Saturday 3 December 2022

What is the basis of Christian morality? Or: Nothing Good is ever wasted.

Because (following the Fourth Gospel teaching) I believe that Christianity is - at core - extremely simple: a matter of commitment to loving and following Jesus Christ (with 'following' understood as essentially being led by Him through mortal-death to eternal resurrected life) -- this belief leads to the question of how such a next-world-aiming faith can guide our behaviour in this life?

The question is answered because Christianity builds-upon personal theism; and a conviction that God is the creator and we his beloved children. 

And that God wishes to raise each of his children to the highest divinity that each wishes to attain; with divinity being understood as loving creation - creation in the context of that love which harmonizes each individual's effort with that of God's primary creation - and of other Men's creation. 

Traditional Christians are - no doubt - concerned that this conception of Romantic Christianity - based on individual discernment, motivation and responsibility; and with its core aims "not of this world" - has no place for the morality that has so dominated conceptualization and practice of Christian churches for most of two millennia.  

Romantic Christianity perhaps needs to make more explicit how such an individual spiritual process - aiming beyond death, and moving away from the top-down legalism of traditional church-based, top-down Christianity - could, even in principle, lead to 'good conduct' in mortal life. 

Such is the aim of this post. 

In other words: I am to explain how we get from a primary commitment to Follow Jesus Christ to Salvation - all the way down to the here-and-now level of moral behaviour in the multitude of testing and tempting ethical dilemmas of modern life in 2022.

For instance; how do we get from the Heavenly perspective that is 'not of this world'; to the mundane details of what we think, say, do and believe in context of living in an exceptionally corrupt and evil world?  

Then, how do we know what we should and should not do; and then how may we prevent the here-and-now, immediate pressures of expediency - of short-term and selfish benefit - from routinely overwhelming the eternal goals of properly Christian behaviour - as they so obviously have done in all the major Christian churches?

The basic insight is that morality derives from a personal knowledge of how individual behaviour harmonizes with God's existing creation and God's creative motivation

Goodness is that which - by love - is in-harmony-with divine creative intent; and evil is that which opposes God's creation. 

We may discover and know such harmony by that individualized guidance which is accessible to us from consulting our own inner divinity ('conscience') - which every Man has from being a child of God. And also by external guidance from personal interaction with the Holy Ghost - who is potentially accessible to all Christians: all those who have committed to follow Jesus - to accept his gift of resurrection into life everlasting. 

The 'accuracy' by which we might know what to do depends on the genuineness of our own motivation; on the sincerity of our following of Christ.

But - assuming he knows what he ought to do; what then motivates an individual person to resist, to go against, the dictates of short-termist, selfish expediency - in a context when that pressure of expediency is immediate and present, while the rewards of true morality are delayed until after death? 

What determines the choice to affiliate to God's purpose - rather than, expediently, to go-against it?

This is, of course, the test of Faith; because the powers of evil will probe and apply pressure to exactly this point - will contrast the sureness and certainty of current expediency with (what is described as) the vagueness, speculative nature, distant and merely-probabilistic hopes deriving from what 'might' happen after death...

Will assert the triviality and futility of a single and solitary person doing-the-right-thing - only for it to be unnoticed, ignored, punished, or forgotten; when the whole vast System will do otherwise, and regardless. 

(Why - the powers of evil ask - waste effort making such a pointless, dumb, insane gesture?)

In the first place; I think we will only be able to resist these pressures and pass such tests on the basis of a faith rooted in conviction of our own salvation

Whereas, for most of its history, Church Christianity has instead emphasized the uncertainty of salvation, and counseled strongly against presumption...  

But I think we instead need to regard salvation with utter confidence; confidence that - so long as we really want salvation, we can have it.  

Rooted in such confidence, we can then recognize this mortal life as a time of learning - the eternal benefits of which will come to all those who desire salvation.  

In summary: The powers of evil will assert expediency on the basis that salvation may not actually be true, that it may not happen to us personally - and, anyway, if salvation is really-real and we attain it; the microscopic incidents of this mortal life can (surely?) have no bearing on our condition after death. 

To resist such blandishments requires, therefore, an understanding that nothing Good is ever wasted

That every Good act (thought, word, deed), that is done from Good motivations and in harmony with divine creation; and no matter how apparently small and insignificant and ineffectual it seems from this-worldly perspectives -- 

Every Good act will be permanent - will be woven-into the texture of creation. And this will happen immediately - and forever. 

Every Good act will be permanent exactly because we can be confident of our own salvation; and we can be confident that our loving God has care for each of His children; and will arrange each life such that Good acts are made part of eternal reality. 

This is exactly the nature of that learning for which mortal life is sustained.  

We need, therefore; not just confidence in salvation; but confidence that all the tests and trials of this mortal life - all occasions when immediate expediency opposes our alignment with God's creative motivations - are exactly those occasions when we can personally make an eternal difference for the better. 

In other words, properly understood, the here-and-now benefits of expediency can be opposed by the here-and-now benefits of doing Good. 

And we may be confident (as confident as our faith) that eternal Good, no matter how small that Good, is infinitely more significant than whatever temporary and contingent, selfish benefits may accrue from rejecting God and opposing divine creation. 

The keys seem to be Faith-in and Love-of God, active in this earthly mortal world as well as beyond; and that Hope which derives from confidence in Christ's gift of salvation.

And also our knowledge that nothing Good in mortal life is ever lost - but is instead taken-up into eternal divine creation; which we shall personally enjoy and contribute-towards in the Heavenly life everlasting. 


Jack said...

A Christianity that has morality as its basis and its highest ideal is what I call Confucian Christianity. I think a lot of Traditional Christians really are Confucian or Stoic moralisers at heart, who just happen to find the ecclesiastical institutions the best on hand for promoting "moral values".

Political Christianity tends to be highly "Confucian" in this sense (though not to overplay the Confucian analogy, since besides its moralising tendency Confucianism does have spiritual and metaphysical ideals).

Rudolf Steiner talks a lot about how morality has to be self-chosen, self-determined, self-experiencing/experienced in Philosophy of Freedom. I think at this point you can even go a bit further, be more radical and say that any action undertaken for the sake of an external, outwardly imposed morality is (paradoxically) immoral; whereas any action undertaken freely with a clean conscience, even when it flouts the established laws of morality, is (paradoxically) moral. That kind of statement strikes the moralisers as pure antinomianism / lawlessness, but without such an admission morality becomes a tool for enslaving humanity and making its action robotic; which is the total corruption of morality that ought to be an expression of human freedom, free creative action.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - Yes, Steiner has many interesting and convincing things to say about morality in PoF. Yet at the time of writing he was not a Christian (that was probably not until about 1897/8), so ultimately Steiner cannot (in PoF) offer a rooted account of the nature of morality, and what distinguishes good and evil.

As well as the Confucian and Stoic strands, I believe that *many* traditionalist Christians share deep affinities with Islam - due their fundamental understanding of the nature of a monotheistic God whose primary demand is of obedience to divine law; and for whom morality is God's will.

(As Charles Williams wrote (to paraphrase): those for whom it is ultimately a matter of Good is God; rather than God is Good.)