Hard Going and Simply Rational discuss verse 3 of the verses ‘The Five Natures’ (blog entry 71) which translates: I’m the moral, duty is etched on my desires; / appetite is controlled, I hate sensuality and discord; / the system of law preserves our life from the mob.’
Spider's web on birch tree
(Photo: Scott Murray)

An ascent, as it were
SR: I’m looking forward to this!
HG: Can I make a confession. When I wrote these verses more than ten years ago ago, they were like an ascent: the sensual, the rational, the moral, the intuitive and finally up to the mystical. As if each was a step nearer to the divine. Stages in the soul, as it were. Now I have changed my mind, or rather my mind has been changed for me.
SR: How do mean, I don’t understand?
HG: When I wrote the verses, I was a bit like yourself, using my reason, striving to understand God by using my own resources. I struggled with relativism. If there is no absolute moral code, then people can make up their own moral codes as they go along, based on utilitarianism or whatever. Something like Enlightenment morality which we discussed last time.

SR: So you don’t believe in ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number?’
HG: That begs a lot of questions. For example, how do we define happiness? Is it the happiness that Augustine talks about, ‘our hearts are restless till they come to rest in You’ or is it the happiness of being well off that the politicians lure us with. It’s a truism, and trite, to say money doesn’t necessarily make you happy.
SR: Yes, there’s health and relationships. Didn’t Aristotle in his Ethics mention how important friendship was for happiness. But to get back to what you said a moment ago, you said your mind had been changed for you. What did you mean by that?
Frost & ice on grass
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Human effort and the gift
HG: I meant that, at the time, I was using my reason to try and grasp what is much more than reason. Then I realized that God was there all the time even when I didn’t believe in Him. I realized God can’t be attained by human effort. He is there as gift. The initiative always comes from God and He cannot be reached by reasoning about Him or by being very moral. The Pharisees were very moral. They had the Toradh and kept to the letter of the Law. But that didn’t save them.
SR: Why not, if they were keeping to the Law?

Immanence thinking
HR: They weren’t really, no-one can keep strictly to the Law. But look, the real reason why moral systems don’t work is that they’re based on immanence thinking. There are a lot of people who are very moral and they don’t believe in God at all, or that there is anything beyond the physical. Their morality is immanence morality. They think it’s in themselves.
SR: Well, as a humanist, that’s what I believe. I’m quite a moral person really, I work hard, pay my taxes, love my family, have many friends and contribute to charities.

A revelation of Love
HR: There’s the rub SR. I know from experience that there’s an extramundane side to life. I have faith that there’s a God. Not just a faraway God who never shows up but a God who revealed Himself to humanity in Jesus Christ. He didn’t come as an earthly king but as a servant who suffered the most ghastly death on a cross. God in Christ sacrificed Himself so that He could reconnect humanity to Himself. He does away with the old way of looking at the Law. He is the Law, the Word who is Himself sacrificed. The Word becomes the act. And the act a revelation of Love. The old Law was a shadow of what was to come and what came was the gift of Love.
SR: So where does that leave morality? People can do as they want, can they?
Frost on holly leaf

A new orientation
HR: No, not at all. When the heart realizes the gift, its morality stops being an immanence morality and it is connected through Christ – the risen Christ – to the transcendent. If you have a connection to the transcendent through the gift given in Christ, you will have abandoned the false self …
SR: I don’t understand. What do mean by the false self?
HR: It’s the self that seeks its own, that has not accepted the gift. You have to be poor, humble, to accept the gift. The heart gets a different orientation. It looks towards God, rather than away from Him. Of course we would never know what God was really like without the scandal of the cross, the scandal of particularity.

Hope or nihilism
SR: Is this not all wishful thinking? Are we not rather insignificant dots on an insignificant planet in the immensity of alien space. In a cold unfeeling universe where cold unfeeling scientific laws reign. Meantime, we can enjoy ourselves and do as we like.
HR: Yes indeed, that’s the choice we have: to believe and experience the gift or to believe what you have just said. One leads to hope, the other to a nihilism of one kind or another.
SR: I’m not a nihilist. I have my own values, which are humanist.
HR: God is the only guarantor of value because He is the source of all things.
SR: O well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.