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Monday, June 13, 2011

No More Fun for You! Is Morality Still Worth Talking About?

  Are people really interested in being moral anymore? I taught my first section of ethics at CCBC this last semester and, while the students were great, it struck me that there was not much interest in questions like "how can I be moral? What would it mean to be moral? What does real morality look like?". As I have asked around I have found this to be a relatively common attitude. Some people are generally interested in morality as an abstract concept and are eager enough to compare ethical systems and debate hypothetical moral dilemmas but I don't hear many people at all who are specifically interested in becoming more moral.

  I suspect that there are quite a few reasons for this (if I'm not making it up entirely) and I am positive that I would not be able to identify all of them if I tried. What I would like to do is talk about my understanding of what it means to be moral and why being moral is such an important thing and then ask any and all readers if my thoughts match theirs and what they perceive to be those of their peers. My thought is that one of the reasons for the decline in interest is a misunderstanding of what morality is. I guess I think that if more people defined morality the way I do, they would be more interested in being moral.
  So as I understand it, morality is essentially the road map to living a good life. I pretty much equate "being moral" with "being righteous" with "being holy". Another way to say it would be that morality + experiencing God = Joy. In the same way, I would define immorality as something like "living poorly" or "not living well at all".
  The idea here goes back to a lot of my teleological worldview. I believe that there is an "end" for each and every person, that is, that is that there is a way of being which is fundamentally in line with our own natures. I identify that way of being with tao, the good life, righteousness and of course being moral. I have mentioned elsewhere that I believe this way of being can only be accessed or achieved by joining/submitting our lives to the life of Jesus, but that goes beyond the scope of this post. The point here is that I am keenly interested in morality because as far as I can tell, the "perfect" ethical system would essentially function as a description of the perfect, fulfilled way of being. It would describe the kind of life that anyone in his right mind would be desperate for once he heard it.
  Of course the problem is that we are not in our right minds most of the time. I point out to my students that 99% of the time, the right decision is pretty much obvious. The great peculiarity of human nature is that we are capable of choosing what is not in our own best interest. We are able to, and tragically often do, choose misery over joy. As Dr. Kreeft says, "We are nuts! Were crazy! We have all of these chances to choose Joy and so often we take misery instead; it didn't work out last time but maybe this time will be different".
  But I think most people (at least most of my students and many of the Christians I know) think of morality as a set of rules they have to obey or they will get in trouble. Sometimes the trouble is undefined and sometimes it is basically "God will be grumpy with you" with all that that may entail. I think most people think of morality as a burden to keep them from fun rather than the map to joy. Am I wrong, or have you found that to be the case?


  1. Is there room for grace in the perfect ethical system?

  2. Absolutely, else it couldn't be perfect. Although if every single person were moral, would there be a need for grace. Let me stress that I am not talking about some "ultimate list of rules" so much as "a description of the best kind of life.

  3. I think the big problem a lot of people have with morality is that they think of it as "what something or someone else tells me I should do" instead of "what I know in my heart I should do".

    I feel pretty shitty anytime I do something contrary to what I know in my heart I should do, so experience has taught me to follow my moral compass, because the reward (whatever it might be) outweighs the consequence of doing otherwise.

    And because morality, to me, all boils down to one or two fairly simple rules, it's not terribly difficult to attune my moral compass. Ideally, I do what I want, so long as my desires are not hurting others or infringing upon their right to do the same, and I make every effort to right any wrongs I commit by accident along the way.