Why is virtue important? What difference does it make if you practice Christian virtues? What purposes do they fulfill in your life?
Often, people view virtue as a killjoy, holding us back from fun and enjoyment. C. S. Lewis sees it differently. He asserts that, if we truly want to get the most out of life, we’ll practice Christian virtue.
Continue reading to understand Lewis’s argument on the importance of virtue.
Why Is Virtue Important?
Why is virtue important? Lewis explains that virtue is essential to human thriving. He pushes back on critics of Christian morality who maintain that a life of Christian virtue simply prevents people from enjoying themselves and indulging bodily appetites for sex, food, or alcohol. Instead, Lewis asserts that pursuing virtue, though challenging, will ultimately help people live happier and more fulfilling lives. His argument on the importance of virtue entails three reasons.
Reason #1: Social Morality
Social morality is how people treat each other and is what most people think of first when they consider ethics. Social morality includes treating each other kindly and fairly. It improves our quality of life because, if everyone behaved ethically toward each other, the world would be a better place.
(Shortform note: Many modern theories of ethics focus almost exclusively on this first purpose. In particular, contract theory holds that morality is a set of agreements that allow people to live together. In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt argues that moral systems make all societies possible because they induce people to put the interests of the group above their own personal interests.)
Reason #2: Cultivating Character
Cultivating character—the practice of developing habits of virtue—largely benefits your inner life. Lewis argues that, as you align your life with your values, you will experience greater levels of inner harmony and lower levels of personal distress. Living in alignment with your values frees you from the need to rationalize actions that violate your own moral code.
Reason #3: Finding Purpose
Finding purpose allows you to experience a greater sense of meaning in your life. Lewis argues that, for a truly virtuous life, it is not enough to simply be nice to others and practice cultivating character. You must also think about the greater aim of your life and set your sights on virtuous goals.
|Does Psychology Confirm Christian Virtue?
Many psychologists’ ideas regarding general well-being align with Lewis’s ideas on the benefits of virtue and his claim that living virtuously can ultimately help you live a better life.
Researchers have confirmed the importance of living in alignment with your values and beliefs. Living out of alignment can result in cognitive dissonance, or, the mental toll of maintaining two contradictory values or beliefs at the same time. Cognitive dissonance often causes stress, anxiety, embarrassment, and a sense of guilt, as well as the need to constantly rationalize new information.
Like Lewis, psychologists emphasize the importance of a sense of meaning to your personal well-being. Victor Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning), argues that human beings are naturally motivated by meaning more than pleasure or personal happiness. He asserts that people naturally want to understand the purpose they have contributed to their lives and that this sense of contribution is the cornerstone of psychological health.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Mere Christianity summary:
- A look at the objective nature of morality
- What it means to surrender yourself to God's moral law
- What Christ means to Christian practice and how to follow his example