II. Morality and Behavior
Like every church in its beginnings, the early Christian Church taught only one doctrine--the doctrine of charity, in which all things of faith are involved. This is very clear from the life of the early Christians--whose faith was practice, and whose whole concern was to live as brethren, to live in purity and mutual service. Faith, then, was judged according to works.
But in the Church as it became organized by the Roman papal hierarchy, "good works" were stressed as meritorious and took on a more stereotyped form. Morality became a prescribed routine dictated by the authority of the Church, and the moral value of every act was catalogued with deadening exactness. Individual morality became submerged in a network of ordinances and penances.
A bold reaction came in the 16th century. The Reformation especially brought in the attitude that man's works contributed nothing to salvation, because Faith came, it was believed, gratuitously to man as a grace of God, quite apart from actual repentance or works. And thus, the Writings inform us, the doctrine of charity was separated from the doctrine of faith, and was degraded into a science called 'moral theology'. (AC 89893, HD 257, AC 2417, AE 7892, 7962)
Underlying this distinction lay the feeling that man was really a creature of heredity and circumstance. By heredity his whole being was in "original sin", which condemned him utterly in the sight of God: Adam and Eve had sinned, and the curse of God rests ever afterwards upon all men. Man, it was thought, had no "free will" in spiritual things, but was "as a stock and a stone"; and so only those whom the Lord arbitrarily selected to receive the gift of grace to believe in the vicarious sacrifice of the Cross, could be saved. It did therefore not depend on man whether he would receive the saving gift of Faith or not. His works, his behavior, his life, mattered not at all as far as salvation was concerned. A hardened sinner, at his deathbed, might suddenly be made pure by a "call of grace"--a confession of faith in "the atonement of the blood of Christ".
This extreme view was confined to certain churches--but the general thought permeated the whole Protestant world. It was claimed by many that when a man had once and for all received the gift of grace and thus faith and confidence in his own sanctification, his works were thereafter the works of the Holy Spirit, and he could not sin (except by involuntary error or mistake). He was then the instrument of the Holy Spirit. This involved the doctrine of "assurance", and sometimes the doctrine of a "total sanctification". (DP 340)
One root of this thought came from the claim of Luther, Calvin, and others, that no man can fulfil the law or decalogue by spiritual life, but only by civil and moral life (Life 63) ; the consequence of which was that the shunning of the lusts of evil was not doctrinally encouraged, but only the suppression of evils before the world. (Ib.) The Ten Commandments were impossible to carry out, as a requirement for salvation. Therefore the covenant of Grace was established by Jesus Christ as an easier form of salvation !
It was however not denied that a moral life was necessary from the point of view of public policy. Protestant theory allowed, quite apart from salvation, the "natural" or "inferior" doctrine (AC 93003) that a life according to the commandments of the Decalogue had to be encouraged. Much was always said about "Christian virtues". But the minds of Christians were in utter confusion about the actual relation of a man's religion to his moral behavior.
Quest for a Theory
More and more, therefore, there was felt a need, on the part of thinkers, to find a theory of moral life which might answer the questions that occur to every man, "What is right and wrong? Can a man see the difference ? By what faculty ? and how does he come to possess such a faculty? And if he does have the power, should he exercise it? or in what way?" And, "What relation is there between the established customs of his age, the satisfaction of his own instincts, and the good of society?"
Now every young man and woman must begin life with these questions more or less unanswered in mind, even though he or she starts with a faith in spiritual truth, or with the purpose of shunning evil and doing good! On the answer which a youth gives to those questions will depend the whole philosophy of his life, his conduct, his success, his friendships, his character. They have to be answered differently by every individual. The answer is personal, free, rational. Every moment of conscious life is part of that answer,--every situation compels a temporary answer. Spiritual Conscience determines, it is true, an inner attitude, an inner love, an inner resolve. But unless man can determine what right and wrong are in the actual situations with which he is faced, the Conscience is indeed helpless to guide his Charity into benefit to others. Thus even the New Churchman requires a system of ethics--a "moral theory"! New Church education must mean also the organization of a basis for full moral consciousness, and instruction in such knowledge as may make life seem less of a muddle. It must furnish a chart by which men may freely and intelligently map out their life's course or select their life's philosophy.
