Whereas overly religious vocabulary can become so heavy as to saturate and bleed through its own potency, secular proverbs are remiss of the reason why such carefully chosen words of transcendence touch us on an intrinsic level. Let me explain.
The words “Love your neighbor as yourself” for example, can become so overused that the power of the command is depleted. The implementation of a command such as this becomes more essential than the words themselves. In another example, the words “Love the Lord with all of your heart, all of your strength, all of your spirit, and all of your mind” are denuded of their power when we do not humble ourselves enough to desire the relationship needed to embrace such a command. Humanity without humility is lost, pridefully convinced it can play the role of God while denying one exists, mistakenly redefining godhood by believing the supplanting of self-aggrandizement for faith has the strength to embody the characteristics of omnipotence. When we refuse to give God the praise and glory He is due and instead claim to be in control ourselves, we blind ourselves by pretending to take the title and power from an incorrigible God and fool ourselves by thinking our resistance to a Higher Power somehow gives us merit to praise our own intelligence, rather than use it to understand and seek the perfect transcendence of a selfless God. Ultimately, without a purpose given to us by Something outside of our will or knowledge—and without that Something calling us into that purpose out of love for us—what we define ourselves with instead proves transparent, incomplete, unsatisfying, unpromising, weightless, impermanent, pointless, and ultimately guided by pure, blind narcissism.
What am I talking about? The dilemma of secular wisdom with regards to the way humanity speaks to itself through platitudes and aphorisms is that all of wisdom without God’s truth is an incomplete conglomeration of pithy, anti-climatic, empty words; an aggregation of memorized ideas running without traction or destination; an egregiously misguided catalogue of self-made promises recognized virtually but not implemented palpably. What does this look like? Let’s take a look at one secular proverb (one for now) and understand this point for ourselves.
In one example, the platitude “live with kindness in mind,” while not Bible-based may seem scrupulously admirable, begging more questions than promising answers. The questions which follow may or may not be obvious: What is the speaker’s definition of kindness? Is their definition spiritual or secular? Is it socially acceptable or subjectively defined within cultural perimeters and empiricism? Does kindness denote obligation or an invitation into something transcendently joyful? What picture represents the speaker’s idea of kindness most accurately? These questions reset the idea for what we expect kindness to mean when taken without context or foundation. These words are without objective moral principality, and yet so many times we consider these types of platitudes admirable merely because we associate the word “kindness” with something positive.
What is my point? Basically, if we only look at the words we speak as letters on a page, then we undermine the purpose of the value of using the words at all. Why speak about kindness from a universal standpoint if we only understand it subjectively? We mean no harm, we simply want to live with kindness; however, the word’s context as used by the speaker is presumably simplified to be associated with all people—and in that situation it is ignorant of the way listeners interpret how such a word operates compared to the way the speaker presents their belief. Put simply, kindness, when implied ambiguously, no longer holds a positive connotation because the people receiving the word do not know the context in which the speaker is using the word. The delineation of kindness may look one way to one person while being entirely empty and meaningless to another, and when this is the case, kindness is without any substance.
For example, kindness to one person may mean that they are affable and polite; but this is an altogether different kindness than the example of spending time with geriatric men or women who have lost their loved ones and live alone—sharing the love of Jesus with them by spending time cooking, listening, and praying for them. The difference between these two examples of kindness is that one is enigmatically barren of moral intent, whereas the other is altruistic at its core. Using this as our example, the person who says “Live with kindness in mind” may be referencing politeness; but to many, politeness and kindness are not equivocal; one requires a particular sincerity which derives of a selfless motive (to love in response to the inspiration of a transcendent, loving Source), the other is simply an etiquette with requires nothing but phlegmatic participation.
Backing up a bit, the speaker feels confused because their only original intent was for the word to be perceived positively. If their intention was to use the word to translate as something positive, can we safely expect they are using the word scrupulously—that they meant to speak of kindness as an antonym to something negative? If so, is it not safe to say they are speaking of moral particulars?
