In our modern world, good and evil seem to be in continual conflict –- often exaggerated by failures to communicate effectively, even among members of the same family, tribe, or nation -- who paradoxically may even have the same shared interests, yet so often fail to 'see the forest for the trees.'
Among those whom Jesus influenced -- believe it or not -- was the public servant Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote to his friend and America’s first career diplomat William Short, that he was convinced that the teachings of Jesus constituted, in fact:
"the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen
from the lips of man."
Some may find it inaccurate to regard Jesus as a philosopher, as a kind of minimizing with faint praise, but having served as an exemplar of compassion and insight -- as Jesus is said to have done through words and actions -– even for those who may not be inclined toward faith in God, there can be no doubt that Jesus was the bearer of a system of Moral Philosophy, and one that was -- above all -- concerned for the dignity of the human person.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
The field of Moral Philosophy, or what now is called Ethics in our modern academic institutions, concerns both the intentions and the actions that characterize an individual’s choices between right and wrong -- with respect to oneself and with respect to others -- both in the here-and-now, and with an eye toward an unforeseen future.
For many individuals this is the absolute nature of faith, especially in its relationship to happiness for the here-and-now, because for those who have experienced the results of forming the habit of choosing what is 'good,' virtue had indeed already been been found to have been its own reward -- which is what most every person ultimately desires: what we have come to think of as 'peace of mind.'
The 'Here and Now' and the Unforeseen Future
There is also an underlying conflict between those who see a meaningful and transcendent origin of life and death -- and of life thereafter, as Jesus makes reference to -- and those who have come to regard the ‘here and now’ as all there is; those who tend to favor a more materialistic view of life.
Because the life and morals of Jesus represented such a unique approach -– by choosing a life of meaning through the deliberate intention to recognize and to do what is good -- and then by having the intellectual honesty to keep track of progress through the formation of a conscience, this "philosophy" has been passed along for two thousand years. In making that deliberate choice to do what is right -- even when no one is looking -- there is something very deeply satisfying.
It seems to be in our human nature to be accountable. Those who have followed such a path have said that It is also deeply satisfying in many ways to experience the sorrow that occurs in having made the wrong choice -- and the asking forgiveness of both God and our brothers and stisters -- especially for any harm that may have come to others, specifically, that results from those wrong choices, either in what one has done or in what one has failed to do.
These teachings, through the life and morals of Jesus, have been passed on continuously -- sometimes accompanied by hardship or risk of danger -- for thousands of years, as was said, and for numberless people.
At the heart of what Jesus preached and suffered -- and suffered and died for -- as a compassionate response to the struggle to come to terms with the natural desire of mankind for happiness, was this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Philosophy of Jesus As A Kind of 'Golden Rule'
In his "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals," the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) writes:
"So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means."
This is the aspect of human dignity that most individuals recognize to be self-evident; and is what Kant calls 'the categorical imperative.' The first fundamental principle of morality, Kant says, is this:
"Act so that the maxim [that determines the motivation of the will] may be capable of becoming a universal law for all rational beings."
This comes very close to what is expressed in the New Testament, in Matthew 7:12-14:
So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.