In the world about us, the search for a theory of morals has been going on, with the result that a wealth of reflection has been written down on the subject; but from such different angles that the moral world is in far greater confusion than are the economic, political or scientific worlds! This confusion is due to the original fact that the Christian Church separated the doctrine of life from the realm of faith, and disowned the spiritual value of morals, and failed to take into account the fact that spiritual life influences our moral choice, and builds the social customs which protect it.
Despite the confusion, however, there is a common perception which has governed among practically all writers on morals, as to certain characteristics of moral life.
Thus it has been clearly seen that there is a wide difference between animal behavior, social behavior, and moral behavior.
Animal behavior is conduct prompted simply by instinct, or by inborn corporeal appetite, or by pressing physical necessity. Animals act from such motives. A starving man seeks food--and property rights are forgotten. There are other natural instincts with man seeking their gratification,--the inborn love of sex, the love of one's own body (a self-protective instinct), and the love of one's own group or larger self. This latter is often called the "herding instinct", for it is common also to all the herding animals and leads blindly to remarkable self-sacrifice on the part of the individual. Because of its blind and passionate character it appears also--with men--as "mob-instinct".
Such purely animal instincts, if let loose with men, would lead to social chaos and destruction--and the human race would soon vanish, or sink to a merely bestial level. The fact is that the infant manifests little else than "instinct". Yet the child can be trained. Even animals can be trained to a certain extent, yet without any change of motive. The environment itself curbs the instinct. A lion exercises self-control while it stalks its prey. So also a man, without any real exaltation of motive, can practice sobriety and courage, gentleness and industry, in order that he may eventually find gratification for his corporeal appetites.
This makes a semblance of social action possible even among brutish and evil men; although in a society organized merely on the basis of self-interest, continual struggle, turmoil, and disorder are bound to prevail. For human beings, this would be the life of hell. Such a society is bound to perish. (LJ 10)
Social behavior is something more than this. It is conduct which accords with the standards of those around one, a life which accepts the customs in vogue without analysis. It is advocated in the proverb, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". It is true that even animal behavior, or conduct from mere instinct, might be at times perfectly in accord with sanctioned customs. Yet this does not make it social behavior; for social behavior requires an element of intelligent recognition that a man is acting with the group of which he counts himself a member, and in which he feels a joint interest.
It is characteristic of social behavior that it acts according to habits, or customs, or routine, and those who so act solely with the group are apt to be biassed and intolerant, and regard as im-moral anyone who departs from these customs, or even questions them. Indeed, the term "moral" is derived from the Latin word "mores" which means "manners". But the term "moral" has grown to mean more than mere subservience to customs and is now used in a superior sense. There may be evil customs or obsolete, worn-out procedures. A change in customs is often needful, and must not be confused with "immorality"! It may in fact be quite immoral to persist in a custom that was once quite proper. Certainly this is the case as children grow up from infancy to adult age. But on the other hand, we must also stress the great use of "customs"--their profound meaning for the human race! There is no progress in sticking to mere forms; but neither is there any possibility of advance or development, unless each stage--while it matures--be protected by customs serving various purposes: at times serving as a matrix, at other times as skin, as clothes, as a defensive shell, and usually also as that stiffening bone-system upon which the living parts of the human form are constructed in order that they may have leverage and power and not sink back into a spineless jelly comparable to merely instinctive animal reactions.
Social behavior--based on a common heritage of customs, usages, and traditional modes of thinking--is the backbone of Society. To use a different simile, it forms a tremendous and relatively stable gyre of action and thought (from memory) with a very compelling sphere : an individual can hardly resist it unless he makes an intensive effort and is favored by circumstances; and if he does resist this force of custom in some one particular, he is yet torn away by the stream of common thought and common social habit in other particulars! He cannot be a consistent rebel. He is still the child of his age.
