Sunday, July 15, 2007

So, What Is Character?

We are often think of morality in objective terms--as if morality was something like physics. While I would not wish to suggest that morality is purely subjective or relative to the situation, I also think that too much an emphasis on the objective quality of what is morally right and wrong risks overlook, or at least minimizing, the moral character of the actor. I cannot do good unless I am good; likewise it is only by doing the good that I become good. Whatever else it might be

As Orthodox Christians, however, we tend to on dogmatics, liturgics and Church history in a way that tends to shortchange questions of character and character formation. While all these other areas are important, character is the most important element of our spiritual lives since everything passes through character. As Socrates says somewhere, good laws in the hands of evil me make us worse then slaves, they make us fools since by our good laws evil mean are able to rob us of our freedoms.

So what is character?

When I think of character I think of that relatively enduring constellations of thoughts and actions that form my life. If these habits are in the service of personal excellence (another question I know) they are called virtues; if these habits are not in the service of excellence, or worse cause me to be ground down, then they are called vices. Looked at this way, I would say that character refers to whole pattern of virtue and vice in the person (or community for that matter).

In my experience as an Orthodox Christian I have found (and I am willing to be corrected) a rather distressing lack of emphasis in the intentional formation of character. This is especially the case in our seminaries which seem more focused on training men in the academic content of Orthodox theology, chant and liturgics--and sadly the priests imitate this pattern in the parish.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

To Read More: Moral Character, Moral and Character Development, Ethics and Authentic Transformational Leadership, Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets®, Journal of College & Character, and Values in Action (VIA).

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