Why Bother Being Good?

We know what we should do, but why bother? I bring you another exciting section from How (Not) To Be Secular on exclusive humanism’s restlessness. 

Warning: nerdy stuff ahead.

The MMO (modern moral order) significantly ramps up our moral expectations; indeed, we’ve gone beyond the Smithian vision of self interest benefiting the whole. In a real sense, the MMO is a high calling to altruism and other-regard. However because of an inadequate appreciation for moral sources, modernity fixates on moral articulation-a fixation on more and more scrupulous codes of behavior that further and further delineate high moral expectations.”

Pg 128

It reminds me of two things, one theological and the other political. There were two rules in the Garden of Eden: be fruitful and multiply, and don’t eat from that tree. Then there were 10 on Mt. Sinai that quickly became 613 over 40 years. Malachi got it to 3, and Jesus brought it down to 2.

Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And naturally, with human nature, the man Jesus told that to tried to make it more complicated by asking who his neighbor was.

On the political side, we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights regulating the government. The government has millions of pages regulating citizens. 

“What’s wrong with such code fixation? Well, on the one hand, there are all kinds of epistemological limitations: no code can anticipate every vagary of circumstance; no one can adequately know how to apply codes to new situations; we’re not sure what to do when codes conflict; etc.”

pg 128

We have a law, but why bother? The Apostle Paul speaks on his struggles with it in Romans 7:21-23: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

Continuing in the book…

“But there is a more radical critique of such code fixation that Taylor is really after: codes don’t make people care for their neighbor. In other words, codes are inadequate as moral sources precisely because they don’t touch on the dynamics of moral motivation. It was not a code or a rule that produced forgiveness in Nelson Mandela. This points up precisely what’s missing in modern moral philosophy: attention to motivation. 

“For clearly moving higher in the dimension of reconciliation and trust involves a kind of motivational conversion” (p. 707)-and no code can bring that about. So the “nomolatry” and “code fetishism” of modern liberal society are an inadequate source for morality.”

Pg 128-129

Clearly, everyone should go back to church, right? 

“So we bump against the radical incompleteness of the MMO. Does that mean “religion” can sweep in and save the day? No, says Taylor. “Both sides have the virus” (p. 709). In other words, “We’re all to blame.”

The Jews had the law and kept walking away from it and God. They weren’t loyal. The Ten Commandments won’t do any good if you’re not motivated to follow them. 

Love my neighbor? He supports Trump; how could I do that? Or they voted for Biden. Or the modern unpardonable sin, they disagreed with me. 

To even be motivated requires not a carrot or a stick but a new heart. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

That’s the New Covenant when you put your believing loyalty in Jesus. You turn from your ways, ask forgiveness, and give your allegiance to Him. In turn, the Spirit of God starts to transform your heart and leads you. 

The closer you follow Jesus, the less likely you’ll wander too far. That’s where the motivation comes from—thankfulness for the one who rescued you.

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