The previous post in this seriesThe Impossibility of Being Moral by Normal Human Reasoning and Choosing argued that after original sin normal human methods and motivations for choosing were insufficient for us to become the kind of person who chooses what is right because it is right, viz., a person with a good will. So for us to still have the good God wills for us even after original sin, God has to give us special thoughts and feelings to choose to be people who do what is right because it is right.
The phrase “God has to give” must not be misunderstood. There is no suggestion that God has to give us these special thoughts and feelings because we have done, or can do, anything to deserve them. Logic requires us to say “God has to give.” By assuming that God still wills the good for us after original sin, logic requires that we assume God also wills the means of attaining that good. Part of the means is that we be given the non-normal thoughts and feelings of choosing as our dominant moral stance choosing what is right because it is right.
Let us call these special thoughts and feelings “respect for the moral law.”
Previous posts have brought out that nothing we do entitles us to this gift. God gives it to us because God still loves us after original sin.
In this post, I shall try to give some indication of what respect for the moral law is like. I offer only indications because I am not certain that I have accepted this gift or am alert enough to recognize it if I ever accept it. Indeed the main point of this post is that no one can recognize that they have respect for the moral law. Use of normal human reasoning is not likely to bring us to trustworthy recognition that we are using properly something which is beyond reason. The theory being developed in these posts teaches that God provides the gift of respect for the moral law. But reflections of this post bring out that we cannot recognize whether or not we ever accept the gift.
Is it not preposterous that anyone could seriously think that they had reached a stage of moral perfection? Resolving to break off a bad habit or immoral practice is analogous to respecting the moral law. Consider a man who needs to stop drinking alcohol completely. First he has to conclude that alcohol is unconditionally bad for him. It is not enough simply to think that drinking has bad consequences for him. Things change with time. So bad consequences may not result from drinking in the future. Such thinking about the future undercuts the resolve needed to stop drinking completely. Secondly, he has to have confidence that he will not abandon his resolution. People realize that they need on going support to stick with a resolution to avoid a single vice. So certainly no realistic person would be confident that they could keep to a resolution of avoiding all vices.
Consider a personal example. I know that suicide is wrong without exception. Nonetheless as I age and physician assisted suicide is becoming legal in more and more communities, I can think of several situations in which suicide is highly desirable. All the way to death, I will have that temptation. I am resolved not to succumb to the temptation. However, by the time I can never succumb to the temptation, I cannot know of my success by natural means.
Denying the existence of morality by developing some theory that the thoughts of universal binding rules is an illusion and there are no rules that are more binding than the local rules of law and custom might be an indication of not responding to the gift of respect for the moral law. The theoretical position of denying the reality of moral laws is called “amoralism.” However, a better indication than amoralism of not having respect for the moral law is leading an immoral life.
Respect for the moral law differs from a fear of disobeying a moral rule. Leading a very moral life and frequently rejecting temptations with the thought that the action to which we are tempted is a violation of the moral law is not sufficient to show that we have respect for the moral law. In our efforts to lead a moral life we can become conditioned to feeling very uncomfortable by violating a moral rule. So we develop inclinations, which can be very strong, to obey moral rules. Such people, and I class myself among them, must admit we obey the moral rules because we are strongly disinclined to break them; not necessarily because they are the right rules.
Discussion of problems of free will would lead us away into long discussions not directly relevant to building a conceptual model of the Paschal Mystery. However, problems of free will are extremely relevant to explaining why we cannot be certain that we have freely committed ourselves to being moral or loving God. To be sure we are not here considering choices to perform particular acts such as a choice to spread a rumor. We are considering choices to have a policy such as never breaking a moral rule again or to obey God unconditionally. However, if natural factors could explain our having thoughts such as “I’ll never violate a moral law,” then we can doubt whether it is we ourselves who have accepted the gift of God to form such resolutions.
The devil plays a part in darkening our minds so that we think becoming morally good is an illusion. One of my motivations for writing this series of posts on Satan, original sin, build a conceptual model for there being a warfare of God with powers of darkness over whether or not humans can attain the good God wills for us. See Why Does Satan Want Us to Go to Hell?. Satan who was originally created to convey God’s messages to humanity conveys messages to humans by introducing thoughts into that interpersonal body of thoughts and sentiments we call human reason. After Lucifer’s choice to convey his own thoughts to human reason rather than God’s, Lucifer, who is now Satan, introduces thoughts which undercut human ability to receive God’s gift of respect for law. One such thought is a theory that it is irrational to ever commit ourselves to a policy of avoiding a certain type of act regardless of the consequences. Such a theory is in direct contradiction to respect for the moral law. This theory rejecting moral categorical imperatives is pervasive in human thought. It is promoted in classes in moral theory which use counterexamples to weakened commitment to principles which categorically prohibit actions, such as intentionally taking innocent human life. This principle of rejecting all moral categorical imperatives is, I submit, an example of a temptation from the devil.
People who pass on thoughts originally introduced into human thinking by Satan are not acting as agents of Satan. In inconsistent human thinking almost all of us who reach maturity pass on such thoughts. Consider that people who teach Newtonian physics are not agents of Newton.
Fortunately, the fact that we cannot use our normal reasoning to recognize that we are at least on the way to moral perfection, does not mean that we must abandon hope that we can have the gift of respecting the moral law or growing in respect for the moral law. The hope however is grounded in a faith that God, or the moral order, provides us the undeserved gift of respecting the moral law.
I want to close this post by shifting to a religious instead of moral perspective. I can make the shift readily because I am identifying moral laws as God’s commands.* Respect for the moral law can be interpreted as willing what God wills simply because God wills it. For humans to will what God wills is to love God. Why? Generally to love is to will the good of the other. Of course, there is no alternative to God having what is good. So to will the good of God is to will what is truly good and that is what God commands. So for humans to love God is to will what God commands simply because God commands it. Just as it is uncertain whether we have respect for the moral law, so it is undertain whether or not we accept the gift of loving God.
* In my book on sexual morality I show how one can identify moral laws as commands of God and avoid those problems brought out long ago by Plato in his Euthyphro dialogue by a naïve identification of moral laws with divine commands.
My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. The publisher’s listed price is $26.99. Printed copies can be purchased here by credit card for $3.99, plus $3.71 for shipping and handling.
To purchase the printed book by check, send check of $3.99 plus $3.71 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
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