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Previous: II. Morality and Behavior Up: The Moral Life Next: IV. The Good. Act and Intention

III. Non-moral Attitudes and the Moral Sense

We have already discussed the differences which exist between "animal behavior", which is described in the Writings as sensual-corporeal life, "social behavior" or natural life, and "moral behavior", which latter is rational life and is based on the recognition of rational law and on the effort to live according to the "laws of humanity" and to avoid "what is hurtful to the commonwealth" (Life 108).

All these degrees of behavior exist together within nearly every civilized man. We have sensual reactions, social reactions, and moral reactions. They may all exist with men whose spiritual motives are as yet entirely undeveloped.

As we also pointed out above, the apparent choice which lies before the youth, when, before his moral awakening, he faces the adult world, is one between following customs or following instincts. The fact, however, is that the real challenge before the youth is to see the proper meaning within customs, and the proper use and purpose of his instincts. This new understanding is the token of a rational and moral state.

But because a vast number of people do not take up the challenge of Morality, and therefore evade the moral issues, it is not surprising that in the world of today we find widely different theories of living intellectually defended and practically applied even to great extremes! And each theory is at the same time a theory of education--for education has life in view, and is a preparation for that which educators regard as complete living.

Social Conformism

One tendency of education is thus towards social conformism. The individual is led or forced to comply with certain rules of etiquette, certain conventional ways of acting, certain ritual forms of devotion.

Such a theory of life is often adopted as the sole guide. And indeed we see the fruits of it everywhere around us. We see "ladies" and "gentlemen" uselessly employed in social rounds for which they have been perfectly educated; we see men and women following the forms of friendship and echoing the empty salutations which everyone knows to be without meaning. "Fashion" has its sway merely because one does "as the Joneses"--one conforms to a social code. Every profession is liable to be turned into a formal routine of doing and saying certain things, instead of remaining a living search for better, deeper, and wider usefulness.

The motive behind all this is usually based on the fact that it requires less effort either of brain or of body to follow beaten paths, than to display initiative and think out one's course of behavior.

Such "conformism" is apt gradually to develop into a hardened attitude towards human welfare. (Institutions such as efficiently conducted hospitals or orphanage-asylums, schools, factories, and business houses, even "charities", often instance such a tendency.) Insistence on a set standard is also apt to breed class pride, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, bigotry and bias, and even moral prudery such as that of the self-righteous Pharisees--the moral examples of their day. It encourages lip-service and hypocrisy on the part of the followers as well as on the part of the teachers. In the churches, it may degenerate into an exaltation either of ritual or of external imagery as the essential thing of worship and life, and breed the persuasion that literalistic loyalty to man-made creeds is what constitutes genuine "orthodoxy".

To us of the New Church, it is quite plain that this elevation of customs, procedures, and formalities into on end in themselves, is simply an abuse of what has a proper place in life. But to certain others it has been an argument for overthrowing all formalities, and adopting the opposite extreme--the theory of rebellious Individualism.


This theory of living is frankly selfish, and usually invokes one's rights to "self-expression", or one's right to differ from the ways of society. It has never been consistently carried out except in part, for--like most revolutions--it always ends with a compromise with Society. If a group of such individualists were left to colonize a deserted island, you would doubtless find, after a few generations, a community with as strict laws and customs as anywhere else, although different. One reason for this is that Society is quite a normal and irrepressible result of certain important instincts which man wants to "express". Strict "individualism" is therefore a contradiction to human nature. But on the other hand, the precious instinct for freedom in the human heart causes him to seek--within the compass of social order--a legitimate expression of himself as a form of use, as an individual contributor to the common good. Such socialized individualism belongs, however, to the moral stage, and is not what is here called "selfish".

We recognize the pervert type of individualism in the plea, recently much advanced, to do away with the barriers and the inhibitions which restrain the primitive instincts of man.

The theory to which we refer is that of Dr. Freud, which--with its various modifications--has been called the "New Psychology", or the "Psychology of the Subconscious Mind", and has been carried into official practice under the name of Psycho-analysis. As a force behind this movement there exists the partial recognition of certain important truths which are presented in fulness and in proper relationship only in the revealed Doctrine of the New Church.

The breakdown of social habits during the first World War gave an exceptional opportunity for the spread of this philosophy of the Instincts. All civilized life was interpreted as mere sublimations of hereditary bodily instincts, and especially of the "sex urge". The suppression of such instincts was represented as very dangerous to the mental and physical health of the individual. Self-restraints or inhibitions were pictured as abnormal. The result was a general speeding up in the loosening of the "moral code" of our generation, a profound change among the educated in their attitude towards marriage and in the mutual relations of men and women, as well as a growing hardening against the idea that the individual had definite obligations to society or family. Far more dangerous than remaining in a static social behavior, this movement threatened for a time to sweep us into utter chaos--into undisciplined license. Reticence, modesty, reserve, courtesy--all went out of fashion. And nothing--seemingly--remained sacred to this philosophy, which was founded on the premise that man's mind was but the outgrowth of jungle instincts, and was not created in the image of God but in the image of the beast.

