THE Doctrine of the New Church makes clear that in the realm of human life there exist three distinct planes of motives or of initiative. "There is civil good, there is moral good, and there is spiritual good" (Life 12). Civil good is what a man does from the civil law. It makes him "a citizen of the natural world". A "civil man" knows the laws of the kingdom in which he is a citizen, and lives according to them (DP 322). The civil man seeks such truths as relate to life in the world--not only statutes, laws, and rules which bind men together here on earth, but also matters of judgment in regard to the governments of society: he seeks what is just and equitable (HH 468). He may do this from fear or from other motives. The criterion of such civil justice and equity is lodged in the civil law and in its appointed magistrates and courts. He who commits trespass against such laws is subjected to fines and penalties in proportion to the severity of the transgression. A modicum of civil good is thus actually enforced by civil government.
Moral good is quite distinct from civil good. Civil law only prescribes fairness among men, and outlines certain general rules of behavior which can be enforced by the civil government. It usually leaves the citizens free as to most details of private habit and personal choice, although the more complex society becomes, the more need is there for civil regulations of various sorts. Still, in most matters, man is free to act from his own choice and taste. A man's private "immorality" is seldom punishable by civil law; his personal attitude of benevolence or ill will to others and to society is not prescribed by that law; "dishonesty" which acts within the limits set by the law is not punished; impoliteness, greed, lasciviousness, intemperance, or laziness can be indulged to a great extent without incurring any penalty from any court of public justice.
Moral good as therefore that good which is done by a man with his own rational consent, or "from rational law" (Life 12) . A moral man sees certain acts and attitudes to be evils "hurtful to the commonwealth and thus contrary to the laws of humanity" (Life 108), and desists from them. Such good is rational good, and is what makes man to be human (Char. 57). The motives within moral good are therefore not mere fears of civil vengeance, or of outward punishment. The motives include something of a recognition of the good of society and a desire to cooperate with others as brothers and associates (Char. 57). Behind these motives there may be deeper ends, partly hidden. Society may be esteemed by man mainly because he wants its approval; he may cultivate virtues in order to build up a reputation for sanity or rationality, or to build up his own self-respect, his feeling of personal worth and dignity and merit. These selfish ends do not prevent his being classed as a moral man, so long as he acts from a rational insight into the good of humanity and champions what is honorable and becoming.
There are moral truths which have respect to the various moral virtues. And the touchstone, the criterion, of moral good, is always that "public opinion" which judges us before our fellow-men. The penalties dispensed by this court are often more exquisitely gruelling than the fines, the imprisonment, and death imposed by civil governments.
But a totally superior plane of motives is opened when whatever is harmful to the commonwealth, or to the neighbor, is shunned because it is a sin against God's law and God's will. What is done from such a motive is called spiritual good. The kingdom of spiritual good is the Church, which is also called the kingdom of the Lord; and all things in it have reference to the Lord's eternal will--His preparation of a heaven in the spiritual world as an everlasting kingdom of uses. The "religious" motive--the love of the Lord and the desire for conjunction with Him--is what characterizes this plane of human life. In itself, the spiritual kingdom concerns only the affections and perceptions of spiritual truth; which is the truth about the will of the Lord. And the new motive which is formed around it is called the "Conscience of what is good and true".
These three realms of motive, civil, moral, and spiritual, are thus utterly distinct and indeed discrete; even though in ordinary life they seem so interwoven that few will stop to analyze their motives as to whether they act from one or the other. They seem confused. They blend. They qualify one another. Yet they are thoroughly and at all times discrete. The wisdom of life consists in clearly distinguishing between such motives in oneself, and in the proper subordination of the two lower realms under the higher.
Thus with those who love truths because they are truths, the knowledges about God and about spiritual truths rise up into the highest region of the mind, where the light of heaven is shed. "Moral things, theoretically contemplated and perceived, place themselves immediately under those, and thus in the second region, because they communicate with spiritual things." And below moral things, thus in the first region, matters political are placed (TCR 186). But with those who love truths about religious things only for the sake of the glory of their own fame, there is disorder. Matters theological dwell, with these, only among scientifics in the memory, at the door of the mind. Political things are under these, but moral things under the political, all in the lowest region of the mind, and all in disorder (TCR 186). We would suppose that with such a man, his religious knowledge will to some extent affect his outward policies and public acts, but it does not reach to his moral life or his rational judgment. There is no enlightenment from heaven, because there is no order. The spiritual and moral planes have not been opened with such a man, even though he may possess both spiritual and moral truths.
