There are very few of us who are virtuous. I fully realize that seems like a terrible thing to start an essay off with. You may wonder if you yourself are virtuous. Most likely, you will answer in the affirmative because you equate virtue with moral worth instead of an ideal state that is good for you and good for others.[i] This essay is entirely about chuffing off these modern moral concepts. It is about letting them go. It is about ushering in a new ethics. It is about virtue, but it is also about psychiatric and psychological health.
Currently, approximately 1 in 5 people in the United States have a diagnosable mental illness.[ii] That is a lot of suffering. In this essay, I will argue that the modern concepts we use, often based on Christianity, lend themselves to our ill health. Sure, a lot of us need psychiatric medications no matter what concepts we live under. That’s probably for the best. But our modern concepts, too, get in the way of our flourishing.
Along the way, I will discuss a need for new politics, as well. The politics we currently have—at every point on the spectrum—tries to bend ‘externalities’ to suit our poor state of health, rather than changing ourselves to flourish and be virtuous in a variety of political states.
Although this essay makes progress, it is by no means the end of the line. As more people become virtuous, there will be even more insights to be shared.
Throughout this essay, I will make sustained attacks on Christianity. Even though this morality with its modern concepts may have seemed like a good idea at the time—ridding us of a previously horrible morality—it will become clear that it needs to go. There is too much suffering under Christianity for it to be worthwhile. This is a loss. I am by no means arguing that we ought to be biased and hateful toward Christians or the modern concepts we live under inspired by Christianity. Instead, we should regretfully let this baggage go in the name of our health, flourishing and virtuousness. Humanity has a bright future ahead, but we must get rid of our modern concepts and take that first fearful step toward our health.
Currently in the United Sates, people are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder using the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).[iii] Although I am unsure in reality whether a practicing Christian can be sane, the DSM does not diagnose for any religious belief unless it is not within one’s culture or is very severe, unusual and interferes with daily life. This is because the DSM itself exists in and accepts modern moral concepts. If we wanted a manual that does indeed cover all forms of mental disorders, the DSM, then, does not cut it.
Under Christianity—and the modern Christian concepts we use—individuals are strung around to and fro by their emotional states. Meekness is a virtue. People suffer from oppression and this wreaks havoc on their mental states. The saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ isn’t a statement of fact. Instead, it is a way to lick emotional wounds. People are not hardy under Christianity. They suffer deeply—even the strongest ones who help those who are even less fortunate. This is a terrible state of affairs.
Going forward, I want to draw upon aspects of Ancient Greece. There are parts of Greek life, concepts, and morality that are vital to us today. One ancient way of life I want to draw upon is Stoicism. I do not want to accept all of Stoicism. At the moment, I do not hold an overarching positive moral theory. However, there are aspects we may draw upon that can be helpful and useful to us.
One of these aspects is the notion of externalities. The Ancient Stoics held that there are some things within our control and some things that are not. The wise person knows what is in her control and what is not. Knowing this makes her judicious in her judgement. Presently, we often misjudge what we can control and what we cannot. After an upsetting political event, we lash out on social media, as if that did anything good for us or for others. All it really does is create rage within people and a feeling of helplessness because we are flailing at nothing. The event already happened. Our outrage on social media rarely does any good.
The wise person knows that externalities are not under her control.
Once we see the problem and begin shedding our modern moral concepts, we will become wiser, more knowing, and more resilient. We will have a shot at virtue.
It is possible to be an atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, or Jew and nevertheless use Christian concepts. Christianity is the overreaching worldview at the present moment. And it’s time to let it go. I fully believe that reaching back to aspects of Ancient Greece will be more fruitful for us as we move along from the mess we are in, which rarely gives birth to virtue and flourishing.
For many of us, political life is extremely important. I do not think politics to be unimportant. However, we need a healthy balance. We need to attend to what’s going on the Washington DC a whole lot less. The key is to give politics just the right amount of importance in your life.
I am writing this after the 2020 democratic primary. We almost had a democratic socialist presidential candidate in Bernie Sanders. That would have been a radical switch. Upon reflection, I think that healthcare for all is necessary because health contributes to flourishing. However, I do not think we need to bend our political world to suit our current wounds and that’s exactly what electing Bernie Sanders would have done. If we can heal, let us heal. If we are fit, we can live in almost any political system and have virtue.
Growing psychologically takes time, effort and energy. It is my hope that we can begin the process of becoming virtuous by shedding our Christian concepts. In the end, after all, that’s the goal of human life.
[i] I owe this insight to Daniel Callcut. Personal communication, May 26, 2020.
[ii] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml. Accessed May 29, 2020.
[iii] https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm. Accessed May 29, 2020.