VII. Morality in Social Life
SINCE the chief function of the moral virtues is to moderate the various affections of the natural mind--those cupidities, appetites, and instinctive or acquired inclinations which tend, if left without rational control, to run amok and destroy not only society but even the body itself,--it is easily seen why the very word "immorality" is often used in specific reference to the inordinate welling up of the instincts of sex. "All joys and all delights, from first to last," can be gathered into the conjugial life when these instincts of sex are reduced to servitude under the moral virtues, and thus conspire to make conjugial love the ornament of human life, the repository of the Christian religion, and the proper foundation "of all loves, celestial, spiritual, and natural therefrom" (CL 64-69). But it is equally true that no instinctive cravings in man can plunge him into more exquisite tortures which gnaw at the very depths of his being, and cause more prolonged misery and more irreparable harm to individuals and societies, than the inborn love of the sex; and this in the exact degree that this instinct is not subordinated under rational virtue and guided towards the proper end.
In the Divine mercy, the New Church is given, within the body of the revealed Writings, one volume which Swedenborg once referred to as treating "not of theology but chiefly of morals". This book is entitled "The Delights of Wisdom concerning Conjugial Love; after which follow the Pleasures of Insanity concerning Scortatory Love", and is designed as the means by which the ideals of love truly conjugial shall be restored to the New Church.
It is in this book, therefore, that we learn most specifically concerning the moral and spiritual virtues. For these all enter into conjugial love and qualify it. These are what attract a man and a woman to one another and cause them to regard each other as "similitudes". These virtues are what conjoin wife and husband more and more. But the absence of some or all of the virtues is responsible for the various complications of married life.
Both men and women have virtues, and in respect to the element of justice, or moral wisdom, they are "for the most part akin", in both sexes (CL 165). With the husband they partake of his "intellectual urill" with which the will of the wife conjoins itself in a marriage union. But "because the wife knows these virtues with a man better than the man knows them with himself, it is said that the conjunction of the wife with them is from without" (CL 165) ; which we presume to mean, by deliberate recognition and appreciation.
The husband, however, has another element in his virtues which comes from the judgment of his rational wisdom, a wisdom connected with his intelligence and based on the sciences or knowledges peculiar to his sphere of forensic use; and this "climbs into a light in which women are not" (CL 163, 165). Yet something responsive to it is present with wives, who love to listen when such matters are discussed and "inwardly recognize and favor those things" when they hear them from their husbands and thus conjoin themselves with this judgment "from within". (What this phrase means we shall leave the women to explain to themselves.) The wife has also a perception of the affections of the husband, and, fortunately, the highest prudence in moderating them unbeknown to her husband, and this for the sake of conjugial love, friendship, and confidence; which is of the wisdom of the wife and cannot be given with men (CL 166, 167, 168).
The list of moral virtues is given as follows: "Temperance, Sobriety, Probity, Benevolence, Friendliness, Modesty, Sincerity, Helpfulness (officiositas), Politeness (civilitas); as well as Sedulity (sedulitas), Industry, Alertness, Alacrity, Munificence, Liberality, Generosity, Earnestness (strenuitas), Courage, Prudence, and many others" (CL 164). Among the "many others" might be included Truthfulness, Patience, and Chastity, which are yet involved in the preceding.
We have already discussed those virtues which centered about the golden mean or about the idea of Moderation. We will now call attention to a series of virtues that flow more directly from the will, such as Benevolence, Friendship, Modesty, Sincerity, Helpfulness, and Politeness. We can say little about each singly, but wish to point out that it is these especially that govern in our social life, even more than in our forensic calling or civic relations. And social life usually either looks towards marriage or else is centered around the uses of married couples.
The fundamental, underlying attitude of a man or woman in social contacts, must be one of Benevolence, which simply means Good Will. "On earth peace and to men good will" was the angelic greeting on the occasion of the birth of the Prince of Peace. This good will among men is the essential of morals. It desires no personal profit which is to the harm of society, no pleasure at the expense of someone else's discomfort.
This attitude of good will towards others makes possible what is here termed Friendship.
