I recently shared my desire to experiment with the virtues of the various world religions (Link: “A Bumbling Pursuit of Virtue”). I recommend reading that post before proceeding; I think what follows will then make more sense.
The short version of the above-linked post is this: it’s worth it as a Christian to try to be good. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I am disinterested in embracing as my own any religion which encourages purposeless obedience to rules as well as any religion which belittles and misconstrues any effort to “be good" as an attempt to “win salvation.” I think both these notions miss the point of what God is trying to do within the human community and the story God is trying to tell.
I’m also interested in acknowledging the virtues of other traditions, which I believe can be helpful in my own personal goal of becoming who I could be and living the full, abundant life which John identified as central to Jesus’ mission (John 10:10). My motivation in this interfaith approach is partially formational; I need all the help I can get! Part of it is reconciliatory; I try not to polarize faith traditions, preferring to recognizing our commonalities and identifying where God’s Spirit is at work in all traditions, whatever they might call (or not call) that Spirit.
Here’s a sample from recent weeks of some of the virtues I’ve been attempting to live out each day, through simple choices and constant awareness of that day’s particular goal or virtue. I acknowledge and name the faith/ethical tradition partly because where virtues are shared they are usually nuanced by differing traditions, and partly to emphasize the shared human struggle for wholeness, for goodness, for God.
10/12: Temperance (Classical). It’s difficult at times to take criticism without defense or to bite my tongue when I want to show someone why they’re wrong. But restraint, like giving in, can be rewarding.
10/13: Altruism (Hinduism). I’m noticing how much routine can blind me to the needs of others, who often seem like obstacles rather than people to serve.
10/14: Sacrifice (Islam). If everyone is scratching each other's backs, then no one's back itches. But it's much harder to scratch without guarantee of reciprocity. I like to think that in Heaven our itches don't last all that long.
10/15: Mindfulness (Buddhism). I “see” much more when I stroll than when I scurry.
10/16: Joy (Christian). I don’t remember what happened that day, but I’m sure I smiled a lot.
10/17: Peace (Hinduism). I like the Hindu focus on peace as something not just sought for your own sake but to be cultivated for the benefit of those around you. A violent, restless spirit can do a lot of harm to others.
10/18: Justice (Classical). Didn’t punish any killers that day. But I did seek to be equitable in my classes, including all and favoring none.
10/19: Submission to God (Islam). My desire to control my life—which brings much anxiety—was challenged that day.
10/20: Right Effort (Buddhism). No half-assing anything this day; I tried to seek quality in my work performance.
10/21: Honesty (Hinduism). Honesty with others comes a little too naturally for me at times; honesty with myself is another matter.
10/22: Peace (Christian). Christian peace is multifaceted; I believe I primarily considered my relationships on this day. Unfortunately, some kinds of peace can’t be attained by one person alone. My un-reconciled relationships haunt me.
10/23: Humility (Islam). There’s a time for self-confidence, but also a time for self-forgetfulness.
10/24: Sense of Shame/conscious of actions (Taoism). A bit objectionable to the Western mind perhaps, and a bit overly emphasized in the East, in my opinion and experience. But there’s something to be said for owning up to your mistakes and feeling great sorrow for them.
10/25: Hope (Christian). It’s hope, in ways, that motivates this whole pursuit; I have hope that my efforts have eternal importance and are pleasing to God.
10/26: Right Speech (Buddhism). I sought that day to speak highly of others and criticize no one. Criticism, especially in a group, can be alluring.
10/27: Courage (Classical). I don’t know how well I did on this one. I did dance with a Saudi young man in front of everyone at the school Halloween party, play "air bass" as part of a rap ensemble for my recently-resigned boss, and give a slightly-influenced-by-wine, brief speech to my fellow teachers at our boss’s going-away party about how much I enjoy being with them. But I think I would have done these things anyway, regardless of the attempted practice of “courage.”
10/28: Universality/Tolerance (Hinduism). I find that trying to respect and tolerate those who don’t initially seem like they deserve it can lead one to see a truer version of the person behind the unpleasantness.
10/29: Faithfulness (Christian). I had a good, prayerful walk this evening in contemplation of my goals and priorities in this season of life and the importance of fidelity to such goals.
10/30: Oops. Forgot to pick a virtue this day. So much for faithfulness. How ironic.
10/31: Compassion (Christian). So important as a teacher, I find. Students will inevitably thwart my attempts to facilitate learning from time to time, maybe by lack of study, lack of trying, laziness, interrupting each other or myself, or some other reason. But often there's more going on than is obvious; a sense of compassion is a handy tool in the teacher tool belt.
11/1: Right livelihood (Buddhism). While I didn’t really consider the harmful consequences of my vocation or country on others (perhaps the full application of this virtue), I have been seeking a sensitivity and attentiveness today that might diminish the amount of harm I do in anyone’s life.
In the spirit of today: I hope this post did no harm but only helped. J