We can choose to read a good book or to watch cable television and videos night after night after night. We can choose to have one sex partner or as many sex partners as scheduling permits. We can chose to pay in cash or to run up our credit cards to lofty, unpayable heights.
Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing, but in our headlong rush toward immediate, pain-free self-gratification, many of us have lost sight of the importance of choosing wisely, of exhibiting inner strength and character by choosing in accord with moderation, propriety, and virtue.
Thanks to modern technology, Americans have more choices available to them than at any other time in history. At the same time, the dictatorial power of institutions that established codes of moral behavior in the past—church, family, school, and government—has diminished. Replacing their influence is the influence of pop culture, whose message seems to boil down to: Do it if it feels good or makes you rich and you can get away with it.
It’s become all the more important that we employ our own inner compass to guide us to the moral high ground. To remind ourselves that at the end if the day, God’s interest is not in the size of our pocketbooks but rather in more intangible qualities.
Indeed, in Aeropagitica, his speech defending freedom of the press before the English Parliament, John Milton (1608-1674) suggests that the very purpose of placing good and evil all around is to test our virtue, and that the first people to face the test were Adam and Eve.
“Many there be that complain of divine providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues!
“When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam…We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force.
“God, therefore, left him free, set before him a provoking object;…herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence.
“Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue? They are no skillful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin.
“Though he take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left—ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness…
“Suppose we could expel sin by this means; look how much we thus expel of sin, so much we expel of virtue: for the matter of them both is the same; remove that, and ye remove them both alike.
“This justifies the high providence of God, who, though he command us temperance, justice, continence, yet pours out before us, even to a profuseness, all desirable things, and gives us minds that can wander beyond all limit and satiety…
“Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparable; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon psyche as an incessant labor to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed.
“It was from out the rind of one appele tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say, of knowing good by evil.
“As therefore the state of man now is, what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil?
“He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian.
“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.
“Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary…”
Donna Nielsen Murphy, "You do have a choice, and an inner self," Irondequoit Press, June 1, 1995.