Friday, 4 January 2019

Morality and Goodness

There are people in this world who are like the biblical Pharisees. Sometimes they are religious but often they are not. One of the characteristics of a certain type of modem atheist is that he must prove himself to be moral without any religious background, in his eyes, coercing him to be so. So he adopts a strict moral code which he adheres to, as you might say, religiously. This is his version of the Law.

But what is making him do this is, in large measure, pride and the desire to be morally better than the next man, especially the next religious man.

However you will observe that his morality is normally based on thought rather than love or kindness of heart, and you will see this because he will go so far but no further. I mean he will do what is expected morally even if it causes him hardship, indeed he may welcome that as a way of proving his superiority, but he will not do more.  He has ticked off the moral box and that is all that is required to satisfy his sense of what is right.

You may know someone like this. You may wonder why such a person always seems to be morally correct but you feel there is something missing. It is because the Pharisee acts from the mind not the heart. In fact, that's what he's doing, acting. He isn't feeling love and behaving spontaneously as a result which is the only true basis for morality.  He is simply demonstrating his goodness to himself and to others, and this is a way to tell the truly morally person from the imposter, bearing in mind that most people are a mixture of motivations and there will usually be something of both types in any one individual. 

Ask such an individual if he thinks he is a good person. The Pharisee will generally say yes, he is, unless he suspects a trick question. But the person who seeks to do good from love of God will say no because he knows that, of himself, he is not good.  He knows that all goodness must ultimately stem from and be rooted in God. He knows that any goodness that comes from himself is liable to be self-conscious and therefore fake. We are only really good when we let God be good through us. Without God morality is little better than utilitarian expediency.


Chris said...

I agree with what you write here . However, it's interesting to me how many non-leftists criticize "proggressives" with the exact opposite charge - that their views are completely feelings based and are merely sentimental with little concern for truth or integrity .
"Those on the left care only for pity , but there pity is not truthful . Those on the right care only for truth , but their truth is pitiless ." - GK Chesterton

William Wildblood said...

Truth and love. We need both and each one without the other is not really even itself but an image of it based either on thought or personal feelings. I actually have a piece in the pipeline that does do just what you say, i.e. talk about people whose views are sentimental with no concern for truth or integrity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I have certainly come across this mindset aong managers and other bureaucrats - strict implementation of the letter of the 'law'; but while abcient Pharisees worked from and within a fixed set of rules, the modern Pharisees have a set of rules that is changing almost monthly.

Furthermore, the strict interpretation of law is only applied to those with whom they disagree, while other individuals and groups are exempt.

I think this is how the bureaucracy and the media work so well together; the media act as the 'conscience' and decide who gets the full force of the law imposed upon them. In return, the media (as an institution) is itself exempted from the law; and has vast and ever-increasing power with no responsibility.

The Pharisees seem to start with the view that we can never know the motivations of a person, therefore we need to ignore motivations and focus upon actions... Then after a while motivations are denied, regarded as irrelevant; and everything hinges on enforcing a set of behaviours that are regarded as Good.