Friday, July 28, 2017
What ever happened to virtue? (with apologies to Alasdair MacIntyre)
“You don’t need to believe in God in order to be good!” she told me rather imperiously. “True,” I immediately conceded, “but then again if you don’t believe in God, it really wouldn’t matter if you chose to be otherwise.”
One of the great utilities of religion (basically any religion) is that it points to aspirations, goals, and destinies beyond human agency and control. They all direct us to ends beyond ourselves. In directing human life so, they may slowly reshape individual lives according to those aspirations. The habitual patterned behaviors of living lives towards those external ends was once called virtue. But if you have no external or indeed eternal ends, then such patterns are merely habit.
Materialistic consumerism, left to its own devices at best results in utilitarianism’s outward approximation of goodness, but never goodness itself. Because utilitarian ethics are always a contextually negotiated exchange without any absolute sense of value, methods, or goals. So we behave well as long as it suits us and our purposes. What matters is which behavioral tactics help us achieve our desired goals. Such a competition driven world is long of tooth and sharp of claw, but altogether hollow.
How can the church, or for that matter any religiously committed community, help not only preserve but entice people with the possibility of becoming more than they are? How can we not only aspire, but nurture people to seek out criteria of value beyond personal pleasure? How can we reintroduce our world to virtue(s)?