If you hold "right" beliefs, are you justified in doing "wrong" things? I suppose that St. Paul or Martin Luther would judge the question to be nonsensical, since, for them, right belief must necessarily lead to right action. But that is fallacious reasoning, isn't it? (I.e., since I think right, I necessarily "do" right: I believe that Jesus is my savior, therefore I am justified in killing my neighbor, who does NOT believe as I do.) Such a subjective, hermetic, tautological philosophical system allows the person doing the behaving to himself determine the criterion for "correct behavior." Right you are if you think you are.
That's all very convenient for people who like to feel good about themselves and hate people who are different. Or who want to justify behavior that the "hated" people might consider unacceptable. But isn't there some kind of external, objective criterion which ALL humans can accept as a valid measurement of moral conduct? A justification of our worth as human beings?
Since no one agrees about metaphysics, that objective criterion could scarcely be FAITH--i.e., the "holy" doctrines of any religion, the "holy" book of any established religion, the "holy" leader of any religion, .
Obviously, too, GOOD WORKS, at least as defined by any of our thousands of subjective legal systems and social contracts, could not provide an adequately universal guide for conduct.
So what objectively justifies me, explains me, guides me, makes me OK?
No, Paul and Martin, I'm quite sure that a "just man" cannot live by "faith alone." I understand how rotten you both felt about yourselves and how this neat formula relieved you of your anxiety about not being sufficiently good. But it's a lie at worst, self-deception at best. I have no idea whether God somehow decided to sacrifice himself to himself in order to pay himself for the debt that he himself was charging you for the shortcomings he himself had identified. But, at the end of your lives, AS FAR AS OTHER HUMANS WERE CONCERNED, you were still exactly what you DID during your lives, regardless of what or who you believed in. Paul, you were a crabby, arrogant, self-involved man whose obsession with "saving yourself" from your self-hatred resulted in the creation of a whole new mystery religion: Christianity--and in the seductively anesthesizing doctrine of a man-god Christ who resembles Osiris more than he does the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Martin, you were a crabby, arrogant, self-involved man whose obsession with "saving yourself" from your self-hatred resulted in the RE-creation of this facile Pauline Christianity--and in the perverse notion that anybody who "believed" in this Christ/Osiris was himself a "priest" and could just decide for himself what was right or wrong.
As much as I am drawn to the mystery cult of Christianity--and as fascinated as I am by mysticism in general-- I don't want to let the "faith folks" get away with such an unverifiable and thus irresponsible conflation of subjective feeling with objective truth. We are not defined by what we believe in or by the "self" that we imagine/wish ourselves to be: we are what we DO. And until we die, we can create our true "selves" by doing things. Death, however, fixes us forever, and we remain, in the judgment of this world at least, the sum of our acts. (Any other subjective criterion--some "uber standard" that might prevail in some other world, some other unknowable plane of existence--in heaven or in hell or in limbo or in hades or in neverland--that "reality" is not, cannot be, evident--and therefore relevant--to ALL humans.) So I cannot escape (nor do I want to) the conclusion that our WORKS matter more than our FAITH. Works, at least, are verifiable.
In short, I am confident that, in spite of the book of Romans, in spite of St. Paul and Martin Luther (not to mention Mohammed, St. Augustine, Savanarola, Jim Jones and Peter Pan), the truly "just" and justified shall live--not by faith, which is subjective, self-serving and self-validating--but rather by GOOD WORKS.
Alas, what still escapes me is any certitude about what constitutes GOOD works. I understand the importance of action. Works, as I said, are verifiable and objective. But GOOD action? The Good? The Good? Shoot, philosophers have been yammering about that for millennia--and herein an element of relativism remains. I'm tempted to yield to the Golden Rule--which seems pretty universal--but even that, in its reliance upon the elusive "as you would have others do unto you," is a rather slippery slope. If I were a praying man (and, occasionally, I still am), I would pray to God to "Show me the Good."
Do you think I'd have more luck if I asked him to Show me the Money?