Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Whence cometh motivation? Why be brave?

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It is not unusual to do the right thing for the wrong reason - to make the correct specific choice but validated by the wrong general principle.

In the heat of battle, it can be forgotten that my enemy's enemy is not necessarily, perhaps not even usually, my friend.

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Looking back over my life and the various conflicts, it is clear that sometimes I wanted the right thing, fought courageously for the right thing, but for the wrong reason.

In particular, I might be defending a position which derived from common sense or natural law: let's say I was defending 'the good' against attack - let's say I was defending traditional morality from political correctness.

But before I was a Christian  there was no 'ultimate' reason for me to defend the good: no objective basis for saying that good was good. So how could I rationalise what I was doing, how could I justify my decision to defend the good?

How could I get the motivation to accept short-term disadvantage in pursuit of long-term good?

What made me brave?

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Because that is the key - this matter of motivation.

Unless motivations are strong, then there will be no living of belief, and expediency will always prevail.

Ultimately it is about the virtue of courage: why be brave?

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Courage is a virtue, and a key virtue upon which all other virtues depend; but the most usual reason for courage is - I suspect, at least on the basis of my own experience - not virtue, but in fact a sin: the sin of pride.

So that it often has been the case that I pursued a good cause, and (relatively) courageously, but for a bad reason - indeed a very bad reason, perhaps the worst reason of all: pride.

I was virtuous for a sinful reason. 

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My act of courage was a result of my own pride, a belief in my rightness. Not God's rightness.

My own rightness, and how could it have been otherwise?

Without God, there are only the wills of different humans - and courage can only be underpinned the belief in asserting one's own will rather than accepting the will of others.

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Well, at least, that is the abstract justification. In practice people can do good, for good reasons, in the absence of a belief in God: they 'just do it' - but cannot explain or justify what they do.

They are inarticulate in their dogged resistance to sin: and thank God that they are.

Because the danger comes - especially for reflective people - in articulation: precisely in explaining to yourself, or to other people, why you are resisting what other people want. Explaining the grounds for your resistance, your disobedience, disruptiveness, what-looks-like your aggressiveness.

And in explaining to yourself or others, you may fall into the sin of pride, and this fall into pride may be self-reinforcing.

Courage from pride leads to the necessity for stronger pride to sustain and enhance courage. 

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Indeed it often is this way - which is why courageous fighters against 'the establishment' are often such very bad people. They get their motivation from pride, and the harder and longer is their fight, the greater the need for motivation becomes: until they are consumed by that pride upon which their courage depends.

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Courage is a virtue; it is good, it is essential, it is very lacking in modern society: we need more courage.

But what we need is courage on the side of good, and for good reasons.

(Any other motivation for courage is lethal: the enemy's work.) 

And the only side of good is the side of God; and the only good reason is a God reason.

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15 comments:

prideful said...

Very very accurate.

Even before I became a Christian I was what most people would consider a good person most of the time. However, the lack of any articulate reason for doing good led to constant doubt and sometimes twisted even the good. Most evil today is done by people who think of themselves as good people.

I remember at the time of my conversion when I was fighting against a corrupt bureaucracy and I read That Hideous Strength and finally understood what was going on. It gave me the strength to do the good where I otherwise might have wavered.

Probably the most useful thing I ever read was the Seraphrim Rose piece on nihilism. I realized that I had gone through each phase of nihilism looking for truth. Often several at the same time. In fact it was precisely not finding truth in any of them that brought me to God. Without that you are always looking for the answer in the wrong place (ultimately yourself, pride).

Bruce Charlton said...

@prideful - I had a very similar experience with that superb book by Eugene (Fr Seraphim) Rose, which I saw referenced by Jim Kalb (I think) on View From The Right - in case anyone else wants to see it:

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html

Wm Jas said...

As I wrote some time ago in this post, "The atheist arrogantly stands by his personal convictions. The Christian, in contrast, humbly submits to God’s will — which he arrogantly assumes must coincide with his personal convictions. Is there really any difference in practice?"

Well, is there?

Without God, the only possible bases for morality are social consensus and subjective personal conviction. For a theist, in contrast, morality is based on God's will -- which, of course, can be "known" (guessed-at) only through the social consensus of a religious tradition or the subjective personal conviction of conscience.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - "God's will -- which, of course, can be "known" (guessed-at) only through the social consensus of a religious tradition or the subjective personal conviction of conscience."

That simply *assumes* the falsity of *all* claimed instances of revelation and communications from deity.

"Is there really any difference in practice?" - Well, is there?

Yes, very obviously so. There is a truly vast, qualitative difference between the behaviour of groups of devoutly religious people, and secular people.

You need look no further than the behaviour of Mormons, and what they give up in the way of short term pleasures, and the ways in which they refuse to go along with the secular trends. Surely the differences in behaviour of those you grew up among, proves this?