The Writings give an immense fund of information on what Friendship is and ought to be, in this world and the next. "Mutual love differs from friendship in this, that mutual love regards the good which is in a man . . . whereas friendship regards the man; and it, too, is mutual love when it regards a man from good"; otherwise it partakes of self-love (AC 3875). To love a man merely because he is good to one, is not interiorly to love him. To love another from friendship alone, is to conjoin oneself "with his person and thus at the same time with his evils" (Doc. Faith, 21).
Friendships are sincere just as far as they derive something from charity (AC 11582), and the delight from such friendships is called in the Writings "the good of the Natural" (AC 2184e). The sphere of this delight is sometimes mixed with flattery, which is not so evil if it is innocent and has a permissible friendship, or the pleasure of social intercourse, in view (AC 1517, 53882).
But again and again the Writings stress "the great injury done to the spiritual life of man by friendship, if the person is regarded and not what is good" (AC 4804). "Those who in the life of the body have preferred the delight of social intercourse to every other delight", neglecting their spiritual and natural duties for the sake of social delights, choosing friends "without caring whether they were good or evil, provided they were agreeable" (AC 4804), form various kinds of "societies of friendship" in the other life, which are most detrimental to the good. For "evils can be inspired into the good, but not goods into the evil" (TCR 448).
The statement occurs, that "everyone may indeed be friendly to others, but still he must be most friendly to what is good" (AC 4804). The ordinary courtesies of life must be extended to all: we need not stop to inquire into their moral good or their spiritual virtues! But we must not place ourselves into false positions, in which our association with evil people serves to cloak their evils and make their faults respectable, or estranges our hearts from use or virtue! Morality involves serious responsibilities here, each case having to be judged on its own merits. Civil life forces us into many external associations with people who are of questionable moral character. And we infer from the Writings that where uses rather than pleasure dictate such intercourse, there is a sphere of protection extended from the the spiritual world. Thus when we associate with those of other religious beliefs, we can appreciate their goods of charity although we should not become imbued with those goods or conjoin them with our own truths. (AC 5117 end) For each man's concepts of duty must spring from his own conscience and his own faith.
The love of mere friendship is one of the most pervasive affections at this day. In the world of spirits societies of friendship which have no end of use, except pleasure and complete self-indulgence, exist in "incredible number"! (AC 4054). The effect of their influence is likened to the stupidity caused by a clogging of the brain; for they induce a dulness, or a languor, which deprives one of affection and ends in sadness (AC 4054). Such spirits are described as curses and pests, no matter how polite and clever they had been in this life. The societies of friendship tend to take away the delight of life from others and convert it into their own delight (SD 4524, 4439; see also SD min. 4749, 4716). Some of them are what has sometimes been called "mutual-admiration societies".
Friendship, as a virtue considered, does not involve the need of this dangerous tearing away of a man's mind into a social whirl which often is injurious to health and usefulness, and results in the exhaustion of his capacity to enjoy the moderate social delights which really recreate his mind and body. It does not mean the continual seeking of new excessive thrills. It merely means the spirit of wishing well to those in whom we see an admirable and worthy character; those to whom we are drawn by sympathies, spiritual and natural, and amongst whom we can trustfully exhibit our intimate affections or inner ambitions without fear of harsh judgment or broken confidences. We show our love in various ways, and to all. But friends we "select" or "acquire" (R. Ps. 213), and "cultivate" so far as uses permit and distances allow, and so far as prudence dictates.
Helpfulness is a virtue which is universally appreciated ; it is an ornament of childhood, a grace of youth. But it is especially a mark of friendship. Where friendship exists, there is also a greater freedom to offer help; and a freedom to accept it without incurring any undesirable obligations.
Modesty has already been spoken of. In social life, however, it shows itself in unobtrusive behavior or in not intruding one's own will, one's own opinions; not insisting on one's own tastes being followed; not deliberately displaying one's strength, superiority, wit, or beauty; and generally, in not being more conspicuous than the occasion calls for. "Reserve" is actually the most prudent course, in social life as well as in the strategy of war. The quietest waters are often found to be deepest. If somebody's virtues or powers were suddenly displayed to the full, it might indeed call forth with us a momentary enthusiasm. But of such a person much is expected thereafter, and unfortunate is he who has shot all his bolts and has no reserves! Prudence as well as modesty thus calls for a certain reserve, which implies a patience to await the most useful time for the expression of our opinion or our powers.
