Virtue is not always amiable. (Diaries, February 9, 1779)
This is simply the clearest encapsulation of virtue: it is not necessarily comfortable for us or others. It is not necessarily pragmatic, utilitarian, or broadly accepted. It may not make everyone like you.
This is directly contrary to our nature and to what the world asks from us. It is also the basis for one of the biggest objections that people have against Christians. Christian virtue, according to many atheists and Christians, is just unrealistic: “You can’t be perfect, so you’re just a hypocrite, and you’re making everyone else miserable.”
Does virtue require unrelenting harshness and criticism of others? No, that is not characteristic of “virtue”; it is characteristic of neurotic legalism. But every neurotic legalist ends up babbling to others about “virtue” even while they are clinging to their codependent relationships, those crutches that enable them to compromise virtue and avoid seeking God’s grace. These tightly wound, self-absorbed zealots were constantly presented to me in my youth as typical Christians: obsessed with rules, punishment, sarcasm, beatings, and political power, constantly howling about the nasty old man in the sky who’s watching you.
That distortion of virtue in the name of political control and religious legalism is disgusting, but it is even more disgusting for me to repeatedly confront the shallow, insecure atheism that I grew up with, and which some people in my family will never grow out of.