Thursday, February 14, 2008

A meditation on the nature of men

These thoughts have been chasing me for a few days and I'm going to see if it comes together.

Let us for a moment consider the atheist who is a man of general good will, except that he denies that there is a God. Yet, even this man will choose a code of conduct by which he will live; he will cobble this code together from things that appeal to his own judgment, and consider that he possesses and lives by a code which is good. This is his moral code.

Now consider the man who says he believes in God, yet lives his life as though there were none; like the atheist, he builds his own code to live by, assembling the bits and pieces which appeal to his own judgment. He believes that he possesses and lives by a code that is good. This is his moral code.

The first man, having no grounds whereby to claim that his system is better than another atheist’s system, to be consistent should have no problems with the rest of the world living by another system; but because it is the nature of man to be drawn to the good, he will believe and almost invariably act to convince others to live by his system which he considers good; but in the end there is only force which can be brought to bear on those who disagree; he will seek to legislate his personal morality. He may even insist that the second man and others have no right to enforce their moral code upon him, just as he is forcing the other to live by his moral code.

The second man differs from the first in that he recognizes and pays lip service to the moral tradition which he is building from, but in the end, both are seeking the good and the true, but are both driven by their own will, and thus effectively indistinguishable, except that the second is more likely to fill church pews than the first.

Now let us consider a third man. This man not only believes in God like the second man above, but he actually believes God. Remember that the previous man acknowledged God but lived as though He did not exist; our new man not only believes in God's existence but goes to the next logical step of believing what God has to say; although he places himself as the final and highest judge of just what God's word means. Thus, just like the first and second men above, this man builds his own code to live by, assembling the bits and pieces which appeal to his own judgment. He believes that he possesses and lives by a code that is good. This is his moral code.

The third man differs from the second by acknowledging the sources of his code, but retains judgment over which parts he is willing to submit himself to. His quest for the good and the true will draw more from God’s own word, but the result will still be in accord with his own personal will, and thus will be a personal moral code which he believes to have the added authority of God. This man is very vexing to the first two men, and more likely to be found in the pews than the second man; he vexes nearly all because he preaches another gospel (Gal 1:9), for which he was not sent (Rm 10:15)

The fourth man differs from the others by not only believing in God and believing God, but he willingly submits himself to the lawful authority established by God. This man has no desire for a personal moral code, he is grateful to accept the moral code which God has provided for his life; he may in fact once have been the third, the second, the first man, or all of them, and knows from bitter experience that the personal moral code is a personal road to hell. This man’s heart has said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” This man is most vexing to the third man, and is vexing to the first and second who can’t distinguish him from the third. [He is always in the pews, and always under temptation to take the step back to the place of the third man, because his zeal for his Father’s house leads him to desire to perform housekeeping that he is not called to do, but rather his calling is to be conformed to the image of the Son, and be led like a lamb to the slaughter?]

This last man’s moral code is not a personal moral code, it is a universal moral code; it is Catholic. Because it is universal, with it’s foundations in the very fabric of creation (ie: natural law) and revelation, it is suitable for all men at all times. Yet the other men outlined all and of a kind share a universal distaste for it and reject it out of hand, preferring the works of their own tradition to the very word of God. That is why about these others who profess a belief in God but do not shoulder the gentle load He has authorized, St. Bede reminds us of the words of St. James; Believe, and you do well, but even the demons believe, and tremble.

1 comment:

  1. Great reflection, Mark, and most helpful. Thanks!
    The ego is a terrible thing and can devour even God himself. The fourth man allows God to 'devour' him, and thereby finds his own self.