I’ve got a lot of Bible and a lot of philosophy bouncing around and it’s starting to make life confusing.
You see, battling in my head are the concepts of biblical ethics and philosophical ethics, which are often opposed to each other. Where biblical ethics gives an emphasis on obedience, philosophical ethics usually emphasizes balance-particularly those ancient Greek rascals.
Where Jesus tells me to pick up my cross and follow him-not always an entirely pleasant affair-Aristotle tells me to pursue pure happiness. Given these two alternatives, I often choose the latter and not the former. I often end up content, but why do I feel as though I’m lying to myself?
What I fail to understand, however, is that pursuing Christ, albeit difficult, entails the same joy that Aristotle speaks of in his Nichomachean Ethics-a joy unsurpassable by any other emotion or desire. The understanding of God’s sacrifice and the aspiration to be more like the Savior is a journey that is greater than anything this world, in its wisdom and pleasures, can offer me.
But at the same time comes the nagging question of, “What’s the point of anything? What if everything is meaningless? Why can’t I live for myself?” and then I’m thrown for a loop again. If everything is meaningless, and there is no point, then why bother following an ethic that doesn’t permit me to enjoy good music, spectacular films and fine wine?
I get to wondering if my ideal of piety is wrong. Where the traditions of the western Christian church advocate no drinking, no profanity and no Merlot, the New Testament speaks differently. Jesus lays it down, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-38).
Paul says, “‘All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up (1 Corinthians 10:23). Nothing there tells me to stop listening to Pink Floyd or refrain from watching Blade Runner. But it does tell me that I must be careful and ensure that the things I do build myself up and the church.
That sounds a lot like the balance advocated by the great philosophers. But what I must be wary of is the hedonism of pursuing happiness and not being afraid of what’s ethically right. Certainly ancient Greeks and Romans, stuffed to the brim with philosophical ethics, didn’t achieve this ethical balance. I believe that’s because they had very little reason to.
I’m blessed enough to be a part of a faith that gives me a point to doing the right thing-the pleasure of being closer to God.
I’m still discovering what it entails to be a follower of Christ and a lover of philosophy. So for now I live by those two scriptures, Matthew 22:37-38 and 1 Corinthians 10:23, until I come to understand the deeper meaning of picking up my cross and following Jesus.
Bowen is a senior majoring in biblical and theological studies. He can be reached at BowenMJ@jbu.edu.