moral courage, man holding sign stating "a better world takes courage"

Moral Courage: The Narrow Road

It takes moral courage to cast aside defense mechanisms and the veneer of culture, and peer into the void of mortality and meaninglessness.

(David C. Funder, Personality Puzzle, pg. 481)

I am studying Funder’s textbook, Personality Puzzle, for a psychology course. I love this quote about moral courage. It is true on many levels. I enjoy studying and discussing existentialism, and I am constantly evaluating my own life, looking for the meaning.

I often contemplate my earthly mortality and the great joy that lies beyond. I am not scared to die; I welcome death as a respite from this hard life. While I remain on earth, I will lean into Jesus to find the moral courage to make this world a better place in every way that I can.

The Veneer of Culture

I like how Funder says to cast aside the “veneer of culture.” I think culture is often used as an excuse to not search for deeper meaning. Many people don’t seem to realize that there is a deeper life experience beyond the singular culture of one’s birth.

Too many people, especially in Western culture, are satisfied to just give up their soul to some dead-end job, slave away all day for someone else, and then go home in the best car they can afford, to the best housing they can afford, to watch television on their flat-screen. Too many people live their lives vicariously through their preferred celebrities, and their favorite entertainment venues, that feed them the veneer of culture.

Television is a master of the veneer of culture. Everyone on television lives a nice, middle-class life with a car, a house and furniture. They wear fashionable clothes and fashionable hair and makeup. They make lists of the “must-have” Christmas gifts and gadgets of the year, reinforced by the ever-flowing commercials. They rarely talk about their poor neighbor, or making the world a better place for others. The veneer of culture is a selfish place. Following this crowd does not take moral courage.

Would Jesus drive a car to his nice home in the suburbs, avoiding the poor and broken-down areas? Would Jesus worship the latest celebrities? Would Jesus silently follow the crowd, or would Jesus have the moral courage to change the crowd?

Following the Crowd is a Tragedy

The normal American life of following the crowd, “keeping up with the Joneses,” is a tragedy. Free will is the innate human condition, yet far too many people give up their free will in a Faustian exchange for comfort and the facade of material wealth. Few people question their societies, their upbringing, all the “rules.”

I like the movie Revolutionary Road. The theme of the movie is this question: “Who made all these rules anyway?” The couple in the movie buck the system of their upbringing to chase their truest dreams, their truest self, but they experience how the revolutionary road is harrowing. It takes great courage to look into the “void of mortality and meaninglessness.” If enough people would find the courage to rise up and question all the rules, society would change.

The Deception of the Individual

Part of the problem is the Western focus on the Individual. Eastern philosophers have a different take. The Buddha taught that everything and everyone are interconnected now, and not only in this moment, but also across time. This is our true reality; we are all sons and daughters of the Creator. We separate ourselves from Him and from each other through sin and through idolizing our own individual image. The mirror is a powerful devil.

Our culture places far too much emphasis on the individual in the mirror. Forgetting our connectedness is to the detriment of caring, compassion, and other human attributes. If we truly understood that we are all connected in an eternal human consciousness, we would be loathe to harm, directly or indirectly, our fellow human being.

The harm happens every day, in large and subtle ways. The banker robo-signs foreclosures, the middle-class mom tries to shield her children from those “ghetto people”, the well-to-do yuppie glares as he passes the homeless guy downtown. These people may all have to reconsider their actions and attitudes if they understood we are all connected. The homeless guy is no better or worse than the yuppie, the people living in low-income neighborhoods lack opportunities the middle-class mom takes for granted, the family in foreclosure was simply less lucky than the banker. But helping others takes moral courage.

Helping Others Takes Moral Courage

Our Western culture continues to glorify the “successful” individual, to glorify money and power, to glorify the material life. This road is wide and easy to follow. It takes no courage to ignore social injustice.

But Jesus calls to us to the narrow road. He wants us to find the moral courage to make a better world. He cries as the abuse of society continues unabated day after day, year after year. So few people bring Jesus a cup of cold water in the hot street, or a healing hand in the cold prison.

I look forward to the day when our culture finds enough courage to face the existential questions, embrace the love of Christ, and in so doing, find the moral courage to change society. In helping the least of these, we find the answer to our own earthly mortality and meaning.

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