Friday, March 04, 2011

Beyond "bailout morality"

I had an on-line discussion once with an ex-Christian who caricatured Christianity like this: in Christianity, "we suffer because we are basically broken, bad people, and we don't follow the rules."

That's not the Christianity I know. True, we don't follow the rules (at least not as well as we should). But the rules, at the core, are to love God and neighbor. That is at risk of being belittled as some sort of unthinking authoritarian conformity rather than the greatest joy in life worthy of our wholehearted pursuit, to live it full of love.

I think many people start life with that same view of morality: there are rules to be followed. Following the rules will keep us out of trouble -- at least, out of trouble with the people who set the rules. And we are more likely to turn to the rules for help after we've gotten ourselves into another fine mess, just as we are likely to pray more often when things are bad. Bailout spirituality, bailout morality. At this stage of spiritual growth, morality may seem like a burden to be put down when it seems too heavy, a cage that traps us and is meant to be escaped.

As we see more of what happens to those who cast aside the supposed burden of morality, we gain an appreciation for how much wisdom there is in the good. Morality becomes less of a burden, more of a shield against the evil in the world, more of a foundation on which to build something good. It becomes something we may take up willingly, deliberately, thoughtfully, even gladly. This is all without any claim that we manage it perfectly; only that we begin to see that there are rules that are not at all arbitrary but are intrinsically right, and genuinely wise, and lastingly beneficial. There is delight and enthusiasm in the Psalms, how the value of enduring righteousness is greater than gold. It becomes possible to love what is good.

The rule-based morality -- what is commanded, what is forbidden -- only gets us so far. Jesus taught a huge leap forward from this type of thinking. He taught us that the highest in morality is love. Or as St Paul rephrased, "Love does no harm to our neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." And love of God is higher still than love of neighbor.

If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, I'm starting to wonder if the love of God is its ultimate goal.


Martin LaBar said...

That was a great last sentence.

Weekend Fisher said...

Glad you liked. Thanks for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF