To Thine Own Self Be True…

Morals get in the way of fun, don’t they?  I remember taking a Christian Moral Principles class in college and then I began to analyze everything I was doing.  Well, probably not everything…but many things that I hadn’t considered before seemed to present the possibility of being immoral.  Even to this day I cannot quite decide if this semester (because it didn’t last until now) of near scrupulosity was a blessing or a curse, was good or bad.

At times I think we are able to give ourselves passes or excuse ourselves from seeking holiness in every aspect of our lives.  I want to be holy…but it isn’t that bad if I ____________________ (insert current vice or guilty pleasure).  I’m pretty good most of the time but I’m human, which means I am not perfect and thus I ________________________.  While the Lord doesn’t call us to beat ourselves up for being imperfect, He does desire perfection.  We are to strive for the perfection that our Heavenly Father has.  Yet we are really good at excuses for ourselves.

So this semester of questioning the morality of different actions was interesting.  Was speeding a sin?  Would not obeying posted signs or rules be sinful?  Was it a sin to lie to the Nazis standing at the door asking if I was harboring Jews?  The professor I had insisted that it was morally good to follow all just laws to our fullest extent.  Lying, he said, was always sinful, even in the case of the Nazis at the door.  (Side note: Before you get upset about not being able to lie to Nazis, he also said that we were not supposed to tell them the truth either.  Interesting, huh?  We should use “discreet language.”  They don’t have the right to know the information they are seeking because they desire to hurt others.  Anyway, lying in this circumstance would you make less morally culpable because you under pressure.)  Now I wanted to follow all of the rules and I am a person who typically likes to do so anyway.  I think I have a pretty good sense of right and wrong but this class was challenging me to look at things I had always accepted as “not that bad” and strive to look for what would be virtuous.

The memory that comes to mind is from when I traveled to Switzerland and Germany.  The semester that I took the Christian Moral Principles class happened to be when I was studying abroad in Austria.  One weekend a few friends and I traveled to Germany and Switzerland.  We were not in Germany for long but during our time there we went to Fussen, Germany and saw Neuschwanstein Castle.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Sadly, I never really realized how beautiful it was until I was looking for pictures of it.  We were there for such a brief time.  And now I wish I would have actually toured the castle.  Instead, we got there, looked at the outside, saw the price to tour, and decided against it.  I regret that a little but I think I was getting so used to seeing gorgeous cathedrals and opera houses that touring a castle didn’t seem that special.  It seems a bit crazy now.

The story: We are at this gorgeous castle but decided against touring it.  However, there was a bridge one could get to that gave a lovely view of the whole castle.

Unfortunately for us, it had recently snowed and was closed for safety or to clear it off.  Doubly unfortunate for me was that posted sign was in German and English.  It was easy enough to slip around the gate and several people were doing it.  The people that looked like they would be in charge didn’t seem to mind that much or shoo the people away.  Here was the dilemma–do I obey the rule (made, presumably, with my best interest in mind and clearly posted in English (drat!)) or do I dismiss the rule out of a desire to see the castle and acknowledging that it wasn’t really very bad conditions.

What did I do?

I didn’t go on the bridge.  Instead, I sat by the bags with another girl (who didn’t want to go–not because of a moral dilemma but because she had little interest in it) and felt an internal tugging over the situation.  I can see it going both ways and I hesitate to say that I should have just done it because we are to strive for perfection, not “OK.”  Yet part of me thinks this is being scrupulous.  I don’t exactly know but I know it was a semester of pondering the morality of different things.  (Was it wrong to sit in the lovely window seat even though we were told not to sit there?)

Why does this reverie surface today?  Today the school tried to surprise all of the students.  The original schedule was altered and afternoon classes were not to take place, unbeknownst to the students.  However, word spread (as it always does) and students began to question if we had afternoon classes or not.  Today was a shortened day anyway but the students wanted to be in the know.  Yesterday I managed to dodge all of the questions, carefully replying to afternoon classes that my plans were to watch videos or not do too much.  All true.  However, today I received a direct question and my little “don’t-lie-but-try-to-evade-question” was uncertain how to morally respond.

“Do we have afternoon classes or not, Miss –?”
Pause.  No way to skillfully evade this question without it being obvious.  This was a student just coming into class and many of them were not yet there or paying attention.
“Please don’t ask me direct questions about the schedule.  I don’t want to lie to you but I can’t tell you the truth.”  I am so skillfully secretive.

They kind of laughed at that but I hoped nobody else would ask.  They did.  For them I just responded, “Accept whatever happens today…just don’t worry about it.”  I overheard some of the students talking and saying that other teachers had said there were afternoon classes and that whatever rumors they heard weren’t true.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.  I have lectured my classes on different occasions about always being truthful.  Not that one always has to tell the complete truth all of the time.  (Ex. How do I look?  You look fat and ugly.  What do you think about me?  Well, to be honest, I really hate you.  I can’t stand the way you….)

I wonder sometimes if I take things too far.  I read an article about how telling your children that there is a Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny is not sinful because it is helping them develop an imagination.  (If that is not the thesis of the author, I apologize.  I actually skimmed it more than read it thoroughly.  The main gist of the article: you can tell your kids about Santa.)  My professor argued that we shouldn’t tell them things that aren’t true.  People gave examples of kids who, upon finding out that Santa Claus didn’t exist, wondered if Jesus was made up, too.

I think I can see both sides of the story but I am left wondering what is the most virtuous decision.  Because I hesitate when people give the excuse of “it isn’t that big of a deal” or “everyone does this” or “don’t be so serious/strict/restrictive.”  If we are called to be saints, perhaps we will have to look different than others and behave differently.  Not perhaps…we will.  Does being a saint mean being super serious, never joking, and never fun?  No, definitely not.  But saints do strive for virtue in everything that they do.

I end with no neat conclusion because I do not quite know the answer.  Is one being “over the top” attempting to follow all rules and laws?  Or it is simply a death to my desire to be my own boss and do things my own way.  Sometimes just going the speed limit is an act of self-denial.  Do we make excuses for the little flaws we have because we do not desire to put the work into weeding out these things from our hearts and habits?  Or am I being legalistic and missing the main message of God in favor of focusing on little details?  I don’t know.  Maybe all are true to a degree.

“Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you.” -Sirach 4:28
“A lie is an ugly blot on a man; it is continually on the lips of the ignorant….The disposition of a liar brings disgrace, and his shame is ever with him.”  -Sirach 20: 24, 26

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