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19 October 2017
Doing Good Is Costly … But Free …
Recently I eavesdropped (I could not resist) on a heated conversation between two high school girls. Their dilemma: should they tell a naïve friend her beau was hitting on other girls at school? Should they tell their friend the painful truth - or hide it from her, leaving her vulnerable to the embarrassment and humiliation inevitably to follow? Should they expose the lie or, by their silence, further it?
Tough judgment call. Or is it.
Ethical quandaries are frequent in daily life. Some people are smart enough to know when to take counsel, when to consult morally mature elders, when to pray for guidance, when to act - even if risk or conflict are involved.
Other people sidestep the tug of conscience and shrug off moral decisions. They mute the voices of altruism and fidelity; instead, they opt for denial and avoidance - and choose to be morally neutered.
For many of us, avoidance of moral responsibility works just fine -- for a while. But reality hovers. Try as we may, we cannot isolate ourselves from the laws of the moral universe into which we are born. And if, at some point, we wish to become mature persons, to grow up and dispel the infantile allure of toxic ego-centrism, we must choose virtue, for maturity is defined by stable moral behavior.
But wait …... How do any of us really know what is morally right and what is wrong? Where is it written? Who is wise enough to make it clear to us what we should do?
The answer? We learn! We learn from myriad sources of virtue and goodness all around us. Sources of wisdom overflow in the moral universe.
We learn from parents and grandparents, from other family members and insightful elders, from teachers and pastors and history itself. We learn from the good example of morally clear-headed friends, from the unruly truancy of reckless playmates. And we learn especially well by suffering the consequences of our own errant behavior. Indeed, life teaches us that personal pain is the truest path to virtue and, in time, to the wisdom which maturity offers.
Adulthood is designed by Nature as the culminating stage in the development of our moral maturity. Our lives are aimed at achieving moral maturity, which is characterized by mastery of wisdom and by self-restraint. Moral maturity means that we act wisely, with goodness and virtue, with discipline and other virtues which identify us as morally reliable adults.
We are given a lifetime to choose right from wrong, decent from indecent, good from evil, virtue from sin. We will err along the way, make serious mistakes as we learn, but we are born to be moral persons.
Humility? Are You Kidding?
Not every adult grows up to be a morally mature person. Moral maturity never favors the haughty or self-absorbed. Why? Because humility in thought and action is essential for maturity. Self-absorption is a moral dead end and haughtiness stifles humility. Humility has no room for such self-indulgence.
But ….. humility is vastly misunderstood So, let’s be very clear about what humility really involves.
The word “humility” comes from the Latin word for “earth.” And here is the crucial point: Humility is not a servile, toe-in-the-dust attitude. It is not slavish, nor is it eyes-downcast, hat-in-hand, stammering, self-demeaning drivel.
Humility really means we have deep roots in the ground of truth. Our heads are held high and our feet are planted solidly in the soil of reality, not in the shifting sands of self-delusion or the camouflage of preening false modesty. Humility grants us spiritual strength to strip away haughty exaggeration, so that moral clarity may emerge. Humility teaches us never to fake or pretend, never to erect facades or to deceive. It pursues selfless benevolence in one’s intentions and grants readiness to overcome the puerile tantrums and pride-filled excesses of a deluded ego.
Humility respects and upholds truths about oneself and - sometimes, with awkward candor – the truth about others. But humility is neither brash nor punitive, neither domineering nor superior .. even when hard truths and hurtful issues must be faced.
There are, of course, precarious situations in life when not speaking is the more humane course. Sometimes, truth is too much for some to bear. Some people spend a lifetime hiding from truths which are, for them, too painful. Then, humility calls upon wisdom and prudence, temperance and charity as guides to caution and kindness.
Virtue Becomes Habitual
Another of moral maturity’s blessings is the gift of wisdom. Wisdom clarifies the ways in which various virtues are appropriate and timely. Wisdom offers us moral focus, intellectual direction and an enlightened heart. Wisdom opens the door to virtues such as kindness, truth, faith, justice, self-restraint, hope, prudence, fortitude, patience, humility, perseverance and a slew of others.
These virtues are extremely practical -- as well as indispensable -- for a morally and psychologically healthy life. But growing in virtue has a cost. As we respond to the promptings of virtue, we will pay the price of choosing what is morally right – and that price can be costly.
