Beyond moral outrage to moral courage
Love and humility, not rage, are the qualities that enable us to play a part in healing injustice in the world.
A friend of mine struggled for years as a victim of sexual abuse. When I found out, I did everything I knew to help her. She was soon safe and on the road to recovery, and I found I wanted to help others struggling with the same issue. So I got involved with a number of organizations standing up to this type of abuse.
My actions were fueled by moral outrage. But harboring outrage was exhausting, even as it seemed to reinforce the harsh reality of the evil I wanted to help bring to an end. As I turned wholeheartedly to God in prayer, I felt a shift from a fearful and angry focus on injustice to an earnest focus on the supreme power of God, the source of all good. This made a huge difference. I began acting from selfless moral courage instead of self-righteous moral outrage.
Moral outrage is a reaction to the belief that evil is powerful. Moral courage is action based on an understanding that God, as Truth and Love, is supreme and all-powerful. Moral courage and outrage may both bring attention to an injustice and instigate change. But outrage can quickly turn into self-righteousness and be hypnotic – escalating fears rather than enabling us to master those fears. It then becomes challenging to get the mental traction needed for effective change. Angry clashing of opinions on what’s right and wrong rarely lifts us above the fray.
Moral courage is a natural outcome of knowing God’s supremacy and taking a stand for what is universally and spiritually true: that we all reflect divine Truth and Love. It brings into focus the higher, spiritual reality of manhood and womanhood, in which abuse, bigotry, and victimhood have no place. It gives a vision of what can be achieved and direction toward that achievement.
Throughout history, there have been luminaries whose proximity to this divine reality impelled them to live the moral courage they declared with conviction, fearlessness, humility, and unselfed love that paved the way for increased progress and peace for all. Their actions were in line with the two great commandments commended by Christ Jesus: to love God supremely and to love one another as ourselves.
By living from this standpoint of moral and spiritual clarity, Jesus overturned injustices and revolutionized lives. We can follow his example and reach for the spiritual height where we see divine Truth at work uncovering and destroying whatever would spark outrage and transforming human justice so that it better patterns the divine.
When I first asked my friend mentioned earlier how I could best help her, she told me that the most loving thing I could do was be a healer. This meant committing to a life of moral courage. To do this, I began asking myself, “What does it mean to be moral?” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and a spiritual reformer, identifies the following qualities as moral waymarks: “humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 115).
These qualities lead us toward spiritual wisdom, purity, health, and love – qualities that represent the means and fruits of transformative change. We are being moral when we strive to reflect God’s nature as divine Spirit, Truth, and Love. We are being moral when we understand and express the love inherent in us as God’s spiritual offspring.
Moral courage based on this understanding impels us to take a stand for the wholeness, goodness, and intelligence native to each of us as God’s creation. It also empowers us not to fear, honor, be ignorant of, or obey evil, regardless of the consequences of standing for what is right.
Expressing this courage starts within each of us. It’s letting God work within our heart. We are more apt to conquer injustices when we have first worked to conquer thoughts of injustice, prejudice, self-righteousness, or self-justification within ourselves. Moral courage replaces blame and indignation with resilience and concrete reformation, beginning in our own thoughts and lives.
Science and Health says, “Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love – the kingdom of heaven – reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear” (p. 248). When we stand against the world’s sufferings and injustices in this way, our prayers and actions to help don’t exhaust us. They bring renewed spiritual energy that strengthens us and lifts up all those embraced in our thoughts.
Adapted from an editorial published in the July 26, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.