It used to be the expectation of good men and women that there were things they would die before doing. A noble man might be expected to die before they would be willing to lie, or a woman before “losing her virtue”. We might expect a soldier to die before being made a spy for the enemy, or before a hostage taker could use him as a human shield. Or maybe before informing on a friend without being tortured, and so on. It was thought that because ethical truths were true, they were even more substantial and important than maintaining your human life — especially when we believed in an everlasting life to come determined by the God of the morals and virtues we would die for.
All virtues can be humiliated by wrong use. When legalism arises, or the virtue is used to accomplish the opposite effect, it loses its appeal. But more than anything, this virtue required the spiritual belief that supported it — that God would grant everlasting life through judgment, and therefore virtuous faith was more important than saving your own physical life.
When The Walls Come Down
To the secular mind the proper response to this is “good riddance”. Why should any woman think maintaining her virtue worth the risking of her own life? Why should any man see his life destroyed rather than utter some white lie? What moral pretense is worth the eternal loss of a human’s only momentary life?
But like many walls, it is when we tear them down with that we find their true purpose. And many times, what we did because of truth had some extraordinarily practical saving effect.
What was that effect? It was something akin to the same reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists and kidnappers. It may seem like a ridiculous and cold moral position not to negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers. Isn’t it worth the life of the person kidnapped or the people that might be killed by the terrorists? Surely it’s better than leaving them to die, or risking the future success of attacks and bombings. And so the naïve person may hand over the ransom — especially if the kidnapped was his own child.
But this would not only be morally wrong, it would also be foolish. For the kidnapping market is a market of supply and demand, as is the market of all crime. Crime is always perpetrated on the susceptible. It is done to those who will accept it. We pay the ransom for the first kidnapped child, and we set in motion the wheels of the kidnapping of the next one hundred children.
To negotiate with terrorists is to show that terrorism pays and that it works. It creates a market for all kinds of grievances in the minds and hearts of immoral men. The success of all actions of immorality produce and loose thousands more applications of diverse immoralities.
And this is precisely the logic behind absolutely refusing being leveraged into immoral actions, even actions so seemingly simple as sexual intercourse or improvident lying and politicking. If some men are given to lying when pressured, more men will be pressured to lie. And not only will such an environment multiply moral criminals, it will create a sense of normality for giving in. We’ll see the person who gives him as a victim, rather than demanded that they should have been a martyr.
The Impact of Individual Responsibility
This is actually the root and marrow of a real community responsibility, something like what people call “social justice”. This is the real individual’s responsibility to the collective — to be individually moral so as to not unravel the fabric of a moral society. There is no social fabric if people choose themselves over moral truths. That is the whole reason why God has given commands and why we recognize morals — they transcend our interests and must be obeyed in any circumstances. And if we think that we cannot be expected to endure personal sacrifice or even death to uphold vague and philosophical notions of morality when we have only one life to live, we will ultimately create a barbarism that will destroy the lives of very many.
It is only when everyone lives as a moral soldier, vigilant and sacrificial at every moment, that we can all enjoy the social community of moral peace. It is only when we are moral warriors that we can enjoy being social civilians safe within the walls of an impenetrable moral culture which we all uphold, and in risking ourselves makes us all safe.
There are many modern people who claim that empathy is the most important consideration for a true community. But they apply it wrongly. They believe that empathy should be given to the one person who really wishes to act immorally to save their own fellow well-being. When, in fact, we should have empathy for the hundred or thousand that will face greater temptation and more certain brutality as a predictable result of the effect of moral self-indulgence within human community. Calling people to empathy may be the proper rebuke for flippancy, but it is no argument against our responsibility to uphold a moral truth or law. Empathy is no extenuating circumstance to our moral imperatives, and is in the long run used in profoundly un-empathetic and flippant ways.
Holding All Lives Dear
So, I seek to persuade you to hold all moral truths as the most important things in existence, especially as they relate to your own responsibility. Don’t do them in legalism, but in faith and in love toward God and your neighbor. It is precisely a certain kind of non-legalistic moral rigidity and vigilance that produces the peace and justice we all claim to long for.
Value your own life by dedicating it to the truth, and holding it loosely where necessary. In doing so, you hold all lives dear, and show empathy to a hundred generations. And that wall of social fabric built on the vigilance of individual morality is the best assurance for justice and peace in your life as well as theirs.