Ephialtes of Trachis knew he wasn't a soldier worthy of King Leonidas. If he were an honest man, he would not have fell for the flattery sold to him by the enemies of his King. But those Persians had a different religion, and so they sold him a blessing. What I am trying to convey is the hazard of selling virtue, of deflecting an individual from the path of his best understanding by offering him a blessing.
If you believe that you cannot cheat an honest man, then you would find that the honest man will not respond to your entreaties. If a man truly believes that his honest work is the sum of his moral contribution to society and that his integrity is to be found solely there, then he becomes that honest man. A charlatan cannot sell him the Brooklyn Bridge. A counterfeiter cannot sell him a fake watch. A flatterer cannot sell him phony honor. A whore cannot sell him false love. No priest, poet or politician can sell him the kingdom of heaven, peace of mind or prosperity in our time. The honest man simply cannot be sold, and thusly he cannot be cheated.
The Protestant Church exists because honest men realized that they were being sold the kingdom of heaven through authoritarian dignitaries. Martin Luther saw through it. He determined, in so many words, that the conversations between God and man needed no intermediaries. I like the aphorism that you may trust a man who says he speaks to God, but you should never trust a man who tells you God speaks to him. And so it is not simply with spirituality, but all sorts of honors offered to mankind. I am particularly attuned to this set of honors and I am triggered(!) by the following style of argument:
"If by this act you improve the life of only one person, then the world will be a better place.”
Let it be known that I have a sensitivity to this particularly unctuous solicitation. Whenever I hear it, I see nothing more than an invitation down a slippery slope and a great moral hazard. It is by this clever little tool that pennies are extorted from the masses and aggregated into irresponsible millions. I say every simple kindness is its own reward and no man who is not a child ever need be reminded what is good and what is not. So let the judgment of men be upon men. Who is cruel and who is vicious and who is gentle and who is gracious is for all of us to see plainly. But let the good man be shamed for not giving the extra penny and who then is beyond our arrogant reproach? Let the murderer be redeemed by writing a children’s book and what cruelty can we not accept?
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