Thursday 23 April 2020

Motivation is (almost) everything

One of the great teachings of Jesus was that motivation counts for more than action. The Pharisee who did everything right was a vile sinner unless his behaviour was properly-motivated; the sinfully-behaving tax-collector/ collaborator might be well-motivated. The affectation of virtue was actually worse (according to Jesus's condemnation) than bad behaviour, confessed.

Salvation is by repentance, which is about motivation - about what we acknowledge to be Good and True: what we try to do. Salvation is not about what we succeed in doing...

So with the birdemic-response-crisis. What we currently do in and with our lives is less under-our-control than it has been for several generations. The contrast with what motivates us becomes ever-starker.

To live well is primarily about what motivates us in that living. Secondarily it is about our discernment concerning the motivation of others - which is a matter of judgement, of intuitive knowing (and not a matter of 'evidence'). As social beings, our discernment is an essential part of living: there can be no genuine neutrality or agnosticism in inferring motivation; any more than they can be concerning the reality of God.

Despite the cant about 'not being judgemental' (often parroted by self-styled Christians) the need for discerning the motivations of others is necessary and good, as well as unavoidable. We therefore need to discern whether the current situation has Godly-motivations, or evil. Has the totalitarian-takeover been done from altruism, or from the desire for power... We must each decide - an affected refusal to decide is, in fact, a decision.

And then, our own motivations - in this situation where we find-ourselves - need to be well-motivated. That is, to be well motivated, we each need to be motivated in alignment with God's creation and God's hopes and wishes (which also we must discern).  

There are innumerable official and media pressures to do this or that, to be seen to do this or that - and then there are own motivations for compliance or rebellion with these rules.

It matters less whether a person complies or rebels than that they are honest (with themselves) about this motivation.  One who complies due to cowardice, but who acknowledges and repent this; is a better person than one who rebels for short-termist, selfish reasons - and vice versa.

The Biblical hypocrite (and hypocrisy is a sin) is one who pretends Godly motivations for that which is done for other reasons - status, power, wealth, expedience... This is essentially identical with 'virtue-signalling' - except that the virtue-signalling hypocrite is typically advertising his support of a inverted-good=sinful behaviour or policy.

Bringing this together; I regard our current situation as arising due to evil motivations. I can see that I and other people are reacting in various ways - and some behaviours are better some worse. But I need to remind myself that it is the motivations behind these reactions that matters, in the spiritual sense that matters ultimately.

Only when our response is motivated towards God and aligned with God, and when this comes from-within from our agency - and is consciously chosen, can the response be spiritually valuable.

All the rest is just at the level of people passively responding to external pressures in specific situations; acting passively according to upbringing, social conditioning and innate disposition. Spiritually, this is equivalent to behaving like the automatic output of a computer program.

Because the sitation has been created with evil motivations - to behave passively is to serve evil.

(And this is why it is essential that we discern the motivations of those who rule, inform and advise us: politicans, officials, lawyers, 'scientists', doctors... and the mass media.)


Jacob Gittes said...

Thoughtful post. Which makes me think.
Is my refusal to wear a mask in public due to social pressure just my innate rebelliousness? Or is it principled?
I have a friend who wears a mask in public because he genuinely doesn't want to scare people, and he himself is incredibly scared of "that stuff," as he calls the supposed COVID-19 virus.
I would say his motivations are OK.

I don't purposely go near people in public, or otherwise try to make a scene or make a point. I just go about my business as I always did.

I speak my mind when it seems like it would do some good, by corroborating what a person with discernment already notices.
I believe there are times to push back against evil with powerful words and actions, but those times must be chosen carefully. Grandstanding doesn't really do any good.

As far as compliance: I set the line of complete non-compliance at my epidermis, and the epidermis of my child. Nobody has a right to penetrate our very bodies with their unknown substances.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jake. I'm afraid I regard your friend as a a servant of evil. He has failed to discern the reality of spiritual war, or he has chosen the side of evil. He has also succumbed to the sin of fear.I

I would also be suspicious of any morality that entails choosing times carefully. Instead we should acknowledge that God does his utmost to ensure that we know what we ought to do in any situation, but often we choose to ignore it. To pretend to ourselves.

Jacob Gittes said...

@bruce Thank you for your view. That was my immediate intuition - that he had chosen evil. I was trying to intellectualize it, though, so that I can think better of him.
But after I submitted my comment, I then recalled a conversation he had with my son, who recently flew on a nearly empty plane to visit me:
"Weren't you AFRAID of flying?" my friend asked my son.
"No," my son answered.
"I'm afraid of that STUFF," he said, with a dramatic look in his fevered eye (forgive the turgid prose there).

I was thinking this morning - wait, my 14 year old son is less fearful than a 60-something year old man who claims to be a Buddhist? On the one hand, I am glad that my son, under my guidance, is not a fearful young man, but rather brave and stoic and on a path of belief in God. On the other hand, do I want to have a friend like this?

Regarding "choosing times carefully" - I think your post caused me to think about my own motivations. Sometimes I over-think things. I know that I have a rebellious, or oppositional streak. I could easily indulge that and go into a mode where I might enjoy shocking people for the sake of shocking them. I want to stick by my beliefs and principles in a calm, strong, masculine way, rather than a shrill way.
Thanks for the clarification. My faith and spiritual path are rather new, and your posts and comments and responses are very valuable to me. You even correct me (as above) in a way that is positive and allows me to self-correct, because I tend to tug on the wheel in the pilot house a bit too hard, veering one way then another. Whereas to steer a ship properly takes subtle corrections and a constant gazing at the horizon and compass and landmarks.

nathanael said...

Excellent post, Bruce.

One of our big challenges in life is discerning that which is evil but pretends to be good and for-our-benefit.
Also challenging is to witness friends and family actively believe and then reinforce evil things, which they believe to be good.

I also regularly, when I remember, pause throughout the day and take note of why I'm doing the thing I'm doing.
I often find that I don't even know what is motivating it, although I may kid myself I'm doing good, and I'm a good person.
I've found this practice has led me to be more honest with myself, and has over time given me the courage to speak up, as I feel more substantial inside, not in a prideful way, but with a total conviction that God is real, and it is I that am unreal/untrue in more ways than I currently know. I take comfort in the fact that I am, at least, aware of this, and feel like this is the right direction to take.

Brief Outlines said...
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