Series on Morality

Because I am at work, and have my homework with me, I am stealing my son’s series on Morality he has been writing.  I don’t think he’d mind me sharing.  He only posts every couple months because he works a lot and doesn’t have internet at home.

Here is the first installment:

What is Morality?  What Does It Matter?

Can anyone separate himself in an enterprise from his personal morality?  In every forum of human activity, there is a crucial but often subtle correspondence to morality, be it politics, work, celebration, education, the liturgy, etc.  In fact, everything one does is a reflection of his morality in some way.  Every human activity is therefore bound to be misunderstood and poorly undertaken if the moral framework on which it is built is misunderstood.
Morality, simply put, is belief put into action.  Everyone has desires for what he believes is good and so what he believes, be it by faith or reason, has implications for how he decides what is a preferable choice or course of action.  For example, if one believes that air conditioners are bad for one’s health and that person wants to preserve his health more than he wants to keep cool in the summer, that person will probably not buy and use an air conditioner, unless of course, some other thing leads him to believe that he should.  Though this may perhaps seem to be a trivial example, it is still morality.  What morality is not is an arbitrary set of rules.  Even commandments and moral absolutes can be shown to be reasonable and representative of a conviction on what is good and desirable.
It is easy to see how any of the above mentioned examples of human activity ties into morality in a very deep way.  From a Christian perspective, morality is much more deeply intertwined in every facet of human life; from waking up in the morning to burying the dead.  This is because, for Christians, morality is life itself.  If morality is the pursuit of good on behalf of our own desire, then morality is the pursuit of God.  The moral life springs from much deeper fonts than commandments and precepts.  It is more akin to a love affair, in which every soul experiences an unquenchable thirst for something beyond this world; for life itself.  This is God, and He is goodness itself.
The moral life is sometimes called a participation in goodness.  I am not speaking here of some ethereal neo-platonic concept of fragmented bodies tending back into union with the One (though it is worth looking into).  To participate in something is to act in unison with those who are part of it.  It does not help to understand morality by saying it is “acting in unison with others who are also acting for the good.”    This is obvious.  What is extraordinary in Christianity, in speaking of participation, is that God, who is goodness itself, acts.  He in fact acts only in goodness.  Thus, to say that one “participates in goodness” is to say that one “participates in God.”  That is, one acts in unison with Him.  St. Thomas Aquinas goes even further in saying that, because God is perfect, there is no potential good in Him that is not already realized.  God is therefore pure act (though let’s not get ahead of ourselves).
When one acts for the sake of goodness, we call this love.  This is why we say that God is love, because He is goodness in action.  To act for the sake of something is to love that thing.  This works in every analogous sense of the word:  I love ice cream – I will find some and eat it:  I love art – I will create it and preserve it:  I love my wife – I will protect and honor her.  Because God is the good, everything is good by virtue of Him.  He created it; he maintains it, and everything good leads ultimately to Him.  We thus see that every act of love, in whatever sense, is a real participation in the goodness of God.
To say that something ought to be such-and-such a way is to commit to a standard in which that thing is considered good.  We maintain this standard in our beliefs on what is good.  If one, for instance, believes that free-market economy is good because of so-and-so, then he would be likely to say that the economy ought to be a free-market.  If this same free-market proponent were a Christian, it would stand to reason that he would believe a free-market economy (in some small way at least) to be a reflection of the goodness of God and a means of leading oneself to Him.  A Christian cannot reasonably conceive of any sphere of human activity as being separable or unrelated to his morality, be it politics, education, joke-telling, fishing, drinking, love-making, eating, working, nose-picking, reading or writing, buying or selling, child-rearing, painting, pissing, or sleeping.  Everything he does ought to be done out of love of God.  To believe one thing and act contrary to that belief on account of some other belief amounts to a contradiction of beliefs:  Such a person is unreasonable and a liar to himself.  If a Christian cannot sincerely believe that he does something in order to participate in the goodness of God, he ought not to do that thing, no matter what that thing is.
And the second:

Rebuilding the Pantheon

     It is now quite obvious that a new age of paganism has dawned upon us.  No longer does Christian culture justly reign in the hearts and minds of the world.  This has been so, I think, for at least a century, but now it is easy enough to look around at the present state of things and deduce that the old pantheon has once again been enthroned on the principles of a false morality.

