Moral vs. moralistic PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 March 2016 13:50



We have to learn to distinguish between the two. They can look and sound alike, but one is good while the other is bad, one is the good seed while the other is the weed.

To be moral is, of course, a universal concern. We need to see to it that all our human acts, from the most invisible thought and desire to the most tangible action we do, conform to the will of God who at once is full of truth, love, justice, wisdom, mercy, etc.

Our actions which we do freely, and for which we therefore are responsible, should reflect the goodness of God our creator, in whose image and likeness we have been created.

And even if we have messed up the original design of our creation, we have been re-created by Christ. That re-created nature of ours, done through the cross, should reflect the dignity of our redeemed humanity. To be moral is to be truly holy.

To be moralistic is what we have to avoid like the plague. It is the parody or caricature of what is to be moral. It is usually characterized by the tendency to be self-righteous, and judgmental, quickly branding people right and left. It expresses itself in condescending manners.

It is a strict if blind follower of the letter of the law, but misses the law’s real spirit. It makes great effort to strain a gnat, and yet it swallows a camel. It enjoys giving lectures, and tends to force people to behave in a certain way. It cannot bear opposition, resistance, errors and failures. Its capacity to be tolerant is almost zero.

It exudes the odor of sanctimony, not sanctity. It reeks with hypocrisy and inconsistency that is self-justified. Its other name is bigotry. Yes, even from the human point of view, to be moralistic is already repulsive, and yet many fall for it. If you want to have a quick look at it, try visiting political commentaries in the media.

Part of the cause of this unfortunate phenomenon could be some character defects of the persons concerned. But a good part is also due to the misunderstanding of the gospel truths, and the many deficiencies of the formation and upbringing of persons. Of course, we cannot discount the possibility of pure malice.

Perhaps the difference between what is moral and what is moralistic is best illustrated in that episode of the gospel where Christ referred to the behavior of some of the scribes and Pharisees.

“I tell you,” Christ told his disciples, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5,20)

Then, he further explained: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill;’ and ‘whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (5,21ff)

We have to be most careful not to confuse what is moral with what is moralistic. Especially in our discussions and exchanges of views, and most especially when among priests we proclaim the gospel, we should see to it that all traces of being moralistic are avoided.

Yes, it’s true that a certain forcefulness is needed to argue our point or to proclaim our beliefs, but it should be a forcefulness that is tuned in to the sensitivities of the others. It’s not a blind, unfeeling, and much less, violent forcefulness. It is a forcefulness that is compatible with mercy and compassion. It lives out what the gospel says about proclaiming the truth in charity.

The way things are developing these days, with the world getting more complex and complicated, we have to realize that there’s an urgent need to train everyone how to be moral in their pronouncements without being moralistic.

Obviously, it will involve some techniques as to how to smell the appropriate time to say the appropriate thing in the appropriate words and tone to the appropriate people. Yes, it definitely is easier said than done, but it has to be tackled.

But ultimately, everything has to be based on one’s identification of Christ who is the sure guide if the not the very criterion and canon of how to distinguish between what is to be moral and what is to be moralistic. We need to look and follow him very closely, constantly rectifying our ways to conform to his.