Sunday, 13 August 2017

When Virtue Fails

This quote, popularly (but incorrectly) attributed to Marcus Aurelius, proposes indifference to religion:

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but ... will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

But this raises the question — what if you fail to live a truly good life, in the eyes of the god(s)?

The gospel — literally, the good news — about Jesus is that indeed we all fall short, but God sent Jesus into the world to take the punishment that we deserve, and through him we can receive forgiveness.

There is, of course, a catch. We have to accept that forgiveness, and that requires taking Jesus seriously. Thus psuedo-Aurelian indifference breaks down.


  1. The life in question is described as "good" and "noble" with "virtues you have lived by" and "loved ones". If such a truly good life is not viewed to be one in the eyes of the gods, that is covered right in the middle of the quote. It would be unjust.

    Before I go any further, let me explicitly say that I am not trying to convince you that Christianity's God is unjust. I'm only pointing out that the quote did not skip over the possibility that a good life would not be viewed as such by the gods.

    You have pointed out that Christianity's God requires other things (accepting forgiveness) over virtue, even describing it as "a catch". Can you see how Marcus (or whoever the author is) could view this as unjust? I expect you see it differently, but I’m just assuming because you don’t make this point. I don’t think it’s fair to claim the quote “breaks down” without addressing why it is just to require such a catch over simple virtue.

    1. I agree with you that what I've written here does not invalidate the quote as a moral-logical syllogism. (I think it's invalid, but on other grounds.) My point is, it only applies to people who successfully live that sufficiently "good life".

  2. You were pointing out that the quote on living a virtuous life only applies to people who live a virtuous life? Oh, okay.

    It came across that you were saying that a virtuous life is not enough or should not be the (only) goal.

    1. > You were pointing out that the quote on living a virtuous life only applies to people who live a virtuous life? Oh, okay.

      Sure it sounds trivial, but I think it's easy to overlook. People using this quote seem to take it for granted they live virtuous lives.

  3. I see your point. How do we know we lead a virtuous and noble life? Who will be the judge of that, and by what standards should we measure? The quote do not answer those questions.

    Should we judge by our own opinions about our selves? But we tend justifies our "mistakes" and vilify the faults in others.

    Should those closes to us judge? But even wardens in the concentration camps were nice to their own family.

    Should it be decided by popular opinion? The display of self-righteous rage on Twitter, says _no_.

    The only one who can truly give a righteous judgement is the one who knows the deepest thoughts of your hearths, God.

    But how do you measure, how do you know before the judgement where you stand? God have not left you clueless to this.

    He tell it to you implicitly through you conscience, you have a "feel" of what is right and wrong. Inexact, but it is there to guide you. You know when you have transgressed against it.

    He tells it explicitly through the revelation in the biblical scriptures. The Ten Commandments can tell you where you stand. Have you transgressed against one of them, you have transgressed against the Law. And like in secular law there is no weighing good against evil. You will be judged by the law you broke even if you have done many good things.

    The teaching of Jesus is that there is none good but God. We have all transgressed against the Law, and are neither virtuous nor noble.

    But God through is grace has given you an escape through the Cross of Jesus. The virtuous and noble life you are unable to live, Jesus has lived for you. By repenting of your sins and putting our trust in Jesus, you can partake in His righteousness.