No point of Faith is so plain, as that Morality is our Duty… A virtuous heretic shall be saved before a wicked Christian. – Benjamin Franklin
While there are some theological subtleties missed in Franklin’s quote, its core message is quite true. Though only God knows the intimate, private heart and mind of any of us, a moral character is the surest sign that one’s exterior life matches one’s interior life. A moral character is the result of an interior recognition, an agreement with God’s truth and goodness at the core of one’s being.
We have often heard, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This is often true. A hypocrite might publicly and ostentatiously wear the outward “clothing” of a moral person, but be naked, and diseased at the core. In the dynamism of life though, this can not be sustained for long. The truth will come out at some point. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17)
Moral character is the result of a courageous struggle against the pressures, demands and temptations of the world. Like the lotus blossom that grows out of the rot and mud of a pond, and blooms into one of the most beautiful of flowers, moral character, too, grows up and out of the mud of sinful temptation. To develop the habits of moral character is one of the greatest struggles in a human life and cannot be done completely, or effectively, alone. We need God’s grace to take on the challenge and to succeed. Though the development of moral character is difficult, indeed, the most difficult struggle of our lives, nothing compares to it in importance. Nothing else will fulfill our deepest desires for true freedom and true happiness.
In the end, moral character is the outward sign of one who has come to know God in one’s depths. Since God is the one and only source of the knowledge of the good, the individual who has come to know that good in the depths of one’s being, and agrees to honor that good with all of one’s heart, mind, body and soul, begins then to live out of that knowledge with every action and word of one’s life.
Why develop moral character? Because to live a life of moral character is to live a life of thanksgiving, a life worthy of life itself. For life, as it comes to us from the Creator, is generative, forgiving, courageous, self-sacrificing, self-giving, encouraging, and full of hope. The only way to honor that life is to live it in an attitude of thanksgiving, of purposeful generosity and mercy, of kindness and love. To live a selfish life, an immoral life, only diminishes life, torments life, takes from life, or destroys life.
The moral life, then, is a life lived with and for God. It is a life committed to the fulfillment of one’s duty toward God and one’s fellow man. This is the only life that can bring about the conditions of justice in our civil lives as well. There is a wall between Church and state in our country, but that wall is there to prevent the state from imposing its will on religion. The moral teachings of religion, on the other hand, are not private things, but the things most necessary for a moral state. If “We The People” have no moral base, a base rooted in faith in the Creator, the One who created all human beings equally, the state will not last. It is the moral character of The People that is the source of justice, not the laws of the state.