Basic Moral Courage: The Religious Assertion-Love as the Greatest Virtue

   I argue for moral courage as a necessary therapy for mankind's common ills. Moreover, I argue for the religious version of moral courage as most important, meaning those in our culture who deliver religion will be required to embrace their burden if our culture is to become sustainable.

   Consider the paradox of the Christ, who repeatedly states, "Whoever tries to find his life will lose it, while whoever it is who will lose his life for my sake will find it." This phrase can open the door to a kind of disinterested asceticism, or a kind of self-destructive mysticism. Neither is the goal of the Christ, as we can plainly see, for he makes finding one's life the final goal of the Christ-follower, not denying life, or destroying it or showing a casual disdain for life.

   Christianity asks its followers to do the hard thing, then the harder and then the hardest. Christ expects His followers to go on living; to go on living in this world; to keep on seeking a rightness (an oughtness) that is other-worldly to be applied in this world. This is harder than death, so Christ has died once, for all.

   If we believe we are to live in this world by other-worldly standards we have to determine what it is that is the highest goal of godly living. What is the divine intention?

   The divine intention cannot be justice. This is the standard of the rational systems of ethics, founded as they are on Platonic Idealism, which itself holds that the model system is somewhere out there, above and beyond us, and not as the end of human history. With apologies to Harold Bloom, who argues there is no Judeo-Christian heritage, because one is either the one or the other and the two are mutually exclusive, Christians owe our belief in a model system available (indeed, only possible) in this world made by God to the Jewish Torah. Therein, man is invited repeatedly to cooperate with God in restoring creation, blessing all men and pleasing God.

   The Rationalist systems, since they cannot be perfected, depend solely on striving for justice. Justice, while noble, is still just a carefully calculated model of balance for good and evil, reward and punishment. Justice is necessary, even valuable, but it is only temporary.

   The Rationalist systems require moral courage, to be sure, but there is no facility by which we might look at the current global scenario and find a way to balance all accounts equitably or even closely. To construct a global moral system intent to govern justly from now to the sun burns to an ember will in no way ameliorate past injustices (nor probably prevent new ones). There is great reason for pessimism in a world where various Messianic cults (not all of them religious) might put primitive hands on destructive modern technology in order to rain down punishment for past errors.

   We ought to think deeply about the possible consequences of crying, "Justice."

   The Religious systems, however imperfectly, hold a virtue higher than justice. That virtue is love, with its attendants grace, mercy, compassion, patience, forgiveness, acceptance and long-suffering.

   Consider, for instance, that the stories (parables, meta-narratives) of Jesus, the Christ virtually always display an ethic based on love (or some facet of love) that is completely out of balance to the given circumstance. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are two examples but the heavenly parables of the Christ, like the Pearl of Great Price, fundamentally set the stage for Jesus' insistence on unparalleled devotion.

   To the Rationalists the world cannot be perfected but man might learn to live by honest values. To the Jewish thinker, justice is the means to perfect the world, which can and will be perfected as a place where Elijah could take his seat at Seder.

   For the Christian Realist, we are left to believe that love, applied, divine love, will transform the world, a world that can be transformed, but by grace and changed lives. Love is not an excretion of religion but its sunnum bonum.

   For the Christian there is a real need for courage;  untimely insight, that which considers what others do not in ways that others will not, courage to correct itself to the more generous, compassionate position.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.