A tendency to prudence and modesty is connate with the fair sex (CL 2922). Unconsciously, as well as deliberately, womanhood protects the sanctity of conjugial love--that "friendship of friendships" which is designed to increase in depth during a whole life-time and indeed to eternity--by presenting the intriguing promise of an inexhaustible reserve, a mysterious reservoir of ever fuller loyalty, ever keener understanding, ever deeper intimacy as life goes on. In this lies one of the secrets of Romance. For true romance is founded in delicate modesty, not in the sudden flares of passion.
In the brutally frank life of savages or primitive peoples there is very little of romance. For among them there is no modesty, no reserve, and there is little freedom on the part of their women even to exercise their connate prudence. Unbiassed observers have similarly said about the modern back-to-nature movements which advocate "nudism", that they utterly put romance to rout. That some can harden themselves to a life of nakedness does not testify to their innocence (De Conj. 68, SD 5180). For evil spirits strip themselves of clothes when they desire to feign innocence (AC 165, SD 1206). Even in the heavens they "blush at nakedness before the eyes of others, because it excites what is lascivious" (De Conj. 67). Only among the celestials of the third heaven is this not the case. With the spiritual, "conjugial love begins from the externals", however, and they are therefore clothed (SD 4719). Modesty of this type is even there recognized as a social necessity, and the angels are provided with spiritual garments according to their moral life. They are actually clothed in the principles of moral truth, in their principles of moral perception, and considerate moderation! (AE 195s) And it is these very things that our garments in this world are meant to express, quite apart from their material use of protecting the body from the inclemencies of the weather.
Closely allied to Modesty is the virtue of Civility, also called Courtesy or Politeness. Courtesy implies an unwillingness to compel others to an action. It expresses a desire to leave them free, and not to interfere with their employment or pleasure or state. It is an attitude of mutual deference. Particularly do those older than ourselves or superior to ourselves inspire us with the desire to show them honor, and society has ordained certain modes which plainly convey that attitude. Even the Hebrew Word commands, "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God" (Lev. xix. 32). Such respect for age is the foundation of stable society, and implies the recognition of those gifts of wisdom which, in Divine Providence, we receive from the past. And such courtesies as we show our own contemporaries imply no merely servile attitude, but an appreciation of peaceful intercourse, if not friendship.
The modes of politeness differ in many respects in different countries and in different social groups. But the spirit of courtesy is recognized by others only when we are willing to follow the procedures which are accepted as "polite".
What is commonly known as "manners" is even instrumental in conjoining or disjoining married partners (CL 246, 330). For with human beings it is not faces, but habits--refined, cleanly, peaceable, etc.,--which indicate similitude. Good manners contribute to make children lovable to those who are spiritual. (CL 405)
Since politeness is an unwillingness to compel or disturb another, it is of especial importance that it be used by the male sex,--the more turbulent, assertive and clumsy sex,--to modify its rude strength when in the company of women. Men must exercise a special solicitude not to intrude, not to be over-bearing. They must be deliberately gentle, observant, courteous, and considerate to the so-called "weaker" sex. Man's understanding can seldom cope with the subtleties of woman's needs or woman's states, which are beyond his scrutiny. And he has to fall back, therefore, on established procedures which he knows to be proper.
The forms of social propriety are therefore especially designed to protect women: to protect women from the rude instincts of men; and also to protect women from the spontaneity of their own affections, against which their moderating prudence could scarcely stand up unless assisted by the sphere of social formalities.
Enough has been said to show that although morality is a rational virtue which is quite superior to mere customs or social usages; although morality has its unchanging laws, while customs come and go with each generation, or at least alter for better or for worse; yet morality can never be conceived of apart from a body of customs, flexible indeed, yet ever present, to strengthen and confirm virtue and thus set virtue free to effect its end of good in a social environment which protects it. For nothing is free if it is without protection.