In youth, the ultra-individualistic philosophy of life the acting on impulses, the craving for an immediate satisfaction of one's urgings--has a very great appeal. This is the reason why a heroic side is then seen to a life of crime, and why so much youthful delinquency occurs. The commencing reason is keen to recognize that in the forms and staid customs of society there is little which "corresponds" to the impatient demands of youth ! It even suspects--often not without reason that the adults themselves are hypocritical in maintaining such customs! Therefore youth often slips into a state wherein the older generation is regarded most unsympathetically--and condemned as "old fogies". The Past is made responsible for all the failures of the Present. There is impoliteness--lack of gratitude or appreciation. There is unbounded confidence on the part of the young that they can and will make a new world out of the old; yet this vision is clouded by periods of utter irresponsibility and discouragement: the Past is too strong for them! Conceit, sophistication, moodiness--these states are almost inevitable in youth. Every extreme is adopted--in styles or fashions or in mental attitudes. There is a loss of idealism, a delight in "debunking" the institutions, the heroes, and the glories of the past. Anything modern is apt to appeal, especially if it is radical! For the whole spirit we are describing is a futile striving against confining forms! Frankness is regarded--in such states--as the only real morality! It is, in fact, mistaken for the deeper virtue of Sincerity. And because of this confusion, the "sins of our youth" (which we later so humbly pray that the Lord "remember not") are most frequently the sins of impatience-the sins of not realizing the need for gradual introductions to the real uses of life, the need for preparation before we lay hands on holy things, the need for pause to examine before we fling away customs and forms as dead, useless things, or laugh at them as mere masquerades!

And the fact remains, as every generation finally grasps, that there can be no gradual introductions into life, no preparations, except by means of formalities, the internal content of which we at first do not fully realize. The further fact also remains, that we cannot come to see the internal content and intent within the formalities with which life is filled, unless we approach those formalities in an affirmative spirit: any more than a man could have proved that Jehovah dwelt in His Tabernacle, by rushing in with lighted torch into the Holy of Holies, tearing down the veils as he went!

The cynic will take one of the holy rituals, the orderly procedures, or the ordained ceremonies such as mark the mile-stones of our life--and with a blast of sarcasm it is reduced before his audience to a meaningless mummery, its holy contents utterly destroyed! That is spiritual "magic" and so appears in the world of spirits! Any fool can desecrate what it takes ages to build up. The more precious a thing is, the fewer are those apt to be who really appreciate and understand its value; the more fragile is it, and the more easily lost!

How, then, is a man brought to see the subtle meanings, the inward purposes of the true customs and the decorous externals of society?

The Moral Sense

Every man is equipped to see the inner meaning of the formalities of life. The most ancient people communicated solely by gesture and deeds, the Ancients expressed spiritual devotion by rituals. Our formalities today are not so purely formed, the knowledge of correspondences having long been lost. But our rational mind is still so constructed that it can discern the meaning within most external forms.

When the rational mind is opened with a youth or man, he is also ready to see moral truths. In the old Christian Church, it was often taught that man has a moral "conscience" from his very birth, and thus that this inborn conscience told him what was right and wrong. But the Writings reveal that the moral "conscience", like the spiritual conscience, is not innate but acquired. It is acquired through truths,--through moral truths.

It is a law of Providence that that truth which is most urgently necessary shall also be most accessible and easy to recognize. Life is not meant to be difficult. The truths necessary for man's salvation are therefore plainly in view even in the letter of the Scripture. And similarly, moral truths can be recognized by any rational man.

In general, this is true of all abstractions. In the complex situations of life, it is often impossible to tell what is the right and what the wrong application of some principle. But to see the principle itself, apart from its applications to present problems, is relatively simple.

"In the civil and economical affairs of a kingdom or republic what is useful and good can be seen only by a knowledge of many statutes and ordinances there; or in judical matters only by a knowledge of the law; or in the things of nature, like physics, chemistry, anatomy, mechanics, and so on, only when man has been well instructed in the sciences. But in things purely rational, moral, and spiritual, truths are seen from the light of truth itself, provided man has from a right education become somewhat rational, moral and spiritual. This is because every man, in respect to his spirit (which is that which thinks), is in the spiritual world and is one among those who are there; and consequently is in spiritual light, which enlightens the interiors of his understanding, and as it were dictates. For spiritual light is in its essence the Divine truth of the Lord's Divine wisdom. From this it is that man can think analytically and form conclusions about what is just and right in judicial affairs, can see what is honorable in moral life and good in spiritual life, and many other truths which are sunk in darkness only by confirmed falsities" (DP 317).

