What is the True Measure of a Man? The Point of Life; a Christian Perspective

by | Jan 31, 2022

Recently, I was invited to a five-star hotel to meet with someone who wanted to talk about more than the latest football results. He was more interested in the stock markets; hence the five-star hotel reception. I entered into what could only be described as your dream flat in London; dark hues of orange, red, brown, and black furnishings, walls, and drapes, with luxurious cabinets, and all the usual complimentary tea and drinks. Each floor, serviced by its own butler, had a balcony that covered two sides overlooking the London scene. It really was something to behold.

Whilst I was spoiled with drinks, we discussed a myriad of high IQ issues from the affairs of the park, to the world, to Russia and Ukraine. I believe it was Socrates who said that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” If this is true, we managed to cover a whole gambit of possibilities, therefore expanding our minds from small to great over the course of the evening.

However, what came out most strongly was how very differently we viewed life; its purpose, its goals, and the metrics to be used to measure its success. My companion, in this intellectual journey, was very much understanding life as based on one’s accomplishments, which were to be measured in things acquired and achieved. The fact that we sat in a 5-star hotel shows that he was not doing too badly within his own metrics. However, at some point in the discussion, I had reason to challenge his raison d’etre by saying something along the lines of how the truest measure of a man was not a display of wealth or possession, but the display of his virtue and how much his life displayed it!! This struck my host; and his lady friend, as being immediately true but a point that was not apparent at first to them. They knew, once those words were spoken, of their validity.

What is virtue; I hear you ask. Virtue entails the habits of character that make us into good people. The Christian faith has a list of seven major virtues; albeit this is not a complete list. These are faith, hope, and love (this would cover all five of Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages). We call these theological virtues and are complemented by four cardinal virtues as follows: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Virtue, then, is like a motivational starting point that leads us to thought, word, or deed, and from which we can operate habitually or spasmodically. From there, we come to define our character.

Have you ever met an angry man? He is working from the vice (the opposite of virtue) of wrath. Have you ever met someone you thought was loving and kind? They are operating from the virtue of lust. We can add to this list a virtue like truthfulness, or a vice such as fear. The point of a virtue is that it is not a specific action but a motivational starting point to our actions.

The Christian faith is all about the interior topography, the landscape of the soul, the garden of the mind, in that our spirit looks inwards and organises the inner man – as a means of addressing outward actions. The Apostles moved from a form of deontic ethical framework; particularly deontological observance of the law to the freedom of the new covenant. Such a journey was not easy and formed the ground from which the early church faced its first crisis. These believers, mostly Jewish, did not suddenly stop being Jewish, but much of what they had understood as their duty to observe was moved into the realm of culture for which they were free to observe, but gentiles were not! This was the reason for the 1st ecumenical Council at Jerusalem as a way of finding a compromise between the newly grafted-in branch of the gentile Church and the root of Israel. Gentiles, by comparison, coming from the many tribes and nations promised in Scripture, had many cultures and, as such, the uniting ethical principle of the gentile Church was solely and only virtue ethics.

Any close reading of Scripture will show this is the normal assumption of behaviour; to act with virtue. Consider the Sermon on the Mount; hardly a manifesto for life if understood teleologically or deontologically, but a profound and life-changing reorientation when taken as a sermon on virtue and what that looks like. The peacemaker, the meek, the poor in spirit (a profound humility), the mourners (those that recognise the sinfulness of the world and themselves), those thirsting for righteousness (those pursuing the justice of GOD in their own lives), the merciful, pure in heart (a profound sincerity and innocence from evil), those suffering for righteousness (the persecuted for standing up for the justice of GOD). Such is already blessed and should be happy because they embody what it is to be godlike.

Christians are called by our Lord to be a certain kind of person. The idea is that the right attitudes will produce the right actions. The point is that each action, when properly motivated, will be to some degree the right thing to do. To be sure, there may be a better way to do the right thing; and so – there is no rule about what to do as feeding the hungry and clothing the poor in one context and to one person may be very different from another! Thus, as Christians, we are called to compete in good works so that the best way of doing any good deed emerges through its effectiveness and is not bootstrapped by a particular form or example. The forms displayed by the works of the saints are solely exemplary for us, not binding. Even Christ’s particular actions such as washing the feet of the apostles are only exemplary of how we should ‘be’ around other Christians. We do not fail in our faith if we never wash our brothers’ feet. We succeed if we humbly meet others’ needs; moving from a place of humility and love! The framework of this virtue ethic sits on top and is informed by the Old Covenant Law of Moses.

Therefore, this shows for Christians what is the true measure of a man – his virtues! The more virtues he has embodied, the more he has succeeded. However, does this contrast with the modern epicurean man; the man who looks at the cosmos, sees no god, and who believes this material world is all that there is? He has no grounding for any system of ethics except what he asserts. In fact, many assert none – solely living by their passions, their lusts, and desires; a functional and pragmatic ethic based upon self-preservation, improvement, and success – measured in what one owns and has experienced. This, combined with a state deontological ethic, framed around a progressive understanding of human rights, has led to (amongst other things) a virtue-signalling culture, prone to modern versions of the witch hunt. The western man feels his life is empty and meaningless because he has fallen into the chasm; the abyss once written of by Nietzsche. If he sees at all the great theatre of the cosmos, he merely blinks and returns to his computer game. The modern western man, when he strives for anything, only strives for money; an admission for sure – that life is more than material things because, through money, they hope to attain a vast richness of immaterial concepts such as status, love, and honour! The worst of them commit themselves like zealots to a political vision rooted in the shadow of the Christian past – a means to bring about the ‘new earth’ before its time. These are the most deadly of activists; the most intolerant, the most underhanded principle and virtue, fall by the wayside, what matters is the end and this justifies the means.

To all this, we Christians say there is a better way; a universal way open to the poor road sweeper and the billionaire alike; from which each one can measure the other in a common ethical language and honour or disregard one another accordingly – by how much his life demonstrates the virtues mentioned above.

So let us focus a little bit more on what it means to operate from a virtue. To do this we must compare it to vice and my working example will be love and fear; two true opposites. I will not patronise you by defining them further. We know what it is to fear rejection, failure, pain, death, humiliation, persecution, misunderstanding and so on! Fear closes us down, makes us run, hide, and cower. The actions follow the sentiments. We can allow fear to control our thinking, our view of the future, and to diminish our hopes; even to become filled with doubt and scepticism. By contrast, LOVE, perfect love casts out all fear! Love – when we operate from it in regards to ourselves, to GOD, or our neighbour, or our fellow Christian, expands us! It fills the heart with courage (What mother would not fight a lion for the love of her children?). It fills our chest with hope. For love one will overcome the fear of rejection, for love a man would endure humiliation to feed his family, for the misplaced love of country a soldier will die! Love expands us, develops us, pushes us forward into the light! I could write endlessly on the power of love and know from my own experience when I have centred myself on love and acted from it, I have sought to overcome anything that stands in the way of my love and my beloved.

This example, I hope, is clear enough for you – but you can look at other examples in your own time. We do not need a progressive culture, a consumerist culture, or an Islamic one. We need a culture of Christian virtue, where virtue is honoured where it is found, scorned where it is not, and where the measure of a man is seen in how much these virtues have embodied his life! The west needs another way from its failing deontological application of dubious philosophical notions of humanity – to a grounding in the human image shown by both virtue and vice!