Pagan Virtue

At church this morning, the priest talked to us about virtue. He acknowledged that even the pagan philosophers promoted virtue as the path to happiness in this life. But he also maintained that Christianity adds something more. In Christianity, he argued, virtue leads to happiness that is eternal, not just temporal. Plus, Christians doing a good deed for God is better than non-believers doing it just because they think it’s a good idea.

I’ve often heard non-believers say, “What makes Christians so special? I know a lot of non-Christians who do good things. Apparently, Christianity is not necessary for a moral life.”

On some level, that argument annoys me. “Yeah, non-believers do good things,” I think to myself. “They do them so they can pat themselves on the back.” And, if this is true, then I can identify with what the priest is saying: doing a good deed for God is better than doing it out of self-righteousness.

But I don’t think that all non-believers do their good deeds out of self-righteousness, or that self-righteousness is the sole motivation for non-Christian charity. Many non-Christians who do good deeds desperately want to make the world a better place. They recognize that injustice and poverty are real, and that many people suffer and die in the process. Atheists and agnostics who work for social change don’t look to a deity to solve the world’s problems, for they don’t really believe that a beneficent deity exists. They conclude that they are the ones who will have to bring change to the world.

That must be an unbearable burden. I’d go crazy if I had to stress out about every single problem in the world. I don’t have the talents or the resources to tackle everything.

But that is why I believe in God. My goal is not to dump the job into his lap, but to join him in what he is doing. I trust that God is at work in the world, and that he is using people to help others and bring glory to himself. And I am a piece in the larger puzzle of God’s activity. I shouldn’t aim to solve all of the world’s problems, but I should do what I can to help the people with whom I come into contact. And I should carry out my calling, using the talents and the resources that God has given me.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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