New-Age Froth and Feel-Good Ethics Come to the Fore
LONDON, OCT. 23, 2005 (Zenit) - Western Europe and the United States are decadent societies because they have abandoned a morality based on the traditional virtues. So says a book just published by the London-based Social Affairs Unit, "Decadence: The Passing of Personal Virtue and Its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans."
Edited by Digby Anderson, the volume brings together authors from a variety of backgrounds and views. A first section contains essays on the "old" virtues, such as prudence, love and courage. The second deals with the "new" virtues, centered on the environment, caring, therapy and being critical.
The book does not pretend to give a complete analysis of any of the virtues, and the authors of the chapters differ in their approach to the subject matter. Readers could also disagree about some of the interpretations of the virtues. Overall, however, the book provides a stimulating reflection on the dangers of discarding the tried-and-true virtues for passing fads.
In the introduction, Anderson explains that the old virtues were genuine ones, in that they demanded of people specific types of behavior. The new ones, in contrast, often fall into the category of slogans or rhetorical appeals. Or, if in some cases they do contain elements of true virtue, they tend to elevate a trivial aspect into the main virtue.
Kenneth Minogue, a retired professor of political science at the London School of Economics, addresses the virtue of prudence. After looking at its classical origins in Aristotle and its subsequent modifications, Minogue observes that prudence was particularly important in balancing conduct by coordinating the virtuous acts of a person.
That concept of prudence came under challenge in the 18th century from utilitarian philosophers, who tried to substitute it with a scientific system of maximizing happiness. More recently, the modern world has interpreted prudence as the avoidance of risk, and instead of a virtue we now have statistical analysis and probability theory.
Another way in which the virtue of prudence has been weakened is through the increasing role of the state. Instead of personal responsibility we now have an ever-increasing regulation of conduct by governments.
Digby Anderson, until last year director of the Social Affairs Unit, looks at the Christian virtue of love in one of the book's chapters. This virtue, he explains, has run into difficulties because it can only be understood and lived within the context of a broader Christian theology. Once belief in God, heaven and sin disappear, then love, along with many other virtues, vanishes.
In its place we have a populist sentimental ethics, or a secular rights-based ethics. Some of the traditional language of the virtue of love remains, but it is superficial, without a metaphysics or solid anthropology to ground it.
So, instead of a virtue that puts God in first place and requires us to love our neighbor, we now have a love that liberates us from rules, encourages us to follow our feelings and exhorts us to be nice to people.
The virtue of thrift is examined by Theodore Malloch, chief executive officer of the Maryland-based Roosevelt Group. Frugality, or thrift, has its origins in the Calvinist tradition, according to Malloch. It was based on the idea that a person's worth is not determined by how much he spends, but by the wisdom shown in discharging responsibilities in the context of being a steward of God's creation.
For a person motivated by such a vision an unlimited desire to possess goods is seen as denoting spiritual instability. Modern society, however, has reversed things and sees having more possessions as a sign of success. Thus, restraint has been replaced by profligacy, and thrift by indebtedness. "In such a moral universe, desire is the only real absolute," comments Malloch.
This indulgence of our appetites, he adds, too often leads to corruption and decay, both personally and collectively. In the end, just as the material objects we buy are discarded rapidly, so too people can be cast off.
Peter Mullen, rector of the Anglican church of St. Michael's in London, takes a critical look at the new virtues of "caring." The new caring society, he notes, is based on euphemisms and sentiments, instead of a community of faith.
Death and personal tragedies, for example, are not dealt with by reference to faith, but consigned to the attention of grief counselors and therapists. Instead of being consoled by the promises of eternal life contained in the Gospel, people are now comforted by promises of healing and energizing.
The grief-counseling business does, in fact, conjure up vague religious feelings but empties them of all doctrine and Christian teaching, leaving just a sham of religion.
Based on his 35 years of experience in parish work, Mullen warns that grief counseling is pretentious and designed just as much for the attention-seeking of the counselor as it is for the benefit of the bereaved. In the end we have "New Age froth instead of the promises of the gospel," he writes.
Another aspect of the caring society is that we are expected to feel moved by the death of every celebrity or public figure. The result, however, is that our emotional response is cheapened through exaggeration.
Mullen also criticizes the self-centeredness of the new spirituality. The old religious idea of acting virtuously for its own sake, or for God's sake, has been replaced by the psychotherapuetic notion of virtue for our own well-being.
Self-respect has been replaced by self-esteem. Self-respect used to come from the peace of trying to live a virtuous life and having a clear conscience. Now it means just feeling good about ourselves and lacks any moral content.
Traditional religions told their followers that we are fallen and in need of spiritual help, and explained the realities of sin and forgiveness. The new gospel of self-realization, in contrast, denies any personal deficiencies and sells a series of techniques that will enable us to realize our potential. In the process the concepts of right and wrong fall by the wayside.
The psychological thrust of the new virtues is dealt with in a chapter by Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent. The traditional teaching about the seven deadly sins, and the countervailing virtues, has been turned on its head, he notes.
We are warned against too much kindness, as it can lead to compassion fatigue. Diligence is sometimes dismissed as an example of someone suffering from a perfectionist complex. Humble people lack self-esteem, and chastity is a sexual dysfunction. "Virtue is not so much its own reward, as a condition requiring therapeutic intervention," he concludes.
Modern therapeutic culture also encourages the open and uninhibited display of emotions, Furedi observes. Acknowledging our feelings is presented as an act of virtue. And the subsequent encouragement to seek therapy or help has acquired a connotation akin to the act of admitting guilt.
There is, therefore, a tendency to inflate the problems of emotional vulnerability and to minimize the capacity of the person to cope with distress without the help of outside therapy. This culture of therapy also brings with it the idea that people are not the authors of their lives, but the victims of consequence. Virtue is thus replaced by therapy, leaving us all the poorer as a consequence.
https://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000
Virtues, Ethics, Person, Morals
More Catholic PRWire
Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718
A Recession Antidote
Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.
A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.
Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell
Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell
Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Franchising to Evangelize
Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Three words to a deeper faith
Relections for Lent 2009
Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell
World Food Program Director on Lent
Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Glimpse of Me
The 3 stages of life
Sex and the Married Woman
A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Modernity & Morality
Just a Minute
Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Edging God Out
Burying a St. Joseph Statue
George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell
Easter... A Way of Life
Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
by Catholic Online
- NOT AGAIN - 'Multiple casualties' at Maryland school shooting HD Video
- The Truth about Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday
- Sin HD Video
- Daily Readings for Wednesday, March 21, 2018
- 'Living Lent': Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent - Day 36
- St. Enda: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, March 21, 2018
- Fasting, Refreshing the Routine and Living Lent
- Daily Reading for Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 HD
- Daily Reading for Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 HD
- International study shows stem cells can stop MS and relieve symptoms HD
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
The California Network
Inspiring streaming service
Learn the Catholic way
Teacher lesson plans & resources
Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education