Here the common objection might occur to our minds, that there is something very artificial, and sometimes insincere, or even hypocritical, in living up to formalities not prompted by one's whole heart. But the formalities of which we are speaking are not insincere, except with the evil. It is not insincere to recognize the weaknesses to which flesh is heir to, and then prudently guard against them. To deny our weakness is far more hypocritical--or else simply foolish. To see the need of certain general rules of courtesy, especially in the social sphere where the love of the sex is active, would be hypocritical only if we should pretend that in following a particular custom we were satisfying our chief delight. Social procedures are not so interpretable. They are signs of self-control, the guards of virtue and decorum.
The frank expression of our unruly appetites at a social feast would scarcely be compatible with charity. And in the absence of any understood custom or procedure, charity itself would find itself in a quandary! In this, as in every other field of human endeavor, in every profession or use, there must be accepted codes and forms and understood rules which are to help to relieve the mind of responsibility as to the small details of life.
Sincerity is indeed an important virtue in social life. But it has to do with the purpose which is present in the mind. There are some who from childhood have practiced to "make a show of sincerity", yet are insincere in their spirit (SD 5042, 5043, 5044, 5398, HH 492, Char. 195). The truth is, that no morality is really sincere in the sight of heaven, unless it contains a spiritual motive, gained by shunning deception as a sin against God. Yet sincerity is a moral virtue whenever there is a desire to express one's good intentions without fraud. And a sincere man therefore avoids social subterfuges or dissimulation whenever possible, i. e., whenever the neighbor will not be injured by his so doing. But from reason he may none the less observe the reserve of politeness. We are told concerning the inhabitants of Jupiter, who are of the celestial genius, that while their faces are never at variance with their minds, they show a friendliness to all: yet they never conceal "whether their apparent friendship is sincere or forced". (EU 55)
There is the statement that it "is not difficult" to live the life which leads to heaven. We are only required "to live sincerely, in our calling and out of it, with every person and in everything" (SD 5541). This involves the essence of the law. And it is carried out not by evading the ordinary formalities which society requires, but by using them in the spirit of the intention that is within them, and thus living from justice and according to judgment.
We have spoken, so far, of the virtues which particularly create the sphere of social friendship. It is in this sphere that conjugial friendship can develop and lead towards marriage, and that the foundations of the moral life of the next generation are laid down. The choice of our social life in late youth will determine the choice of our ideals, which will either look downwards towards the love of the sex, as such, or upwards towards a love truly conjugial. The beginnings of a new society, a new regenerated world of men and women, is involved as a hope in the social life of our adolescents; not a new world which possesses more and more perfect machines, or wider and more particular knowledge of natural things; for true civilization does not mean more inanimate machinery! but a new world in which the animal instincts with man will be civilized and tamed for their intended use, and where the evil hereditary inclinations toward rebellion against reason and morality and mutual love will be modified and tempered more and more in each generation. For there is a law of Providence that no good once given as the fruit of victory over evil shall ever be lost. In conquering ourselves we win victories for the future race, as well as the delights of a real human life for ourselves. This is done when conjugial love is desired and prepared for from youth up,
by shunning what is immoral, undisciplined, and irrational in human relationships not only as a thing harmful to human society, but as a sin against God. (CL 49)
Conjugial love is the fundamental of all celestial, spiritual, and thence of natural loves; and into it are gathered all joys and delights even to the most ultimate. The reason for this is that the responsibilities of marriage include the pre-eminent use of perpetuating the human race and of educating the young. By Divine provision, supreme delights are offered only as the rewards of the most excellent of uses. (CL 68, AC 7038) To steal the delights without performing the uses can lead only to tragedy and disillusionment.
. It is therefore vital that the development of conjugial love, and the inversion of the love of the sex into a love of one of the sex, be protected by due modes, and that the progressive states of conjugial love proceed in such an order that injury be not done to the sanctities which belong to the foremost use for which society exists, viz., the use of serving as a seminary to the angelic heavens.
These orderly modes of courtship, and the virtue of Chastity which they involve, together with some of the moral problems raised by the world's thought on the subject of marriage, will be discussed in the next chapter; before we turn our attention to those moral virtues which have more especial reference to the uses of our forensic occupations.