Ephialtes of Trachis knew he wasn't a soldier worthy of King Leonidas. If he were an honest man, he would not have fell for the flattery sold to him by the enemies of his King. But those Persians had a different religion, and so they sold him a blessing. What I am trying to convey is the hazard of selling virtue, of deflecting an individual from the path of his best understanding by offering him a blessing.
If you believe that you cannot cheat an honest man, then you would find that the honest man will not respond to your entreaties. If a man truly believes that his honest work is the sum of his moral contribution to society and that his integrity is to be found solely there, then he becomes that honest man. A charlatan cannot sell him the Brooklyn Bridge. A counterfeiter cannot sell him a fake watch. A flatterer cannot sell him phony honor. A whore cannot sell him false love. No priest, poet or politician can sell him the kingdom of heaven, peace of mind or prosperity in our time. The honest man simply cannot be sold, and thusly he cannot be cheated.
The Protestant Church exists because honest men realized that they were being sold the kingdom of heaven through authoritarian dignitaries. Martin Luther saw through it. He determined, in so many words, that the conversations between God and man needed no intermediaries. I like the aphorism that you may trust a man who says he speaks to God, but you should never trust a man who tells you God speaks to him. And so it is not simply with spirituality, but all sorts of honors offered to mankind. I am particularly attuned to this set of honors and I am triggered(!) by the following style of argument:
"If by this act you improve the life of only one person, then the world will be a better place.”
Let it be known that I have a sensitivity to this particularly unctuous solicitation. Whenever I hear it, I see nothing more than an invitation down a slippery slope and a great moral hazard. It is by this clever little tool that pennies are extorted from the masses and aggregated into irresponsible millions. I say every simple kindness is its own reward and no man who is not a child ever need be reminded what is good and what is not. So let the judgment of men be upon men. Who is cruel and who is vicious and who is gentle and who is gracious is for all of us to see plainly. But let the good man be shamed for not giving the extra penny and who then is beyond our arrogant reproach? Let the murderer be redeemed by writing a children’s book and what cruelty can we not accept?
It seems to me that only religion can motivate men to amplify the value of the marginal gift. And perhaps that is the insight I have needed to find in writing this out. For who but the priests of either earthly or heavenly religious disciplines can be the poet, priest or politician who bestows honor upon the common man and his marginal gift? And who needs such blessing? Well only the dishonest man, because any ordinary man can clearly see how significant is his extra kindness. You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. These fundamental things apply since the beginning of time. Oh but the politician will sell you in no uncertain terms that a kiss by his opponent is the most vile act imaginable. Or some priest will sell you the that the act of kissing his ring will purchase treasures in heaven. We are told that the LGBTQ kiss is the most dangerous act of human courage. I say these are all marginal acts amplified through arrogant authority of religions. Fetish regimes. The dollar spent brushing flies from the face of the African child. These are false moral economies funded by the credulity of mostly honest men and their extra pennies who have bought into P.T. Barnum’s utopia to come.
But the religion will silence the judgment of man on the moral authority of its conniving canon. The political religion will forgive their candidate’s lifetime of lies for the sake of his marginal truths. And what truth could he tell that an honest man doesn’t already know?
I say let a man do his work, and let him not be seduced into the false economies of human bestowed blessings. Let the man know his own virtue, and if God watches and cares, then God knows exactly as the man knows himself. No other man could possibly know, and only charlatans presume to know. The one thing I have learned that has singularly animated my trust in Christian ethics is the understanding that God has given man free will, without which he would be a mere beast. Inherent in that free will is the absolute and Godlike clarity in the difference and the distance between good and evil, without which man could be neither. This is what is meant by creating man in his own image and the entire import of Eden's apple. So let the judgment of men be upon men. It is fully sufficient, because the absence of men’s judgment upon men is in fact the invitation to evil and chaos. Beware the man who says he brings blessings upon you for your marginal gifts. He is the seducer.
I am impressed by the fact that Catholicism does not evangelize. It merely presents itself. And it presents its rituals and sacraments as a way of understanding and expressing the self in an effort to be Christlike. I simply appreciate that the Catholic Church humbles itself to invite men inside that they might listen to their confessions rather than to send ministers out to preach their exhortations. In this, it tends avoids the moral hazard inherent in selling. But the Catholic Church like all religions, broadly speaking, does bestow blessings. They like all of us should take care to avoid the seductions of flattery, for the honest man will not be sold.