There are a few approaches to moral living it seems. In one approach, the individual – to remain pure and free from sin – chooses to live a life denying kind of life that we term ascetic*. Such an individual may seek out the companionship of like-minded persons and live in a monastic or cloistered environment. For such a person, vows of chastity/celibacy, poverty and obedience are welcomed.
Another approach to moral living is that of the individual that lives out in the world, embraces life, but does not make idols or false gods out of power, pleasure or possessions. A certain level of sense gratification is allowed such a person when it is in the proper context, a moral and personally responsible context. Immature, egoistic hedonism is rejected by such a person.
Consider 2 vexing challenges to moral living for each and every generation: money and sex.
For the ascetic, the escapist approach, these 2 challenges are gotten around through strict avoidance. These challenge are effectively neutralized by non interaction, lifelong non-involvement or non-engagement with these.
For the morally responsible and mature person out in the everyday world, money is seen as a means to an end and is needed to support one’s family and one’s self in the modern economy. Money saved is a form of financial security or insurance against future unforeseen economic hardship. Sex is engaged in its proper place, marriage, and serves the two purposes (not mutually exclusive but not identical either) of loving intimacy with one’s spouse and for having children. Sex without the supporting context of a loving and exclusive commitment makes no sense to such a person. The successful, ethical business man or woman, who earns their income through moral enterprises, does not make a false god out of the accumulation and hoarding of money, and who – through their finances and investment in their business – provides jobs to others, and gives to legitimate charitable initiatives is a good example for morally mastering the challenge of money. That same person who values and works for a mutually fulfilling or mutually gratifying sexual relationship with his/her spouse is an example of successfully and morally mastering the challenge of sex. In good sex, we both give and receive – and there is much pleasure in both!
The difference in approach seems to be that in the former, an individual runs away from these challenges. In the latter approach, a person fights or constructively and responsibly meets these challenges. Perhaps this is an example of the fight or flight instinctive response of humans to perceived threats.
Which, do you think, is the person with the more mature, developed moral character?
When Christ threw out the money changers from the Temple, He was not condemning money as a medium of exchange or as a store of value for use in a market economy. Similarly, when Christ condemned lust (as in lusting in one’s heart), He was not condemning sexual arousal or desire, or the proper context for the expression of sexual love (in marriage). Sadly, the meaning of the word “lust” has become twisted and distorted over the centuries (as we have touched on in an earlier essay). It seems to me that a person does not have to retreat from the world, renounce the world, so as to be able to live a moral life. Consider that Christ’s ministry was a public one and He was out among the people every day. Jesus was not a solitary hermit or sage living deep in a forest, or in a remote cave. There is a spirituality to living a loving and constructive life while actively engaged in the everyday world.
* Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), the late 19th century German philosopher, had some insights about the ascetic ideal that he wrote down in his Genealogy of Morals.
We see posted warnings such as this one when we walk through our neighborhood, which is considered one of the lower crime areas of the city we live in. “Smash and grab” car break-in robberies have increased substantially in the past couple of years as the social decay worsens. Many individuals have rejected any morality and personal responsibility in how they live their lives. Their decisions are dominated, it appears, by the one variable – the perceived likelihood of being caught in the act or not.
other not so related thoughts
What will the basis of our morality be in a post Christian, secularized society? Can there be any moral absolutes, or is the future to be that of moral relativism cum nihilism?
We have typed a few essays previously that tackle the issue of employing immoral means while prosecuting (an alleged) just war. Our conclusion was that the ends do not justify the means. Thus, the victorious Allies in the 1940s have much to answer for from a moral philosophy perspective. Similarly, how “civilized” can we in the post Christian West be today when we have accepted the daily sanitized killing (in quite large numbers) of children in their mothers’ wombs?
We fear a mass extinction event (or series of events, a cascading mass extinction process) is approaching, and it is being caused by man and his reckless, irresponsible actions. We see recent articles informing us that the ongoing over fishing of the oceans will lead to the oceans being largely devoid of life in only 30 years time! Dear readers, that will be in many of your lifetimes (not likely in ours). Why can man (and woman, too) not practice conservation and responsible stewardship?! We have no right, no license to trash the planet. Man may be reduced to near extinction, but many species will become completely extinct in many of these possible scenarios. So sad.
We call up a post from our early days of blogging that may be of interest to a few readers.
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