– Corrado Gnerre
Recently, while talking to my friends, there arose the problem of the sin of impurity. This raised a question in me: in choosing to love God, why do we necessarily have to respect moral standards?
Dear …, according to natural and Christian philosophy, God is not beyond good and evil but is Good: his nature is identified with Good and is constitutively good. Many are led to think of creation in a certain way, that is, that after creating man, God began to reflect: “And now how do I make him behave? I give him the opportunity to steal or not to steal, to tell lies or not to tell lies…”
Now, if things had gone this way, the good would have been the bad and the bad the good. Instead things did not go that way. God could not fail to tell man “do not steal” or “do not give false testimony,” because his nature implies “do not steal” and “do not give false testimony,” since – as we said before – his nature is good. This is why the best definition of the Commandments is this: they are the nature of God codified for the daily life of men. From all this we understand a very important thing: since the Law of God is identified with the nature of God, accepting the Law of God means embracing God himself.
You, dear …, asked this question: “but why, in order to choose to love God, do we necessarily have to respect moral standards?” Undoubtedly one can answer this question by saying that love that is not in conformity with God’s will cannot be love; therefore one cannot love God unless one adheres to his will. It’s an excellent and true topic, no doubt about it. But we forget that Christianity also offers another type of answer, much more persuasive. In other words, what we said before: the Law of God is the very nature of God, therefore respecting the Law of God actually means embracing it. And even more decisive: it is not possible to embrace God if one does not accept and live his Law.
From this we understand two more things: that Christianity cannot be reduced to intellectualism or moralism.
Christianity, in fact, shuns any type of Gnostic approach, so adhering to God does not simply mean knowing him or sharing his ideas (and therefore falling into an exclusively intellectual adhesion), but embracing his will and his nature.
Furthermore, Christianity is far from any moralistic drift, a drift that leads to considering respect for the law as an end. Kant, speaking of ethics, said that the so-called “ethical ethics” would be higher than the “teleological” one. Deontological morality is that for which moral action must be performed independently of the end. Teleological morality, on the other hand, is that aimed at a very specific goal, the achievement of happiness: the good must be done not in itself but in that it refers to the possession of the truth and therefore of authentic happiness.
It is obvious that Christianity recognizes itself in teleological morality; while modernity, in its religious skepticism and indifferentism, could not fail to recognize itself in the Kantian perspective. Hence, on the one hand, the failure of moral authority in modern pedagogy; on the other, the accusation against “moralism” of religious morality.
Well, Catholic theology makes it clear that this is not the case: the Law of God is his Nature; and – on the contrary – it reverses the terms of the question, rightly indicating as moralist the position of those called to respect the moral law without knowing neither the basis nor the end. Moralism is not measured by the number of renunciations (so the more you put “stakes” in your life, the more moralistic you are), but by the number of reasons that underlie the renunciation.
Let’s take an example. An atheist decides not to steal. He decides to do it in order to: 1. Respect the property of others, 2. Not to go to jail. Instead, a believer who decides not to steal will have these reasons: 1. Respect the law of God, 2. Respect the property of others, 3. Not to go to jail. Well, the believer’s behavior will be less moralistic, in that he, having more motivation, will be able to give more meaning to his effort of will. The atheist, however, having less motivation, will need an effort of greater will, therefore falling into moralism.
(From La buona battaglia. Apologetica cattolica in domande e risposte, 2019©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)