And pointing to the instincts in animals, the Writings ask, Why should not man from influx also know some of the necessities of rational, human life, which concerns what is moral and spiritual? The human "instinct" is thus to recognize abstract principles of truth--axiomatic truths. And among these are reckoned moral truths.

It is clear, then, that every man can see moral truth "provided from right education he has become somewhat rational, moral, and spiritual". In another place, the Writings tell us that "every man rightly educated is rational and moral" (TCR 564). A proper education elicits the use of one's Reason and enables a man to think, so to speak, in the abstract--i. e., to think apart from personal prejudice, temporal self-interests, or local considerations. And the rational is thus the birth-place of moral consciousness, or of moral perceptions. The rational is able to view man's self from the point of view of others, from the point of view of Society! Thus man comes to see what is good, without direct reference to self! He comes to see himself as others see him; to see the humanitarian values of all men, all things, all knowledge, all customs and all institutions.

It is thus that a youth enters into the adult world, the moral plane of life, the specifically human type of life.

The True Christian Religion summarizes the successive growth of Morality in a telling paragraph, as follows :

"Every man learns from parents and masters to live morally, i. e., to act as a civil person and to perform the offices of honesty which refer themselves to the various virtues which are the essentials of honesty, and to produce them by its formalities, which are decorous. And as he advances in age, he learns to superadd rational endowments and through these perfect the moral things of life. For moral life, with children up to first adolescence, is natural, and becomes afterwards more and more rational". (443)

The habits of moral life with children are not morality itself, but are a natural form imposed from without by mental training and instruction. Only after "reflections upon the manners of men" and the use of rational concepts and rational freedom, does morality begin (AC 4558).

And even so, a man may become "rational and moral" from the world only, and not from heaven (TCR 564f). While it is the normal thing that a man who becomes "moral", should become "spiritual-moral"--by "a life according to human and divine laws at the same time" yet morality is also possible to every natural-rational man, since he can elevate his understanding into the light of heaven sufficiently to recognize moral truths (TCR 445).

Those who are merely moral "from the world", live morally because they have a sight of moral law and a recognition of the good of society; yet only so long as they regard society as their group, whose welfare will benefit them. The final test of such morality is the feeling of merit. If they ascribe the merit of their virtues to themselves, their state is not spiritual, and their inward evils remain untouched by this their polishing of the outside of the cup and platter of their lives.

This distinction, between a life from spiritual conscience and a life from natural morality, is not generally perceived by the students of Ethics at this day. But it is recognized by many that from those that are acclaimed as the "most virtuous" there is often a backwash of a subtle conceit--a pride of virtue that cannot be wholly hidden. There is the echo of the Pharisee's words, "I thank Thee that I am not as other men. . . ."

The Moral Law

What is meant by the teaching that every rational man can see moral truths in their own light? Does it not imply that moral life has its laws, even as nature has laws proper to nature ? that human relationships are ruled by the Divine Providence according to a certain order, which cannot be broken without a definite loss of the human quality, a loss of human status, human rights, and human rewards? We believe it means precisely this. The individual who is becoming conscious of his place as a moral being is--in his own experience meeting up with some of those laws at work. He finds that he cannot possibly be satisfied with merely imitating what others do; that he cannot simply adopt the set of customs that prevail about him or in his group, and expect it to serve as a common standard whereby to judge others, or whereby to translate his understanding of his obligations or ambitions into terms that others will understand. He must seek a more pliable, adaptable standard than custom. He finds that even many of his own habits are such that they are really meaningless and purposeless. He needs a law which shall guide his social action.

Moral laws must be perennial. They must have held good in all centuries, among all peoples, whatever shifting customs may have been in vogue. Moral laws must be universal--applying in a versatile way to all situations, to all ages and states and persons.

If they are such, then they would indeed furnish a common standard and a common goal for social progress, and tend to unite and harmonize the lives of men and to break down the unfortunate isolation in which individuals find themselves, and increase mutual understanding without breaking down the respect of man for man or destroying the privacy and individuality and use and freedom of any one.

Such a universal moral law is actually well known among men. It has been formulated in various ways, among the ancient Chinese, among the Jews in the postexilic era, and vaguely with other peoples. But its Divine formulation is given in the New Testament and is widely known and accepted by Christians, Jews and Gentiles--seen in its own light of truth, accepted on first hearing, by all who are "somewhat rational and moral": "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matth. vii. 12).

No critic--to our knowledge--has ever dared to pick flaws in this sublime statement; none has been able to improve upon it. Even to many who deny His Divinity, the Lord Jesus Christ yet stands as the most enlightened moral teacher that the world has ever known.

On analysis, the statement--which the Writings describe as the universal law of morality (TCR 444, AR 634, AE 9023), and which the world calls the Golden Rule--loses its hackneyed familiarity. The fact that it is constantly on the lips of insincere and self-seeking men does not affect its Divine dignity. Its prime purpose is a challenge to thought. And its meaning deepens the more we reflect. What is it that we would that men should do to us ?

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