     Though many of the current generation might not conscientiously subscribe to any definite morality (I doubt if the average college student is even prepared to discuss what morality means), they live by a morality nonetheless.  We do not live in an amoral society.  Wherever there is approbation or affirmation, there is at least a sense of right and wrong and where there is a sense of right and wrong, there is a principle by which to judge something accordingly.
     Any and every different morality, complete or not, has an end; a perceived good to which that morality aspires.  For example, if one deems it right to care for personal hygiene, the good to which that norm aspires is the health of the individual.  Simple enough.  Christian morality has God as its end because God is goodness itself and all good things are good insofar as they come from God.  Furthermore, one can hope for happiness in apprehending good things because they ultimately lead one to happiness in God.  Hygiene, then, is a reasonable enough norm as someone who is clean and therefore healthy is more likely to be happier than someone who is not.
     But I am not writing to discuss hygiene.  What has become obvious to the Christian standing apart from modern culture is that God is no longer recognized as the end of morality.  He is no longer recognized at all.  And with the Source-and-Summit of goodness removed, the whole structure is dismantled.  We now see a scattered, fragmented collection of principles which have only sub-perfect goods as their ends, each set up as something worthy of worship in itself.
     I wish it were that society had only fallen under the demons of pagan Rome, where greedy traders and “honest workers” alike consecrate their lives to Vulcan and Mercury, where Venus bestows her blessing on the unbridled sexual escapades of youth, and where libations are offered to Bacchus in return for the destructive pleasure of drunken revelry.  Gaia has reformed her demands and now asks that you drive a Prius, eat only free-range eggs, and separate your recyclables.  Minerva, while still cherishing a few remaining rationalists, scolds those who are perhaps too “narrow-minded” to concede to the pedantry of her priests.

     These gods have indeed been resurrected, but a far more malicious and (thankfully still) controversial presence in our society is the resurgence of the older and much more sinister cults of Ba’al, to whom one was not a man until he sacrificed his virginity to the temple prostitutes, and of Moloch, to whom women sacrifice their children in the hope of being spared the hardships of a capricious life.
     The principles aforementioned are not (as of yet) personified as they were in pagan Rome and ancient Babylon, but they hold their false place of honor nonetheless.  What turns a veritable good into a vicious god?  It is that these ends of today’s morality are set up as the end; that there is nothing more to live up to.  The art of pagan worship is nothing more than the art of fooling oneself into believing that happiness will come when the gods are appeased, despite their quarrelling even among themselves.
     What is a Christian to do in a neo-pagan world?  The answer does not come easy, but it helps to know what it means to be Christian and who one’s gods are.
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3 Comments

  1. laura

    For your son:

    Interesting point of view. However, are you speaking of morals or ethics? I tend to think the latter. Morality implies making a choice (either right or wrong). Ethics is making the correct choice according to Christian values. Morality doesn’t always need to be tied into Christianity, which seems to be a point you are trying to make.

    The inherent issue with St. Thomas Aquinas is the nature-telos connection. He was heavily influenced by Aristotle’s works which were “found” following the Dark Ages. And you might want to look into the arguments of Augustine (the Confessions) and Gregory of Nyssa to see how they came to the same points of view from essentially divergent backgrounds.

    It is nice to see a deep thinker. I have one who was reading G.K. Chesteron in 6th grade, and is now a brilliant thinker in 9th grade.

    Keep growing and sharing, but be open to evaluating your POV within other contexts. :)

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