From what has been said it may be clearly seen that in the mind these three planes are interdependent. Not only is it true that when the realm of spiritual good has been established, this will inflow to dispose and illumine and order the plane of his moral good and its perceptions, and thus also his civic consciousness and his desire to comply with the needs of society as constituted. Not only is it true that a development of the perceptions of moral good is necessary for the enlightenment and ordering of the civic state, and for the formation of a body of laws which are "just" and "fair" (or equitable) ; since the moral virtues upheld by public opinion are the only internal sustaining factor in making fair and equitable civil laws enforceable, and since it is public opinion which gives to men their only final earthly reward--the esteem which men long for more than for wealth or power. But it is also true that the spiritual kingdom of the Lord can be built up only on the basis of the moral and civil kingdoms. A Church cannot become effective without the civic guarantee of liberty of worship and liberty of instruction. A Churchlike the New Church--cannot be built except upon a basic morality of its own which can express its faith in terms of living rational attitudes and flexible forms, or--what is the same--in terms of human virtues.
To divorce morals from religion is the great error of our age. Thus--in the world about us--the source of true morality has been dammed up and mankind has been endangered by moral chaos. Confusion has swept over the world--modified only by Common Sense which still happily survives and is critical as ever of great extremes.
But there is also a danger lest we should confuse morality with religion. It must be admitted that an atheist may possess striking moral virtues, yet his spiritual state is not bettered by the fact. There may also, in the Church, be those who mistake their own moral virtues for genuine signs of spiritual good. So to rely on external good would eventually be fatal. The things of rational culture and social virtue can exist and often do exist apart from the religious motive.
But neither can we dismiss the subject of Morality with the thought that if only we worship the Lord and cultivate a spiritual love of the neighbor, the problems connected with moral life will somehow vanish! For they will not so vanish. Morality is not obtained without thought and reflection and study. It is true that celestial angels expend no thought upon rational or moral principles, nor upon civil matters that regard justice and equity, because they see these things from the truths which are ingrained in their lives (SD 5587). They live--they alone can live--spontaneously. But we cannot commence where they leave off; we cannot act as if we had hearts of pure gold. Our dross has not yet been through the fire. The celestial modes of life, if applied to our present race and state, would result in destruction and insanity.
Thus we--differently from the celestials--must obtain spiritual good through doctrine, through ordered thinking. And similarly, we must give thought to the whole realm of moral good, or to the moral virtues towards which we must aspire by exercise of rational judgment and self-discipline. And before we can exercise judgment in moral matters, we must have as wide a knowledge of them as possible, so that our reflection will take in many elements, and not be prejudicial, partial, one-sided, haphazard or irresponsible.
The Writings speak of "moral truths" or "moral laws". These are statements of the principles of moral life, or of the moral virtues. Taken together, these moral truths would make the laws of the moral kingdom or plane: not to be confused with spiritual laws, which are revealed as doctrines, or as the laws of the spiritual kingdom of the Lord. Still, the moral laws which have to be formulated by the reason of man ought to be inspired by doctrine, and thus be concordant and correspondent with the spiritual laws, so that they will increasingly be the means of carrying the spiritual laws of charity into effect, to the benefit of humanity and society.
The future New Church will undoubtedly possess a more ordered idea of this field of moral good, and a clear illustration as to moral life and its place in preparing for the Spiritual and in expressing the Spiritual. It is our intention, however, in the following pages, to give a brief survey of this field--in the light that we have today.
We propose to note the theory of morals which is beginning to govern in the world today and how it differs from the old moral theory of the old Christian
Church as well as from our New Church principles. We propose to draw the general distinctions between customs and morals, and analyze to what extent man may be said to have a moral sense. We propose to discuss the various moral virtues and their relation to our lives, social and individual; and also their different bearing on men and on women: always with the view of seeing their import to society on the one hand and to the regenerating man on the other.
In doing this, we shall not presume to lay down any fixed customs as the standard behavior of the New Churchman. Moral behavior is not a fixed thing. It is a flexible thing, an attitude. It is the very antithesis of fixed custom. Customs will change. But the laws of making such customs for ourselves will not alter. Those laws, founded in the workings of that special human faculty which regards liberty and rationality, are the laws of Morality.
The world today is not turning upon the New Church with attacks upon its doctrine, as such. The old dragon has been cast down upon the earth--and makes war on the seed of the Woman by subtler means. Our future as a Church in the next generation will largely depend on our success to withstand the pressure of the world's morals upon us and our children.