We need to reflect, as New Churchmen, on the tremendous power of this sphere of the age, or of modern Society, into which we are placed. As Grote shows, the world about us is an aggregate of attitudes:
"This aggregate of beliefs and predispositions to believe, Ethical, Religious, Esthetical, and Social, respecting what is true or false, probable or improbable, just or unjust, holy or unholy, honorable or base, respectable or contemptible, pure or impure, beautiful or ugly, decent or indecent, obligatory to do or obligatory to avoid, respecting the status and relations of each individual in the society, respecting even the admissible fashions of amusement and recreation--this is an established fact and condition of things, the real origin of which is for the most part unknown, but which each new member of the group is born to and finds subsisting. ... It becomes a part of each person's nature, a standing habit of mind, or fixed set of mental tendencies, according to which particular experience is interpreted, and particular persons appreciated. . . . The community hate, despise or deride any individual member who proclaims his dissent from their social creed. . . . Their hatred manifests itself in different ways ... at the very least by exclusion from that amount of forbearance, good will, and estimation without which the life of an individual becomes insupportable. . . . 'Nomos (Law and Custom), king of all' . . . exercises plenary power, spiritual and temporal, over individual minds; moulding the emotions as well as the intellect, according to the local type . . . and reigning under the appearance of habitual, self-suggested tendencies."
The Writings seem to confirm that this enforced conformity to customs is on the whole, or in the long run, not without its blessings, because Society demands always a certain modicum of obedience to the common good. Rewards come to those who--at least externally live a good life, a useful life, as seen through the spectacles of the age. And ill-doing is punished. Therefore, we are taught, "it is not so difficult to live the life that leads to heaven, as some suppose" (HH 528). There is in the main little outward difference between the behavior of those who are evil and yet are compelled into good social conduct for the sake of self-advantage, and those who obey the same general code of behavior for the sake of spiritual life and from love of God! But this cannot always hold true! The more Society lapses from good customs and falls into evil ways, as is the case when a Church declines, the more difficult becomes the way of the just and the path of the righteous. Then it must be remembered that blind conformity with social behavior will become destructive! and that only he is blessed "who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly nor standeth in the street of sinners, nor sitteth in the seats of the scoffers". (Ps. i. 1)
In other words, merely "imitative" morality is "worth nothing" (SD min. 4546). "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exod. xxiii. 2). In so far as we must live among robbers and adulterers, mere conformity with the ways of those around us would be deadly and would never lead us to better things. And indeed, merely social behavior, if not sustained by something higher, would gravitate back towards the level of instinctive, animal behavior, until even the forms of moral and civil life would be broken down. Men therefore must form standards for themselves, must individually examine the character and trend of the habits of those around them. From being merely social automata, they must become moral men, men conscious of a responsibility in selecting for themselves and encouraging in others the kind of customs which they rationally see that they should adopt.
Moral behavior has to be the result of reflective, rational thought, and must therefore be individual and free, governed from within instead of from without. True or individual morality is the characteristic of an adult state. The moral virtues are indeed cultivated with children, but as habits of behavior, habits of thought. Children are nearly always subject to one sphere or another--and both their virtues and their vices are so far "amoral", i. e., without much moral significance. In youth, however, as the rational faculty develops, moral attitudes and moral judgments at first faltering, later more sure--begin to show themselves. An indication of this is seen in that restless attitude common in adolescence: discontent with customs and proper modes and conventions. Adults are apt to judge this rather severely--for it seems to be a rebellious mood. And indeed it is ruthless and lacking in discrimination. It regards with suspicion all existing social customs which restrain their instincts from ruling.
In appearance, the choice before the youth at this critical juncture is not a pleasant one: it might often appear to a youth as if he must either clip the wings of his imagination, thwart his natural instincts for liberty, for stimulus, for sex-interest and for self-assertion, and simply creep into a tight little corner of a hard world which he has had no part in making, and remain there a slave to set, prescribed customs and mechanical routine for the rest of his life! or else, he might think, he has, as his only other alternative, the choice of foregoing all chance to gain wealth, comfort, or distinction from this unsympathetic world, but to give his precious, fleeting youth up to a wild flight which he knows is likely to end in disaster, but which will yield him, for a while at least, the thrill of what he then mistakes for perfect liberty and the satisfaction of those forces that hunger in his body. In other words, he feels that he has to choose between Social Customs and Natural Instincts. Whichever of these extremes that he chooses, his life would become a failure, a barren thing. Whichever he chose, he would be drinking only the dregs of his mistakes, instead of the wine of life.
What he does not except vaguely understand, is that both these things--both the natural instincts and the social customs--are only parts of the lowly mechanism of life, and that the real problem which he is beginning to face is how to use both these tools in the service of human, rational life. He is really being challenged to see their proper meaning, their separate uses and functions ; challenged to see a ratio--a rational connection between them, and to find his freedom and delight above them! and then to re-organize and purify them for his use and for that of his fellow-men, and thus become what is called a moral man.