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December 31, 2011

Question: Are personal resolutions morally binding?

I take it the question is a passing reference to New Year’s resolutions that have been generalized to include all personal resolutions regardless of one’s faith-tradition. Personal resolutions indicate the desire for the improvement of one’s character, which is very much the business of religion. This desire is certainly positive because it indicates that we have done a personal inventory of our strong and weak points, and that we have seen ourselves lacking, and decided to strengthen our qualities and eliminate vices or faults. If our resolutions are actually put into practice, immediate benefits will result: improved relations with family, friends, colleagues and community, and a conscience in better standing. The person who never makes any resolutions for self-improvement could possibly be the owner of a defective conscience, or worse still, has become complacent or self-righteous regarding his or her spiritual development. It would be better to fail at executing one’s personal resolutions than to regard oneself as requiring no self-improvement at all. I would suggest that the degree of obligation tied to the resolution is inversely proportional to the severity of the sin, weakness or fault that the individual is attempting to overcome. If, for example, one’s consumption of alcohol is ruining relationships with family, friends and colleagues, not to mention one’s mental and physical well-being, then the degree of moral obligation to carry through with the resolution is very high. In this case, professional help would be required because much lies at stake. The following exhortation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the interpreter of his teachings, is valid at anyone’s new year, and all through the year: “Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections, p. 3).
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen December 31, 2011
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