Supplement your faith with Virtue

If you don’t know of or admire Father Rutler, please get to know him.  He is an smart and thoughful priest.  Below is his latest article.


February 28, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler

In normal usage, an idealist is someone with a lofty vision, possibly naïve but always noble in spirit. The term is more complicated in philosophy, but as a general category idealism means that mind takes precedence over matter, and reality cannot be separated from the mind’s consciousness of it. The various schools of Idealism are subtler than that, but idealism makes the material world dependent on the self’s perception of it. In the eighteenth century, a leading exponent of “subjective idealism” was the Anglo-Irish Protestant bishop George Berkeley, who lived for a while in the colony of Rhode Island. Dr. Samuel Johnson had no time for debating him, and refuted Berkeley by kicking a rock.

I doubt that many of the people absorbed in their “Smart Phones” through so much of the day, even while walking along the street or sitting in restaurants, engage much in philosophical discourse, but they are tottering on the brink of what philosophers would call Idealist epistemology. Put simply, the universe belongs to them, everything in it should be as they want it to be, with fact a form of feeling. Recently, when a conservative lecturer visiting a university told some harsh economic facts, undergraduates cried for psychotherapy. They had been emotionally bruised by kicking the rock of reality.

Adam and Eve were more than bruised when they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They lost Paradise. Eating of the Tree meant arrogating to themselves the definition of reality. Taken to an extreme, that original sin of selfish pride produces the sociopath. That is a disordered anti-social personality like a psychopath, but the latter tends to be more erratic and violent with a probably genetic source for the condition. A sociopathic personality is shaped more by environment and circumstance.

Sociopaths are said to be about four per cent of the population. They are not as easy to detect as psychopaths, and smoothly charm their way well into influential positions in virtually all walks of life, often by means of glib eloquence. Along with their high intelligence, they are incapable of shame or guilt. They never apologize—for they think they have never done wrong. They exaggerate their achievements, dominate conversation, manipulate people, and their narcissism makes them unable selflessly to love others, or to empathize even while claiming to do so. Above all, they are delusional, easily believing their own lies.

In his perfect humanity, Christ was the opposite of the anti-social disordered personality. By his grace, his faithful apostles overcame their weaknesses and communicated his perfection. On the way to his own cross, which was not an invention of his imagination, the Prince of the Apostles wrote: “…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).