Having said that, the kind of devoutness and qualitative behaviour difference seen among Mormons is not much seem among mainstream Christians, except Conservative Evangelicals. But other groups such as the Amish or Hutterites have refused modernity; and this has also been seen among ultra-Orthodox Jews and the most devout Muslims.

But my main example relates to fertility; in this biologically primary domain the qualitative difference in fertility between those ruled by personal convictions and God's will can be seen: and those ruled by personal convictions have in every nation and every class chosen the route of self-extinction by sub-replacement fertility.

I personally find this a decisive argument; but whether regarded as decisive it is extremely powerful.

Roger U said...

Off topic, but i was wondering if you had heard of the Queen James Bible?

http://queenjamesbible.com/

The editors "cleansed" the Bible of its "homophobia". Its not a joke, apparently.

George Goerlich said...

I had a couple questions in regards to devoutness that tend to be placed contra the fertility argument:

1) Priests and the most holy tend to abstain from sexual relations (and reproduction). This may have not been a major issue historically, where families may have been quite large, but theoretically the most holy individuals are dying off by not reproducing. If a tendency towards religiousity/holiness lies in genetics, isn't this something that should be changed?

2) In addition to remaining celibate, Christians tend to have a belief that giving up material wealth "to the poor" is a holy act. The poor, in general, especially in modern society, tend to have the most kids and tend to be the least intelligent and responsible. Wouldn't intelligent and holy families giving their wealth (and so probably forsaking additional offspring) be harmful? Is this an incorrect interpretation of scripture?

3) In addition to "giving to the poor" we see many of these religious families feeling guilt-tripped or otherwise interpreting giving as adopting the offspring of the poor instead of procreating. Even the Mormon church has had some propaganda efforts towards interracial adoptions and how they are good. Most of the Christian churches in my area have large numbers of families with Chinese and Korean children adopted. I'm not saying this is "bad", but theoretically, this becoming a widespread practice would be bad for genetics and a counter-indicator for passing down the genes of the most religious families who actually follow this. Is this another incorrect interpretation of goodness/holiness?

Wm Jas said...

That simply *assumes* the falsity of *all* claimed instances of revelation and communications from deity.

No, it doesn't. It simply assumes that any given instance may be false -- that even revelation must inevitably be judged by the same human standards as anything else. Is a given apparent revelation truly a revelation, or is it of human origin? If it is truly a revelation, is it from God or from the devil? If it is from God, does it mean what you think it means? Have you interpreted it correctly? All these questions must be answered by recourse to tradition, consensus, or personal conviction -- and of course different religions and different individuals answer them differently.

A popular slogan among evangelicals is "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." What this actually means -- since what exactly God has said is subject to dispute -- is "I believe that God said it. That settles it." Behind the "God is right" lurks an "I am right" -- pride masquerading as humility.

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Regarding the differences you mentioned in moral behavior and fertility, yes, they are impressive, but not relevant to the point. We were talking about pride, and my question "Is there really any difference in practice?" was meant to be interpreted in the context of that limited scope. I meant, "Although in theory the Christian is submitting to God's will and the atheist is following his own will, is the one really any more or less prideful than the other in terms of psychology or personal virtue?"

The Mormons are certainly a morally exemplary people in a great many ways -- but are they less prideful than unbelievers? Not in my experience. Pride is indeed as Ezra Taft Benson said, "the universal sin."

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - 1. I think the problem is that you are assuming a kind of 'reversability' in logic; you are assuming that because I have said that voluntary sterility of a people/ society/ culture (not every person) is bad (which it is); then it follows that fertility is good for every person. But nobody is saying, nor ever has said, that fertility is good for every person.

2. I think that the Christian teachings on almsgiving are grossly misrepresented. For example, you say 'giving up' but the moral process is meant to be active. Another point: ours is a society of soul--rotting *luxury* - not of poverty. The problem of poverty is gone, the problem of luxury has taken over.

What modern secular societies call 'the poor' are people who work less and eat more than 'the rich', and have more surviving children - this is not at all what the Bible meant by 'the poor' - it is orthogonal to Biblical poverty.

3. I don't know whether the phenomenon you describe is correct, nor whether it is a genuinely Christian teaching rather than something that happens to be done by some Christians in a particular time and place - but it would all hinge on *why* it was being done, what were the arguments and consequences.

Bruce Charlton said...

"No, it doesn't. It simply assumes that any given instance may be false -- that even revelation must inevitably be judged by the same human standards as anything else."

It seems like you are focusing on the problem of evaluating the validity of specific possible revelations.

Well, since you claim not to be rejecting revelation as an assumption - tell me how - in principle - any revelation of any kind or generality might be evaluated.

What evaluation by not human standards could, in principle, exist?

If you are indeed not rejecting revelations a priori, then you must have an evaluation system which could - in principle - recognize a valid revelation, if there was one.

What is this system? If you don't acknowledge the possibility of revelation and a means by which it could be known - then you *have* rejected revelation, and by assumption not by evidence.

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"Although in theory the Christian is submitting to God's will and the atheist is following his own will, is the one really any more or less prideful than the other in terms of psychology or personal virtue?"