We can, of course, avoid the price. We can choose to be narcissistic and lustful, punitive and hurtful, greedy and dismissive. Or we can choose to be beneficent and generous, altruistic and truthful, kind and respectful.
Is There A Problem ?
All this talk about virtue, morality and so forth may sound nice and make sense to some of us. But there are doubters who believe this is pie-in-the-sky thinking.
To doubters and atheists, dissenters and cynics, this is really only brainwashing, honey-tongued palaver; shallow excuses for pretending righteousness, especially in today’s world where “virtue signaling” is a cheap trick.
In fact, virtue -- and virtuous people -- are often scorned by skeptics and belittled by nay-sayers. Many sophisticated cynics and sarcastic critics dismiss these ideas with urbane superiority - and a knowing snort. “Virtue? Pleasse!!!!” Why does virtue seem so passe’ or quaint to so many?
Let’s face it. Today’s world is profoundly influenced by pay-to-play schemes and shifting, sound-bite values. A rancid string of scandalous behavior by political leaders and clerics and business moguls has reduced discussions of virtue to a hollow, contradictory rant.
Moreover, moral relativism thrives by telling us that we may do whatever pleases us, and forget the consequences. Our culture allows just about anything, as long as no one gets caught or is sued or exposed in the media. Duplicity jolly well works.
Worse, for decades a Culture of Death has reduced the sanctity of the human person to a tedious cliché. Abortion and doctor-assisted suicide have gravely diminished the dignity and value of human life. In addition, we now see deceitful, multi-gendered rejections of Nature’s basic dictates in education, government, religion and, sadly, in family. We are gods-unto-ourselves, flaunting the limits of Nature and the laws of God; declaring that we, and we alone, shall decide what is reality and what is best for us.
To the moral relativist, indifference, convenience, subterfuge and contrivance are norms. Truth is jettisoned or re-defined as situations demand. Male is female, black is Caucasian, and some folks marry themselves. Words no longer have meaning; facts are irrelevant. Relationships become combat zones for profit and infidelity. The bizarre is normalized and freakish perversity is applauded.
Moral relativism and its cohort, Political Correctness, demean our shared humanity, de-stabilize our young and corrupt our leaders.
So Where To Now?
Wisdom demands that our actions be in sync with the moral universe into which we are born. The moral universe requires 1) our respect for all human beings 2) our virtuous observance of Nature’s laws and limits, and like it or not, 3) a reverent and prayerful relationship with God, Creator of all.
It is God - not us - Who created the moral universe into which we are born, in which we live and breathe and have our being.
It is God, our Creator, Who gives us the power to choose virtue over debasement and wisdom over self-destruction.
Without God, virtue becomes an empty slogan. Morality is meaningless and without purpose. Human rights are decided by physical clout or psychological influence. Pathology smiles.
Without God, we are accountable to no one, not bound by any relationship. Trust, love, friendship, fidelity, even patriotism have no meaning. Without God, we have no moral responsibility to anyone except as society (itself a contrivance) dictates. Coldness and indifference are entirely suitable. Convenience and comfort and disdain for one another are routine.
If we deny God, we deny God’s Creation -- and ourselves. It is that basic. Without God, Creation itself is meaningless – and so are we.
The Obvious Choice
For these (and so many other) reasons, the laws of God’s moral universe serve a clear and essential role in all human affairs – and particularly in the lives of individuals who seek identity and direction and purpose and mental health during their time on this earth. I may not change nations but I can surely give myself to a cause greater than all others, the cause of goodness.
Virtue exists to ignite our universal capacity to make the human experience far more humane. The choice - and cost - of virtue are our only paths to peace and security.
These ideals are attainable but only with effort, for human nature is not -- of itself and by itself -- drawn to virtue. But history does tell us, time and again, that human beings are capable of moral maturity, of deep intimacy and kindness, of wondrous generosity and life-saving altruism, of virtuous choices galore.
We are - if we choose - capable of the highest acts of love and the finest acts of courage and the most moving acts of forgiving and a panoply of virtuous choices which – if we choose -- define us as moral creatures under God. These views are not popular these days, yet the fact remains: life is a matter of choices and the moral universe is our home.
Every life is filled with moral choice-points. Even small choices add up to a life of choices.
For each and all of us, life itself is a choice.