Ethics & values

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Questions of ethics seem to be everywhere: Congress, corporate America, schools, hospitals, religious institutions, science labs and journalism organizations. Few of the questions involve obvious answers. Rather than black-and-white issues, America seems to dwell in shades of gray, where people puzzle over what’s right, what’s wrong and where to turn for moral standards. “Ethics and values” are talked about a lot, but in general terms. It’s the specific circumstances that make for penetrating narratives.

More religion journalists find themselves covering beats that are called faith and ethics or spirituality and values. That’s a reflection of the high profile of ethics questions in this country and people’s thirst to determine what’s right and what’s wrong, from the largest to the smallestmatters. Should the United States go to war? Should a severely brain-damaged woman be kept on life support against her husband’s wishes? Should I turn my child in to her teacher if she tells me she copied one answer from someone else’s math test?

Should I tell an acquaintance his wife is having an affair? Should the largest religious groups be able to legislate moral standards that must be followed by smaller groups who disagree with them? Moral standards are drawn from a variety of sources—professional codes of conduct, family values, human instincts and, often, religion. Journalists now have more ways than ever to chronicle the ethical questions of our time. They should ask insightful questions, conduct detailed interviews and pay attention to details. They also can consult a wide range of experts in ethics to give perspective and context to the debates of the day.

Some ethicists’ work is based on their religious beliefs, while other systems of ethics are secularly based. Compare perspectives between them, and also explore the ethical perspectives of different religions. On many topics, juxtaposing different faith traditions’ moral standards can illuminate why right and wrong can be so difficult to determine in specific situations. Here are some resources to start with.