I would say yes, very obviously so - for the reasons I describe in the post.

In the secular world, there are only two types of motivation: submission (to expediency) or pride. Therefore, anyone who is not submissive is being fuelled by pride. The more distinctive and strong is a secular person, the more courageous, the more prideful.

By contrast, among devout Christians, there are people who are neither submissive nor proud. They stand against the norm, they defy expediency, they refuse to submit; but not by hardening their pride.

The difference is objective, empirical, observable - which is not to say it cannot be denied if it is regarded as impossible by assumption - but by normal human standards of evaluation it is a matter of experience.

Wm Jas said...

Well, since you claim not to be rejecting revelation as an assumption - tell me how - in principle - any revelation of any kind or generality might be evaluated. What evaluation by not human standards could, in principle, exist?

Of course there can ultimately be no evaluation by non-human standards. That's my point. We're human, and therefore all our beliefs ultimately hinge on human judgments. Revelation doesn't change that. Nothing could, in principle, change that.

If you are indeed not rejecting revelations a priori, then you must have an evaluation system which could - in principle - recognize a valid revelation, if there was one. What is this system? If you don't acknowledge the possibility of revelation and a means by which it could be known - then you *have* rejected revelation, and by assumption not by evidence.

Nothing could, in principle, prove the validity of a given revelation. Accepting something as a valid revelation is an act of faith, not something which is or can be compelled by the available evidence. Asserting that revelation can be "known" only by a volitional, somewhat arbitrary, act of faith is not the same as rejecting revelation. I think most Christians would agree with me on this point.

In the secular world, there are only two types of motivation: submission (to expediency) or pride. Therefore, anyone who is not submissive is being fuelled by pride. The more distinctive and strong is a secular person, the more courageous, the more prideful.

An atheist can choose the Good because it is Good, just as much as a Christian can (unless you water down the concept of "God" to the point where anyone who believes in the metaphysical Good is considered a theist). Of course he inevitably relies on his own conscience and judgment to determine what is Good, which is what opens him up to the charge of pride -- but the same is true of the Christian.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - of course I used to think the same. But this assumption is just a modern fad restricted to a handful of people in the world.

One of the things that clarified this for me was reading Rodney Stark's Discovering God - which studies claimed historical revelations by making sociological assumptions about the likely/ plausible effects of real revelations. He contrasts this with the usual historical study which assumes all revelations must be explained away (then finds exactly what it looks for!).

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

What Gurdjieff calls self-remembering, Maritain calls intuition of being: I am, I exist, and I am different from the other beings, yet all beings have in common that they are.

This is the intuition of the first two transcendentals as well as of the first axiom of reason: the being, the one and the principle of identity. The other three transcendentals, as well as the intuition of God as the source of all being, follow: being is good, and true, and beautiful in the same measure that it is. Evil is the subtraction of being, good is addition of being.

That was the abstract part, now let’s get to the practical.

Courage being a virtue, real, objective courageous acts cannot be anything but good. Being courageous is doing the just (justice and courage go hand in hand) and good thing that needs to be done: it is fundamentally, not accidentally, good and the intention is fundamentally good too.

If the intention-motivation of a good act is mixed with pride, remember that pride is not necessarily sinful. The difference between both forms of pride is clearer in French as we have two different words Рorgueil (the sin) and fiert̩ (honour, usually).

I admit that the pursuit of honour might lead to the sin of pride, but even if the intention-motivation is not perfectly pure we cannot deny the possibility that any person, Christian or not, is able to do good and be good, and can be saved.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - I should make clear that the state of self-remembering is something like a momentary realization - lasting seconds or minutes. It sounds like Maritain may have been talking about something rather different?

"Courage being a virtue, real, objective courageous acts cannot be anything but good."

Well, yes and no - but mostly no!

Courage can be, usually has been, deployed in service to evil. It is a fallen world.

Also courage is a partial expression of virtue (which is iteslf a partial expression of The Good - which includes also truth and beauty).

Just as 'kindness' (a virtue) pursued in isolation and excess leads to the cowardly irresponsibility of Leftism; so courage, pursued in isolation and excess leads to sadistic societies like the pagan Vikings, Samauri, or the SS.

Alat said...

WmJas and Dr. Charlton,

Perhaps this passage of the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on fideism might be helpful:

". . . it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of human knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself"

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06068b.htm

Best,

Alat

prideful said...

@WMJas

An atheist can choose the Good because it is Good, just as much as a Christian can (unless you water down the concept of "God" to the point where anyone who believes in the metaphysical Good is considered a theist)

The crux of the matter to me is that without God there can be no "The Good". Thus, to be secular is to be a nihilist by any logical measure, whatever protestations are offered to the contrary. You may call this "watered down" if you like, but it seems to me the very heart of the matter.

As to the difference between doing something for God and doing something for yourself I suggest practicing this difference in real life. The same actions and convictions done for different reasons will have a very different effect.