Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Issues With "Moralism" As A Path to God

     "Moralism, however, involves a host of impossibilities and contradictions. People just do not -- and, it seams, cannot -- live up to their own high standards. We keep failing. Sometimes, our very attempts at moral perfection lead us to immoral actions, as when our strict rules cause us to hate, coerce, and feel superior to others. Other times, our own interior attitudes undermine our virtuous actions. I have done "good works" for which I receive praise and acclamation, while inside feeling an unwilling resentment that I knew even at the time took away any pretension that I was "meriting" anything.
     The passions, the perversities of the will, the innermost secret desires of the heart, keep thwarting the best moral intentions. Moralists are often tempted to mask their failures with dishonesty or rationalization. This is why moralism is often accompanied by hypocrisy, a show of external righteousness that masks the true story of what is happening inside.
     Another way of coping when our moral reach exceeds our grasp is to push virtue out to the periphery of our experience -- becoming a matter of voting right or holding the correct social positions or supporting virtuous causes -- even while our personal or family lives become a wreck. We define down moral perfection, making it something easier and within our control. In doing so, of course, we generally end up violating the moral obligations that really count, those that have to do with our own behavior and our relationships to those around us.
     Another problem inherent to moralism is that righteousness has a way of twisting itself into self-righteousness, a feeling of pride and superiority that undoes the virtue that is achieved. The problem is not only that people of the highest morals slip up. It seems that the very effort to be moralistic tends to breed harshness, pride, and even cruelty, hardly signs of being "a good person."
     Certainly, "being good" is a laudable goal. The problem, if we are honest, is that no one seems able fully to achieve that goal. We don't really have the willpower or the inner motivation or the inner purity to achieve moral perfection."

     -- Gene Edward Vieth, Jr., "The Spirituality of the Cross" , Revised Edition
         (c) 2010 Concordia Publishing House

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

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