Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 2 (The Cardinal Virtues)

This chapter focuses on the cardinal virtues, something which I mention frequently in my writing.  After reading through this chapter I feel as though there is not a specific focal point on which I can reflect without just regurgitating what Lewis said.  Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on a series of important quotes through the chapter:

"Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think on what you are doing and what is likely to come of it."
 "Nowadays, most people hardly think of prudence as one of the virtues.  I n fact, because Christ said we could only get into his world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are good, it does not matter being a fool"
"Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence."
"But he wants everyone to use what sense they have."
"Christianity is an education itself."

Basically...Faith AND Reason, think  before you act, you don't have to know it all before you start, form your conscience, and make the effort to learn.

"Temperance is.... going the right length and no further".
"But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying."
"One of the marks of a... bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up."

Basically... its not just doing the right act, but the right act with the correct attitude (eventually, for this will take a change of heart, but the perfection of virtue would really call for the alignment of the attitude).  Also, its not about "abstinence" per se, but about moderation.

"Justice... is the old name for everything we should now call fairness."
"It includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises..."

This is pretty self explanatory... give people (and God) what they deserve.

"And Fortitude includes both kids of courage--the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that 'sticks it' under pain."
"'Guts' is perhaps the nearest modern english'."
"You will notice...that you cannot practice any of the other virtues long without bringing this one into play."

Again, pretty self explanatory.

"There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man."
"A man who perseveres in doing just actions get in the end a certain quality of character."
"...It is that quality of rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of 'virtue'."

True virtue is about consistency of action, and consistency of thought.  It's doing and thinking the right thing habitually, and doing it with the right intention and attitude.

"This distinction is important for the following reasons" [so that we might not think]
1) "Provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it..."
2) "We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort."
3) "We might think that the 'virtues' were necessary only for this present life"

This is why we shouldn't think of morality (or virtue) as "single action alone"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 3 (Christian Behavoir); Chapter 1 (The Three Parts of Morality)

The Human Machine and Ship

This chapter of Lewis features one of my favorite examples of morality, the human person as part of a fleet of ships.  I used this to teach the concept of Virtue back in my Totus Tuus years, and so I was excited to revisit it, and wasn't disappointed when I started seeing it in a new light.

The Human Person is like a ship, and Mankind like a fleet, all sailing on the ocean to a common mission (death). Now in order to complete this mission successfully, three things must happen.  1) You must not collide or damage other ships, 2) You must keep your ship in working condition, and 3) you must know your mission, where you're going, and how to get there.
Therefore, Morality consists of three parts: 1) The external relationship between man and man (Social Justice), 2) The internal ordering of the human person (Personal Virtue), and 3) the Purpose or end goal of the morality itself (Holiness). To be a "moral individual" one must cultivate all three parts.

1) Social Justice--This is the first and most obvious form of Morality, the sphere in which it is most easy to conceive of objectiveness.  There are few who will disagree that, in essence, we should not harm another, and that in fact it is our duty to "make right" wrongs that are done to others.  This is why we have charities, welfare, homeless shelters, and free clinics.  However, if you only focus on this aspect of morality you may say, "as long as my actions don't hurt another person they are fine for me to do". This statement does not take into account the second rule of the human fleet.

2) Personal Virtue--There is no point in not colliding with other ships if your own ship can't complete its mission because of "faulty equipment".  This is the second purpose of morality, to keep US in working order.  Humans were made to work in a certain way, in accordance with love, free-will, and right reason.  Morality are instructions for proper operation of the human machine.  If we try to operate outside our normal parameters our machine breaks down and fails to work in love, free-will, and right reason.  Once this happens
we fail to control our collisions with others.  Simply put, our lack of interior morality will cause us to lead others astray.  Personal sin leads to social sin.  If you want to live by the first rule, you must abide by the second.

3) Holiness--Intrinsic and external morality are all fine and good, but it is important to remember that we are on a mission--to reach Heaven.  This reminds us that the rules we are following are objective--since we are all humans, we all have the same ultimate end, and thus we must play by the same rules.  Morality is not a cultural subjectivism, it is not a democratic design, it is a product of a universal human nature.  Because of this, we can all KNOW the rules, and thus because our morality as a whole in part depends on the ability of others to be moral, we have a responsibility to both impart and enforce those rules to the other members of our fleet.

Happy Sailing.