Moralism is more about the compulsion for doing moral things whereas Morality encompasses the hopeful impact of moral actions.
A common by-product of our increasingly complex lives, as modern citizens of the world, is that we have available to us hundreds of perspectives and deviations of any sort of thought; in an instant. Suppose you were to research the science behind a new diet. Jump over to Google or maybe Youtube and what you would find are hundreds of people providing their 2 cents of anecdotal reasoning and the pontifying of that given method, fad, or diet. And again, you may find another hundred people demonizing the very same thing. Interesting enough, they often use the same words, the same sources, but just have different slants or opinions which causes even more confusion for us.
This makes wading through the massive amount of data out there, cumbersome, to say the least.
Key Working Idea: There are Complex Thoughts that are Butchered through Simplistic Thinking
One of the ways that this happens in a particularly unfortunate way is when important, high philosophical and theological ideas, get broken apart and reconstructed hundreds of times by the very same phenomena that creates the information frenzy of our diet fads and celebrity news cycles.
A complex idea, such as Morality, gets crushed to pieces, dissected, than half-rebuilt, and ultimately conflated with others ideas. This may be the very reason why young people don’t study history. There are, simply, too many takes and “perspectives” because too many people have played historian and muddied fact from fiction. Revisionist?
Moralism is not Morality
This perspective is a Christian, Theological one and may not mesh super well with dictionary definitions of these words because these we are discussing theological definitions as I understand them. Please, also, help me better understand any and all of this.
You know the tropes. Be a good person. Do more good than harm. Posite good vibes and karma.
The general thrust of a lot of moralism is that there is a certain compulsion toward doing the right sorts of things. Now, these can differ based on certain traditions, denominations, and general worldviews. What is typically common is that, given the structures that build a moral character within an individual, there is a certain wiring that is built into the constituency of that group. Will they use their good morals to interact with people in a right way or will they use their good morals in achieving their understanding of being a good person? And usually, this idea of being a good person is a fire insurance policy, in their minds, of making it to heaven or ensuring their salvation.
Given this, Moralism is really the way people use ethics, good judgment, and the general right behavior to ensure they are a saved and secured Christian. Back to Moralism in a moment.
Morality is much the same or at least similar in the material and actions of what it is that you and I do when trying to act rightly. The things a Moral person does, regardless of Moralism or general Morality, look largely the same. The difference is the expectations of just what being moral does.
Morality is acting within a framework that creates a state of human flourishing, polite society, goodwill, and general respect among individuals. It deals more with what is ethical concerning how we interact with others without the implications of salvific attachments. That is, without expecting that these things we do make us better or more worthy in the eyes of a creator.
Morality is the common decency with which we act toward each other for the good of ourselves and others. The thought that the actions we perform define our assurance of salvation is not tied to Morality at all. Rather, our ability to act morally is a glimpse at our humanity and what separates us from the rest of the created order; Christian or not.
Why does Morality Matter for the Church?
The difference is not just nuance. The difference fleshes itself out as a heart issue. Do we act rightly in the world because it makes us feel good, or do we act rightly in the world because that is the way we have been called to treat our fellow man? It seems like a distinction without a difference but the key part of this is that each individual often flexes their moral compass to fit the moment in time they are in.
Case in point, when I am easily frustrated I can quickly elevate my judgmental-ness of others in an instant. Driving downtown in a bad mood versus a good one is a very different experience for me morally. When I am frustrated, I nitpick other peoples’ driving or roadside manners. When I am in a good mood, there is less judgment and more understanding. Apply this truth to every part of life and over the course of a whole life, and you get some pretty flexible morals in how we deal with people.
Given this reality, when we act out of a Moralism, we cater to these differences in our morals as a justification to ourselves about how good of a person we are, how saved we are, and how we compare to others. And sometimes we see these realities and ask ourselves how good we would be if … and how much better others would be if … The if is flavored by your brand of moralism. And this is wrong.
Morality lets us better forsake our flexible morals in favor of true and good ones but mostly lets us live out of humility. It lets us focus on what our actions do to others more than how they make us feel and keeps in perspective how we obtain salvation. Not by our works, but by faith in Jesus who’s works are worth everything.
Perhaps, the best way I have seen it put is by Dr. Albert Mohler Jr:
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
Opt for morality.