When the speaker dips into moral particulars, we translate this by understanding our reason to be kind by explicating the reason under the spotlight of morality. What follows is the argument of moral obligation and subjective morality. Moral obligation claims we all follow the same rules and that there is and always was a Creator for these rules in order for there to have ever been any. Subjective morality claims each culture defines morality for itself; killing may mean survival to one culture where it means mortal sin to another. Infanticide (the crime of killing a child within one year of birth) may be acceptable to one but an abomination to another. Who defines what is clearly right or wrong? Humans, or a moral Creator who speaks, acts, and exists as the mediator between what humans believe and the reasons why? If we claim to know these rules on our own, then we must claim to be the creator of morality. But how can we make this claim if each culture holds an astutely separate set of beliefs?
How does this roll into kindness? If we try to clarify kindness by claiming it as morally correct (compared to the opposite of kindness; arrogance, pride, etc.), we are claiming our view of morality bespeaks a presumptuously pre-determined set of rules which must be true for all people. But if kindness to one person means one thing and to another person it means something different, kindness no longer carries a universal definition. When people understand this schism between moral obligation and subjective morality, they get caught in the web of explaining right from wrong, sometimes for the first time; understanding their perspective is prematurely astute, based on personal opinion rather than the belief in a higher, moral Being; namely God through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if kindness is denatured by the confusion of how it should be perceived, how can we assign moral scrupulosity to such a secular proverb? In short, we can’t. There is no befitting explanation, no viable argument, not even an inspiration denoted in the words “Live with kindness in mind” if kindness is so ambiguously fallible.
Is my point that we shouldn’t live with kindness? Of course not. But my reason for believing kindness is important is that I believe in a loving God who came in the flesh through Jesus Christ, who died and resurrected for me and anyone who would believe, and that in so doing, He gave us an eternality of hope which invigorates far richer inspirations than simply living with kindness. Jesus intends for me and you to live with passion, excitement, and adventure; trusting in Him, transformed (spiritually reborn) after being rescued by the jealous, unfathomably unconditional love of God through Christ. When we live off of mere platitudes—although many of these stay with us sentimentally—we fall fundamentally short of the freedom of the invitation which comes with receiving Jesus as Lord and embracing a life-altering relationship with Him. When we refuse this, and when we supersede His invitation with something like wise quotes and platitudes, we blindly march forward with a fragile confidence, without a firm foundation or viable explanation for anything beyond subjective arguments.
How do we expect to face a world of hatred, corruption, murder, rape, slavery, terrorism, and poverty by countering these with subjective arguments? How can we look into the face of the reality of a world like this and claim what scrupulosity stutters with the tongue of ambiguity; that the only promises we use to back up why we behave the way we do derives from personal opinion? How boldly will that stand in the face of horrible Earthly pains; such as suicide, depression, anxiety, abuse, or addiction?
What I would like for you to take away from this article is a choice: Do we define, objectively, why we say we live the way we do—or do we live with subjective definitions, pointing aimlessly when we’re asked why we believe what we believe? Can we expect to inspire others by the way we live when the reason for our choices is “just because”? Do we expect others to accept our decision to deviate from subjective moral actions when we act in an amoral way “just because”? Should we accept others when they do the same? If we expect kindness not to fall within the scrupulous focus of moral obligation, then we must expect others to accept our decisions to act either way. Is this the way we expect to be an example to the world? What does it mean then, to be an example? If we can’t answer these, what is the point of such secular proverbs regarding kindness, or others regarding peace, hope, or love? These thoughts will be the topics of Part 2.
If you would feel comfortable sharing your responses to the considerations of this article in the comments below, please feel free to do so. My desire is that this blog would be a place where people can have a healthy, productive, open-minded discussions. This is admittedly thick material, but I feel passionate about addressing subjects like these because I feel they deserve more careful attention than they receive. Perhaps some of you feel similar. I would love to hear from anyone on either side of the spectrum.
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