Passive Morality vs. Active Morality

What is the ultimate nature of morality? What is its proper purpose in one’s life? Many thinkers have tried to answer this in the past. I don’t claim to have a final answer here, but I think I have an interesting insight to throw into the mix. There seem to me to be two types of morality: passive morality and proactive morality.

Passive morality generally refers to those things one should avoid, like sex (if you’re Catholic), drugs, and … oh, I don’t know … human sacrifice (that last should be pretty easy). Proactive morality generally refers to those things one should pursue: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help the poor. Passive morality usually consists of a list of rules. Specifically, things to avoid. Most of the ten commandments provide ample examples of such. Regardless, passive morality alone is inadequate as a moral system. Morality isn’t just about avoiding vices or avoiding committing evil. One could lock oneself in a room to avoid all the vices of the world and one would hardly live a life worth living.

Proactive morality is the more proper focus of the moral lifestyle. Go out and do something. It’s easier to avoid something than it is to pursue. Passive morality tends to rest in the back of one’s mind; proactive is always in the foreground. When I was growing up, I often wondered: What do I have to do to get to heaven? I wanted to answer that question so that I could get on with the rest of my life. I did not understand that my whole life is an attempt to answer that question, or, rather, the question: What will you do to get to heaven? Your entire life is the answer here. Proactive morality is present in every aspect of one’s life. It is not simply put aside so long as various temptations are not present. Examples of proactive morality include a few selected commandments like “Honor thy father and mother,” “Keep holy the Sabbath Day,” etc…

I’m of the mind that Jesus’ focus was on proactive morality. Don’t ask what the minimum required to get into heaven is. Do the more difficult thing. Make God and morality the centerpiece of your life. If you do that, you won’t be worried about getting into heaven or not; you will be focused on the right things and will have to worry about that question only peripherally. Anyway that seems to me to be an essential part of Christ’s message. Or, at least, my limited understanding of it.

And have I mastered all the nuances of proactive morality? Heck, no. So, feel free to ignore me.

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