“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst” (C. S. Lewis).
MORALITY IS A SUBJECT THAT IS PERILOUS TO NEGLECT. If we pay no attention to it or make careless distinctions between what is moral and what is not, we set ourselves up to have our hearts broken in tragic ways. Morality is an enormously important subject. We can’t trivialize it without allowing others to do so — and we may regret the day we ever said that morality is a matter of opinion.
Ernest Hemingway produced some masterful prose, but he spoke absurdly when he said, “What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” The truth is, our feelings are not an infallible guide to what is moral, although they can surely give us some helpful information about it. Morality is defined by objective, timeless standards, and deep down in our hearts, we all know this is so. If we ever use the words “ought” or “should,” we are acknowledging that there is a standard of right and wrong that goes beyond personal preference, social norms, and cultural traditions.
But there is something else that must be said: true morality must be in our inward hearts as well as in our outward behavior. We wouldn’t trust a person who only did the right thing because he was afraid of the social consequences of doing wrong. We must learn to think morally. As Oswald Chambers said, “Morality is not only correct conduct on the outside, but correct thinking within where only God sees.”
This inward aspect of morality is much more difficult than the outward. “It is so much easier to do good than to be good” (B. C. Forbes). It takes discipline and training, usually over a long period, to acquire a moral character that is stable and predictable, but it is one of the worthiest goals in life. “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts” (Aristotle).
Of all the gifts we may give to others, morality ranks as one of the highest. It marks a huge step in our individual growth when we see that our friends and loved ones will be blessed by our personal decision to do what is right, simply because it is right.
“Every man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbor” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).