Of course, I didn't know what soteriology was back then (it's just the study of how one gets "saved"). But the explanation always seemed fundamentally unclear, even illogical, to me: I get to live forever because Jesus died for my sins (...if I believe that he died for my sins).
It seems like an unjustified equation.* That's not a technical term, it's just my way of saying, why? I mean, what does Jesus dying on the cross have to do with me? And why doesn't the fact that he died on the cross just mean that I live to be 900-years old or something? In other words, cause doesn't seem to necessarily bring about effect.
But this post isn't about Christian soteriology. It's about ethics. For the past decade or two, academics have really been winding up around Levinas' explanation for ethics. I've read two of his books, and I've listened to dozens of explications on his entire corpus, and I have to say: Levinas' ethics seem like another unjustified equation.
"The Other has a face, and I have a face, so..." Or, "I have a 'subjective constitution' so..." in other words, the final prescription (or description) -- that I must defer to others -- does not seem to necessarily follow on the preliminary propositions. I mean, why does it matter that the other has a face and that I have a subjective constitution, and so on?
I'm disappointed that nobody seems to be asking these questions (not to mention answering them). It's possible that I simply haven't read or heard a good description of the foundation of Levinas' Ethics. But for now, it looks to me as if someone simply said, "You should be kind to others because the sky is blue," and everyone stood around and politely applauded the prophet's genius.
Fortunately, until I get my explanation, I have a solution -- and one that makes sense. And better still, I just found out that I'm not the only person to offer this as a foundation for ethics... someone else has already termed this other solution for me: ethical monism. Published in 1899, Augustus Strong Hopkins' tract argues that we should be kind to one another because we are not separate in any meaningful way. There is only One, and you are it, and I am it... and because that's the case, doing good to you is doing good to myself.
It's true that whereas Christian soteriology and Levinasian ethics breakdown in their metaphysics (in my view), ethical monism may be very problematic in the epistemological phase (e.g., "I do not believe that you and I are one.") -- but it seems to me that ethical monism is no more or less probable than the Christian or the Levinasian explanation.
Something to chew on.
*Another great example of muddled soteriology is the case of Dostoevsky's Kirilov, who decides to commit suicide consciously -- that is, not out of despair, but to show that human beings really do have freedom of the will. Kirilov reasoned that if just one man did this, it would clear up the question for all future generations of human beings, and no one would ever kill himself again because there would be no more despair about whether or not we have free will. Circular logic, I suppose.**
**For fun, you might think about what would happen if Kirilov's reasoning were correct, but he only went through with the suicide in the course of Dostoevsky's fiction. Would a "real" human being need to commit that one conscious suicide, or would it be "good enough" that a fiction writer figured it out and depicted it?