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In Plato’s Republic there is a story referred to by Glaucon, the brother of Plato.  It’s a myth about a man who finds a golden ring, which gave him the ability to become invisible.  In the myth, the character uses the ring to seduce the queen, kill the king and name himself king.  The question that Glaucon raises is if a person could have enough virtue to resist the temptation to commit immoral actions if there was absolutely no chance of it being discovered.  Is morality merely a social construct?  Do we do the right thing simply because we are afraid of what would happen if others would find out?

It’s a question that people have wrestled with for centuries.  Some have taken to film to explore the question, like in 2000’s Hollow Man starring Kevin Bacon.  Others have had the discussion in terms of what superpower would they like to have.  Still others have pondered it on their own, or in philosophy class, or sitting around the bar.  I’m not much of a philosopher – I’ve taken a few classes, read a few books and spent some time thinking… maybe that does make me a philosopher, I don’t know.  Regardless, is it possible for a person to maintain morality in a situation in which there are no consequences?

The question was posed to Socrates in Republic, and, ultimately, he concludes that it is not social constructs that should help us maintain our morality, but whether or not we remain in control of ourselves on a rational level.

What role does guilt have in the church?  There are some who would argue that the church plays on our guilt as a way to pacify us.  In fact, there’s even a term “Catholic Guilt” to described the supposed excess of guilt felt by Catholics and lapsed Catholics.  But is guilt a worthwhile enterprise for the church?  I don’t think so.

Clearly, there are times in our lives when we do something wrong.  Guilt is a way of bringing us back on track – whether we see it as a social construct or as a result of our religious background.  However, there are some who would play on guilt as a way of getting what they want – that’s called manipulation.  You know what I’m talking about – the commercials that show the sad, shaking dogs at the shelter, the ones who try to raise money for their organization with sad pictures and sob stories.

Unfortunately, we do see some of that in the church, but there’s something that the church has to offer that goes beyond guilt; it’s called grace.

Grace is not a free pass.  Grace is not the ring of invisibility that helps us get away with things.  We can’t go about our lives doing whatever we want and then run back to grace when we get caught.  Grace goes beyond that.  Yes, grace is there when we fall short.  Not as a safety net, but as a reminder of God’s love for us.  Guilt should not compel us to do what is right; grace should.

So, if you could be invisible and get away with whatever you want, what kind of life would you lead?  Would you be reckless and do the things that you couldn’t get away with otherwise, or would you live a life full of grace?

 

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