We might say that virtue isn't an economic transaction with the cosmos. Virtue isn't an exchange where if we do X the cosmos will give us Y. Of course, we'd always like to have Y, the good outcome. But if we are truly virtuous the good outcome isn't the root motivation. We do the right thing regardless, because it's the right thing to do. Virtue is an end in itself.
What I'm wondering about is if there might be a categorical imperative for the religious life as well.
In his book Christ on Trial Rowan Williams describes the transcendence and radical Otherness of God as that which is wholly separate from the ways in which we might accomplish success or find security in this world. Transcendence, in this view, does not accomplish anything in this world. If it did, if God was effective, then God would become a tool we would use to justify and secure our self-interests. God, in that instance, would be a means rather than an end.
Consequently, the radical transcendence of God will be experienced by us to be a radical ineffectiveness, that God accomplishes nothing by way of success or security in this world. Another way to say this is that God's transcendence is experienced as a sort of failure. In the language of Paul, the cross is foolishness to the world. Jesus's exultation and victory appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a failure.
We can't use the cross, try as we might, to get the stuff that we want. God is useless in this regard. God cannot be used as a means to secure our ends.
Rowan Williams describing how Jesus's revelation of his transcendence (his claim to be "I AM") occurs at the exact moment of his worldly failure--as the one condemned, tortured and sentenced to die:
[T]he challenge remains, to re-imagine what it is for God to speak to us as God--not as a version of whatever makes us feel secure and appears more attractive than other familiar kinds of security. For if our talk about God is a religious version about human safety, the paradox is that it will fail to say anything at all about salvation. It will not have anything to do with what is decisively and absolutely not the way of this world.
Religious speculation talks a good deal about transcendence...[But] we cannot properly think of transcendence merely by projecting what we know and what seems to help and reassure us to the highest point imaginable. Transcendence meets us, and surprises us, when we are shown simply that the way of the world is not the final and exclusive truth...[What we sense as] good, holy and merciful just is what it is, for its own sake; it has its substance in itself, not in its dependence on any outcome. It is not a strategy for attaining something other than itself; it needs nothing else. When the vanquished and tortured man in the Gospel story says 'I am' to his tormentors, he claims exactly that character of independence--he is something that is for its own sake and needs no justification.