Submitted by Deacon Jim Krupka

Most Christians want to be morally good. But the reason for following a moral path is not the same for
everybody. For some, the foundation is “morality of obligation.” For others, the basis is a “morality of
happiness.” Christians can be found on both sides of this contrast. On the obligation side, believers
follow the rules because God gave the rules. We see in some religious extremism enforcement of
detailed laws that can lead to severe punishment from religious society. As we look around the world,
there are plenty of examples of pain, suppression, and suffering emanating from the morality of
obligation. This creates a fear-based morality. People make moral choices aiming to avoid loss and
In contrast, the argument for the morality of happiness focuses on the gain from virtuous living.
Socrates argued that a just and moral life is a good life. His arguments bring us the word “virtue” from
the Greek word for “excellence.” St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas picked up on this basis of
thought. These thinkers guided us toward a path of “living well,” which rests on living virtuously and
morally. Our Church tells us that God wants us to be happy. Augustine and Aquinas tell us that moral
living is the ticket to happiness in this life for the next.
Why bother thinking about this? How we view the need to live morally—obligation or pursuit of
happiness—has a significant bearing on our life of faith. This contrast impacts how we see God. Is he a
God of Love or the Enforcer? One of the most basic RCIA topics is Christian Moral Living. That topic gets
into what moral living is and why we should elect to live it. Our Catechism comprises over eight hundred
pages of details on living a virtuous life. Some people view the Catechism as an almost impossible
collection of rule-based obligations that make saying “yes” to the Catholic Church difficult. Others find
that same text as a way to make life more joy-filled. They see the Catechism as drawing on learning and
inspiration from those who’ve gone before us in faith. We do not have to figure everything out on our
own. We have the wisdom and path toward happiness offered by 2000 years of Catholic faith and living.
As future articles explore virtue and moral living, consider how you view morality. While we all probably
have a bit of obligation and pursuit of happiness driving us toward virtuous living, which is dominant for