Monday, October 04, 2010

Lutheran Ethics, Jonathan Rundman and Piracy (of the Musical Sort)

I received an email about the new Journal of Lutheran Ethics issue and read with great interest Jonathan Rundman's piece titled, "Thieves in the Temple: Intellectual Property, Use of Media, and the Law (Not Yet) Written on Our Hearts." Rundman deals with the all too common issue of piracy and people's disregard for what belongs to others and their livelihood. What is nice is to see is that Rundman does not hammer on the seventh commandment "You shall not steal." Instead he goes to vocation. Rundman writes,
Perhaps the Lutheran understanding of vocation might be a helpful angle. We believe that God gives everyone different gifts and skills and passions, and in following those paths we can live out a life of service. Whether you are a bus driver, computer programmer, soldier, or bishop, your daily work becomes a beautiful and holy calling. Now, it is pretty easy to see church workers, teachers, and doctors in this light, and it is clear to us that we want to honor their work. Sometimes, though, we need a reminder that musicians, camera operators, editors, electricians, and factory workers are personally impacted when we drag 300 songs over from our friend's hard drive or when we buy a bootlegged DVD on the street corner.
The digital age does make our lives easier, but also ethically murkier. It is a complicated discussion to have with folks, and I have it often dealing with copyright issues. Rundman's reflection could help us all to think about the effects of our actions on others.


Riegel said...

One must be careful with vocation if used as a sole criterion. Discerning which vocations are God given and which are not, apart from an external law, could allow the pirate to claim that he/she has been endowed by God with the necessary skills and that he/she is indeed providing a service to his/her neighbor. A God-pleasing vocation will conform with the moral law. I'm not sure that even a teleogical suspension of the ethical will help one avoid that expectation.

Brian Bennett said...

I think you are right Matthew. I don't think Rundman was using vocation as the sole criterion. I was just pleased that he did not start off with "You shall not steal." Most people don't believe it is stealing, so that commandment doesn't get much traction initially.

Riegel said...

Concur. Sadly, those for whom the commandment gains little traction will not likely be motivated to do better by an appeal to vocation. Beneath every violation of the Decalogue is the notion that something other than God is God--usually it is the self. To such, the vocation of another will be of little importance. After all, the other can't be God if the self is.

I also concur that Rundman is not using vocation as a cole criterion, but you and I both know the tendencies which favor sound-byte theology. Someone is going to latch on to a superficial reading of Rundman's intriguing and salutary approach, and, in the process, strip it out of the theological-ethical matrix from which it arises, giving those they teach and shepherd a deficient ethical proposition.