A few days ago I wrote a post about the importance of virtue in youth work. A friend had read the blog and had informed me that he felt there were contradictions in what I was saying. As an introvert I need to process things internally first before speaking out and so I don’t think I really explained myself well to him but after more thought and reading I’ve decided to put up another blog about it as I respect this person’s opinion greatly.
In short there is a contradiction when talking about virtue in connection with Christianity and I’ll explain what that is later. As means of a precursor, I want to state a few things first because it will help show where I am coming from on this issue.
I come from the belief that all humans are born ‘good’. I know a number of Christians who hold to the theology that because of ‘The Fall’ we are born corrupt. I don’t follow that belief. Rather than being born corrupt, I believe we are born good but can be easily corrupted. This is important as this leads me to the view that we do not need to have a belief in God to be ‘good’ people. The Genesis account of creation tells us that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, I believe we are born with that knowledge. The problem is that our individual beliefs on what we consider to be right or wrong can also be corrupted. What one persons thinks is perfectly fine (using tax payers money to buy a mote for his house) will not be to someone else.
But it also means that some people (who have no faith in God) do good things. Some of the most kind and generous people I know do not ascribe to any God. But in most cases that is down to how they were brought up. Having a virtuous role model in their life helps them to be like that person. I know that is a sweeping statement and it is not always the case but I think it makes sense. The other reason I have, from my own experience, is that most people are virtuous in one or two areas. In most cases it is because they are passionate about a certain activity and want to share that with people. I know atheist youth workers who have a ‘real heart’ for young people and will serve them out of the passion they have. Now there may be more reasons why people are virtuous but those are the reasons I have found from my own experience.
Why am I saying all of this? For me, as someone who believes in Jesus, I believe he is the only person ever to be truly virtuous. In every area. We have a model of how to be virtuous. Now I said before that I believe we are born with the knowledge of what is good and what is evil. But, because we are easily corrupted, how do we always know what is right and what is wrong?
This is where the contradiction comes in. In Jesus we have a role model for virtue. In order for us to be virtuous we need to have a standard by which we can live up to. Let me explain. If you are trying to learn another language you have to work at it. It will be difficult at first because, in most cases, it is very different to the language you speak just now. You have to practice. You have to listen to those who are fluent. They are the standard. But eventually, after much hard work and practice, the language will become second nature to you. I think it’s the same for us when we try to learn to be virtuous people. It’s hard at first because although we may be ‘good’ in some areas we are not complete;y virtuous people. We have become corrupted by our culture. By things that have happened to us. It takes time to learn how to be that. But eventually after practice, being virtuous will become second nature. But I stress again, it is something we need to learn. And in order to learn it, we need to have a standard that we can live up to. Because without an end goal then how will we know if we ever get there? To be ‘Christ-like’ is the end goal.
So when it comes to trying to teach our young people how to be virtuous people, we need to show them the standard. The end goal. To be like Christ. To act like Jesus. And so in some way we have to show them that they need to live by a set of moral rules. But it cannot stay like that. Eventually those rules will become second nature and we will no longer be doing ‘good’ things because we have to, but because we want to. We become virtuous people. Our young people become virtuous people.
To close I want to say a couple of brief things. I do not believe that people who do not believe in God cannot become virtuous. But they too need to have a benchmark of what is right or wrong. Now for me that is Jesus but for them it may be something entirely different. Secondly although those with faith in God, and those that don’t can both become virtuous our reasons for that will always be different. For me to become virtuous is to anticipate the time when Heaven will fully come to earth. By being virtuous I am showing that this is something of what it will be like when the Kingdom fully comes. This will be the standard. these will be the priorities.
There is much more to say and discuss but again that’s for another blog