Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Difference Between Virtue and the Law

Conference Center outside of NYC

I was meeting in the office of one of the Muslim leaders at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, when he pulled out a Koran. Opening it, he told me,

"John, I am thankful God gave us this book of rules. The Koran is a rule book. If I didn't have a rule to pray, I would not pray. If I didn't have a rule not to lust after women, I would lust after women."

My response was this.

"Christianity is different. God comes to transform the human heart. As this happens, I don't need rules to tell me to pray, or not to lust."

Spiritual transformation, Jesus-style, aims to transform our hearts into increasing Christlikeness. Moral virtues become us; hence, the unnecessariness of moral laws. 

James K. A. Smith writes:

"As Thomas Aquinas points out, there is an inversely proportionate relationship between virtue and the law: the more virtuous someone is— that is, the more they have an internal disposition to the good that bubbles up from their very character— the less they need the external force of the law to compel them to do the good. Conversely, the more “vicious” a person or group of people is, the more they need the “stick” of the law to compel them to do what they ought. (Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Kindle Locations 322-326)