That a man has an erect figure, and for to behold, and look up toward heaven… is a double assertion. — Sir Thomas Browne
That man is commonly disposed to judging situations as if they are moral or immoral, or whether on occasion they are amoral, is a trait common to humanity, which not only distinguishes us from the brutes but defines our decisions, our cultures, our eras, our individuals. Despite man’s obsession with ethics, it occurred to me recently that modern man is more disposed to stating that he has ethics, than to relying on an ethics by which he forms and shapes his life. The very best way to get a modern to be quiet is to ask him where he gets his ethics from, for he does not “get” ethics, he creates them, and then upon breaking them, creates new ones, and the ever-shifting target of purity becomes more illusive than eternal youth: instead of fixing our eyes on a target that can be hit, we pretend the target that exists is really an arrow telling us to shoot in the opposite direction.
The very worst advice anyone can give a young man is to tell him to follow his heart, for the heart is a very deceitful thing. The other day, however, it was brought ot my attention that much of my generation is doing just that. As we all sat in a circle during class — for the modern classroom is very keen on the circle — my professor, an older man, posed the following question to us: where do you get your ethics from? Now, most of my colleagues do have ethics — the problem has never been, but for a short period, that man is unethical; it has been, and currently is, that man is ethical in the wrong ways. It is not that modern man does not judge; it is that he judges wrongly. And so when my poor professor was floored with silence after the question which so strains a modern brain, a fellow student finally spoke up and concluded that he got his ethics from himself, which is similar to him saying that he gets his sunlight from himself. A man no more produces ethics than he does stars, but the modern delusion is that this is so, and the result is that everyone is deceived to thinking they are the final authority when it comes to ethics.
But after more silence, I had had enough, and in simply explaining that my ethics came from the Bible, I explained that this was a very strict place to find your ethics, what with the whole Sermon on the Mount. Nevertheless, there is a beauty is getting your ethics from a definite and concrete source. The man who gets his ethics from a source is the man who has his feet firmly planted on something. He can judge from any situation whether he is in line with that code of ethics or not. But the modern man can tell us nothing about anything. If his brute instinct tells him that his ethical code is wrong, (and his brute instinct will always tell him this), than his ethical code can simply be altered to allow him to do what he wants. Under a guise of freedom, man is enslaved to his instincts.
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A few days ago I was strolling about at night with a few friends. It was a spectacularly beautiful evening. The stars were out in full force, the Midwestern wind had finally chilled out for a second, the temperature had settled into pure bliss. We left my friend’s apartment complex and strolled over to a nearby subdivision filled with quaint houses that we all longed could be ours. We walked in pairs, and though we certainly owned the street, our presence was no more intimidating than a common stray cat. Along the way it happened that we took to the streets and walked in a horizontal line. It was at this point that one of my friends suggested something along the lines of it being possible that we end up lost and unable to find our way home. Another friend then kindly declared that it was a good thing she had brought her phone, for the gps could guide use homeward. Now, this suggestion sent my mind into a flurry. Though deep down inside my warm soul, I did agree with her, my boyish nature arose from within, and in teaming with my usual old self, proclaimed that if any gps was used on this amble I would “dash off in that direction” (here I point toward the north) faster than lightning, get lost, and find my own way back. My boyish nature had at the moment disregarded propriety, and the usual old, anti-technology nature of my being sought to react in the most drastic of ways. Nevertheless, when the words left my mouth, I immediately felt the impact of my wrong: for a small hand had with full force smote upon my breast as another bellowed “Open Chest!”
While my boyish nature learned a lesson from that frightful incident, I must admit my disdain for the global positioning system remains the same. A funny thing happened, however, when I pointed to the north and declared I would run away from all manner of civilization, finding the north star to direct my way back. For I envisioned myself running through wooded forests like Frankenstein’s lost monster, completely free, though bound within the confines of this earthly globe. It has since occurred that a parallel exists between our physical and moral nature. For it seems the more we try to free ourselves from the bonds of our bodies the more we learn how enslaved we are the physical laws of nature. And the more we tend toward a life free of morality, the more often we find that our brute desires cannot be overcome.
I sit here now, days later, with extreme writer’s block. Winter has finally conceded its uglier parts to the spring, though it holds us with a relentless grip on days like today. The wind howled with its usual assertiveness, making the day seem like late Autumn even though the sun was out and look down upon us. I was reminded why I like the consistency of Autumn so much better than spring. One is entirely ready for Autumn. He is tired of heat and willing to offer up sunlight for a few months. But the spring always gives us false hope, constantly granting us days we must cherish, only to remind us of the winter we just came from and shall return to in a matter of months. There is a solemness in spring, unnoticed by the pace of life, and unaccustomed to constant change, that only surfaces in times of quiet meditation, when memory jogs itself to our frontal lobes, and we contemplate our state’s context in the silent repose of solitude. Often reached in the changing of the season and despite the hurried nature of that time, it is in these solemn states of solitude that we question the course of the world and the state of our soul. For in the perpetual winter season, so covered with frost and consistently cold, we question not where we are headed, completely aware we are not going anywhere, certain the winter will never let go. But then it does, and in the hurried frenzy of the youthful spring months, our hearts are enlivened and our souls young again, young enough to question the meaning of it all, young enough to quickly forget.
An unchanging ethical outlook on life does not stay perpetually cold like the winter, nor does it shift in its moods like the frenzied spring. An unchanging ethics is not stale, nor is it youthful, but its very maturity is a youthfulness, for an ethical life is a truthful, and truth can never grow old and yet never be born but simply is. It is a perfect spring day, as stale as any bad attempt at prose, yet as youthful as a white blank page.