logic (must be) devised by us who are at the bottom." There is consensus that it is important to hear from theologians from the margins: James Cone, Miguel De La Torre, Katie Cannon, and Nancy Wilson.

However, there were two exceptions to my "De La Torre Love Fest". On page 36, he argues for an ethics rooted in experience. In my opinion, we stand on a stronger foundation by rooting our ethics in Jesus' teachings, as they were inclusive of the marginalized. Also, I felt that his description of God as one who "empowered" Hagar to suffer sounded too much like the usual dominant culture justification of their historical sin, labeling it "culturally-nuanced" instead of identifying things like slavery and domestic terrorism (i.e., KKK) as an out-and-out violation of God's holy nature. (23) That reasoning is used to justify many things, except for same-sex attractions. For same-sex attractions, we always remember God's holy standard. But in cases outside of sexual issues, God's holiness is footnoted.
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De La Torre is provocative. He sees ethics as "dismantling social mechanisms that benefit one group at the expense of another" (21). In his context this means that most injustices are the fault of white people. He views the threat to the marginalized as strictly external and reduces each problem in his chapters to either U.S. policy or white racism. He fails to offer hardly any criticism toward minorities or other governments for social evils. He presents case studies and facts and figures, but often in his statistics he is guilty of assuming correlation equals causation. In addition, many of the case studies fail to offer the full picture as figures are presented outside of context.
I guess this could be used to initiate dialogue, but is often one-sided liberation theology and there are probably better texts that offer a more balanced discussion.
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He makes a few good points along with a lot of poorly thought out points. Much of this is a rehash of Liberationist theology which creates a false binary between the oppressors and the oppressed. De La Torre often ignores the third parties which become collateral damage in the wars between the oppressors and the oppressed. He also focuses too much on policy and legislation, which are extremely complex and cannot be done from a simplistic or moralistic vantage point. Moralizing legislation often creates so many unintended consequences. I agree with much of his underlying methodology, but when it comes to applying it to specific issues, he oversimplifies.

For example, he argues for Affirmative Action on the basis that whites have been historically privileged and that the systems and powers still privilege white people over blacks and Latinos in the educational system. He argues that Affirmative Action helps correct the racism latent in the SAT. The problem is that the racism is not in the SAT, but that the SAT reflects the racism in the classroom. Yes white privilege exists. Yes the SAT is racist. But the SAT correlates very strongly with college GPA. That's the point of the SAT. That's the point of college admissions. If you use Affirmative Action to "fix" college admissions, but do not address the underlying problem, you do nothing. College admissions serve graduation rate. If you admit Latinos and Blacks to college through Affirmative Action, they're likely to flunk out at a greater rate than whites (which they are). You need to fix the actual classroom rather than fixing the admissions policies. The entire book is full of case studies such as the one above where De La Torre provides oversimplistic solutions based on "justice".

Thus De La Torre misdiagnoses problems and therefore misapplies his own theories. You cannot bandy around the word "justice" without really understanding the issues on a deeper level.
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This book was refreshing in so many different ways. I really liked the way that De La Torre integrated suffering into his definitions of ethics and theology. This helps reveal the Gospel message not only to those who reside in the margins, but also those who live in the mainstream. Give this book a chance and do not judge it before letting it speak because it definitely has a lot of great things to say.
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Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (2004) by Miguel A. De La Torre was one of three books we used in a class on Christian ethics, where each book covered the subject from a different point of view. De La Torre's book covered the issues perspective, to answer the question "How do you apply ethics to a wide range of issues, most of which arise from situations of people who live outside middle class white America.

De La Torre is a great proponent of contextualized theology and hermeneutics. People interpret their faith and their scripture differently, depending on their situation. In spite of that, De La Torre recognizes the supreme truth of moral behavior when he says "Unlike biblical interpretation, theology, or other religious disciplines, ethics should not be conducted from only one marginalized perspective...ethics from just one marginalized perspective may prove counterproductive." His little "may" there is unnecessary caution, as he was applying Kant's rule of the Categorical Imperative to modern ethical situations. After being so pleased with the author for that remark. less than forty pages later, he says "All ethics and all theologies are and will forever remain subjective - they are incapable of fully comprehending the infinity of the Divine." This incongruity (perhaps not an outright inconsistency) is symptomatic of the fact that De La Torre is not a great scholar.

This is the third of his books I have had in a class, and in every case, there were mistakes in fact, syntax, spelling, or logic. But the mistakes, except for the occasional one like this, tend to be minor. (One of our instructors who knows the author says he runs around the country dealing with various issues, and seems to write his many books on the fly, while in airplanes or waiting rooms.
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