Courage, in the ordinary sense of the word, is shown by the religious man who runs the risk of torture and death rather than abjure his religion. Moral courage enables a man to be faithful to a religion which is despised by the multitude or by his own friends.
Just as ordinary courage may consist either in the total absence of fear or in conquering timidity by resolute determination, so the man of moral courage may either have no fear of the adverse opinions of others, or he may be very sensitive to the blame of his fellow- men, and yet, in spite of his sensitive nature, resolutely and with pain to himself adheres to his resolution.
Many men who are brave in the face of bodily danger are destitute of moral courage. Until of late years in England the code of honour encouraged dueling.
Any gentleman who happened to be insulted by a drunken fool of his own station in life, was bound in honour to challenge him to single combat with swords or pistols.
If he refused to do so, he became degraded in the eyes of his associates, and was considered to have forfeited his claim to be regarded as a gentleman.
Almost every gentleman had sufficient courage to conform to this custom and expose himself to the risk of death, when the code of honour required him to do so. Very few had the moral courage to refuse to fight.
Yet many must have recognised the wickedness and folly of the practice, and been conscious of the cruel selfishness of sacrificing to a point of honour the comfort and happiness of those who depended on them for support. In this case moral courage was particularly difficult, as it dictated conduct that to a superficial observer looked like cowardice.
But in the case of all sensitive persons it may be said that it needs a great effort of will to obey the dictates of this virtue.
In displaying courage in the face of bodily danger we are powerfully supported by the admiration of our fellow-men, whereas the man of moral courage has to expose himself to the condemnation of public opinion, or to the hatred and contempt of those near and dear to him, without whose affection and esteem life seems scarcely worth living.