Category Archives: Virtue

Smashing Coconuts

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When an animal uses a tool, people applaud. Using tools is a sign of advancement. Intelligent beings use tools. Humans use tools like crazy because we are the most advanced species. We’re pretty smart.

If, for example, an ape uses a tool to accomplish some task, we tend to think it is being like us. We might remark, “See how intelligent that ape is? See how close it is to being like us?”

The same holds true when animals seem to communicate with us in various forms. From the tail wagging of dogs to apes learning sign language, we hold ourselves up as the standard to shoot for. “If we can get them to use language like we do, it will show how intelligent they are.”

If humans are the most advanced species, why do so many people disparage and criticize a human behavior that sets us apart from all the animals? I’ve never seen a monkey worship. Yet, worship is often dismissed as a primitive, superstitious, backward thing to do.

Worship is much more intellectually advanced than using a tool. A monkey can figure out how to break open a coconut with a rock. In fact, doing so is similar to the trial and error ways of the scientific method. But, monkeys don’t seem to want to contemplate the existence of God or reflect on their own mortality and virtue. They can do some “science” but they can’t do any theology. Theology is a uniquely human endeavor that requires a high degree of thought and reason.

Perhaps those that place science on a higher plane than religion and theology ought to reconsider. Perhaps the behavior that would make any intelligent animal the most “like us” would be the ability to worship, not the ability to use language or tools.

Faith and reason work together in achieving the pinnacle of human existence. Science is good and so is faith. If we abandon human spirituality in favor of pure science, we reduce ourselves to being glorified coconut smashers. That would be backwards indeed.

“All You Need Is Love” or “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

“Why can’t we all just get along?” This is a common question. One might as well ask, “Why can’t we all just pick up musical instruments and play beautiful music together?” The answer to the later question is clear: “Because not all of us have been properly trained and practiced in the art of musical performance.” So it is with people’s ability to love.

In the story “The Music Man,” con man Harold Hill sells musical instruments to people with the promise of creating a wonderful band. He provides no musical instruction beyond telling people to “think Beethoven’s Minuet in G.” When pressured to actually direct the musical piece, what results from his “band” is a horrible sound with only the slightest resemblance to the Minuet in G.  There is certainly no display of excellence. Nor is there any ability to play other songs.

It is not enough to simply have a musical instrument and “think” about playing music. Musical excellence requires proper instruction and years of practice. Playing music with a group of musicians only works when everyone in the group understands the musical rules and has the proper musical skills. So it is with love in a marriage, a family, or an entire society.

Harold Hill’s “band” is similar to what results from telling people to “just love one another.” Saying “all you need is love” is like saying “all you need is a musical instrument and the passion to play it.” People need to be taught how to love. They need to learn and understand the “rules” of love and relationship. In other words, people need to learn and practice virtue.

Love is not a “feeling.” Love is an action. In order to perform an action with excellence, one requires skill and practice. Virtue is the skill of loving with excellence. Without virtue, all we have is feeling and emotion. One can “feel” very passionate about playing music. But, without the skill, one is not truly free to actually play the music. One can “feel” very passionate about love. But, without the skill to love (virtue), one is not actually free to love. In both cases, one becomes a slave to one’s passions. “Feelings” alone, as powerful as they may be, are not reliable guides to life and love.

An excellent musician is a “virtuoso.” The ability to love excellently is “virtue.”  Love is not “all we need.”  We must know how to love. Knowing how to love involves more than being led by emotions. Even the most passionate desire to love will lack excellence without virtue.

Learn more about the importance of virtue here and here.