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Showing posts with label virtues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label virtues. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Why Virtue Matters in Politics



Today, as Americans across the country select the next Commander in Chief, many go to the polls with trepidation at the choices set before us. Does character matter in a candidate? In surveying the charges against character, it seems a lot of political supporters believe character only matters if your opponent shows a deficiency. If it is the candidate you support, then poor character may be excused.

I'm not pointing to a specific candidate in my remarks today. Neither presidential contender could be described as virtuous in any sense of the word. But this cavalier attitude towards character is disturbing. I believe our Founding Fathers were smart men who understood some of the dangers that could befall our freedoms and created a system of checks and balances so that should one branch of government become corrupt, it would be restrained by the other two.

However, one thing the Fathers could never guard against is if the American people as a whole became unprincipled and selfish. That would be the grains of sand that would bring the whole engine to a stop. John Adams, when writing to the Massachusetts Militia made this abundantly clear:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, … while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.#1
Is there another way than "assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance" to describe a people who bludgeon those seeking to live out long-established religious beliefs in the name of tolerance while accepting those who have proven themselves to disregard law or common decency in their arrogance? Virtue does matter. Without it our government will no longer function to secure the freedom of people but will crumble to an oligarchy serving only a privileged few.

References

Adams, John. "From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, 2 Feb. 1999. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
Image courtesy Erik (HASH) Hersman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

How Modern Society Turns Virtue into Vice

Our culture today has lost the concept of virtue. As I've written before, colleges have placed feelings above values, and relativism above moral responsibility. Because the only thing now considered wrong is the critique of another's actions, the concept of virtue has nearly disappeared from Western society. We feign virtuousness by boasting of our tolerance and demand a society where no one's choices are called out as illegitimate. But that misunderstands the very nature of virtue.



In this short quote below, J. Budziszewski explains just what virtue is:
If I said, “The excellence of a knife is its sharpness,” you would know what I meant: sharpness is the specific quality that enables a knife not just to cut, but to cut excellently. Another word for excellence is virtue. So you would also know what I meant if I said the virtue of an eye is clearness or that the virtue of a racehorse is swiftness. Clearness is what enables an eye to see excellently, swiftness is what enables a racehorse to race excellently. Once again we have a formula. A virtue or excellence of a thing (there may be more than one) is the specific quality that enables it to perform its function or proper work excellently and so achieve its highest good.

Like our last formula, this one too can be applied to mankind. How do we know whether a particular human quality, such as courage or ruthlessness, is a virtue or not? The proper work of a human soul is using and following reason. So the quality is a virtue only if it helps it to do so excellently. For instance, one virtue is theoretical wisdom, the discipline of mind which helps us reason our way to truth while avoiding error; another is practical wisdom, the discipline of mind which helps us reason our way to good choices while avoiding evil.

But here we run into a problem. It looks at first as though the only true virtues are intellectual ones. What about moral virtues, such as courage, justice, self-control and friendliness? Isn't there a place for them? Yes, for two main reasons. To understand the first one, remember that more than one thing is active in the human soul: not only the power of reasoning itself but also the power of feeling and the power of desiring. … Just as the intellectual virtues discipline the thoughts, the moral virtues discipline the feelings and desires. An example of moral virtue that disciplines the feelings is courage, whereas an example of moral virtue that disciplines the desires is self-control.

To sum up, the main reason the intellectual virtues are not the only virtues is that different virtues are needed to put each of the different powers of the soul in rational order. The second main reason is that different virtues bring the soul into rational order in different respects.1
Virtue is lost in our society because we no longer look at the entire person and his purpose for existence. Modern culture has elevated feeling above reason; the action or critique is wrong because it makes someone feel bad or it stifles his desire. Instead, one must understand what it means to be an excellent human being, which encompasses both intellectual and moral excellence. To not approach human excellence holistically turns tolerance into a vice, not a virtue.

References

1 Budziszewski, J. Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 26-27.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Danger of Colleges and Faux Virtue

One of the more interesting trends today is the widespread acceptance of the imitation to function as the original. What began with Hollywood stars donning faux furs to show their animal rights cred, it seems that the faux style has taken on a life if its own. If you don't want to commit to shaving the sides of your head to show hipness and rebellion, you can get a faux-hawk. Faux leather fashions are big business and you can paint your walls with several faux techniques.


The word faux is borrowed from the French, where it means "false." If you are making a movie you may use faux money, faux rocks, or even faux cocaine. If one were to make a faux pas (pronounced fō ˈpä) it means you've taken a false step. A false step is what I think is happening in our culture today as more and more I see people touting modern concepts of tolerance and non-confrontation as virtuous. In reality, these things are faux virtues.

Virtues – What Are They?

Although we don't use the word as much today, the concept of virtue plays a vital role in our society. The concept of virtue contains the idea that there are certain qualities or character traits in the moral life of an individual that should be valued and promoted. For example, temperance is a virtue of self-restraint. While we all hunger, to over-indulge in a meal would be considered gluttonous and unvirtuous. However, an anorexic would be looked upon a similarly unvirtuous because she is not properly responding to her God-given need for food. Similarly, sexual drives may be abused in one way or another. The ancient Greeks identified qualities like courage, temperance, sincerity, and right ambition as virtues.1

Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas saw virtues as doing those things that separate us from animals and act more in accordance with God's character.2There is, then, a balance in virtuous living. One may hold truth as a virtue; one should tell the truth because God would not lie. However, it doesn't mean someone is unvirtuous in telling his wife that they are going home for a quiet evening when a surprise party is waiting for her there. Virtue makes a distinction between lies, which are self-serving and deceptions that are simply temporary devices to arrive at a virtuous end, such as the pleasure of being surprised.

The False Virtues of Tolerance and Inoffensiveness

Today, though, real virtues are being swapped out with cheap, fake versions. The shocking thing is that this is happening most prominently on college campuses across the country, such as the recent decision of the California State university system to derecognize all Intervarsity campus clubs because they won't allow non-Christians into leadership positions.3 The Universities' administrators have claimed the move is to uphold nondiscrimination principles.4 But nondiscrimination of this type is not a virtue; it's a faux-virtue. Prudence is a virtue of right conduct. It recognizes that all men are created equal. It recognizes the freedom to put forth one's ideas is important. However, that doesn't mean that all ideas should be accepted by all people. Such an extrapolation is akin to saying anorexia is a legitimate answer to gluttony. It's tortured logic and it violates the virtue of truth. It forces you to accept what you believe isn't the case.

That's also why the idea of non-offense is also a non-virtue. The concept of justice demands that the virtuous person confront what he or she sees as wrong. Of course, one must measure their response to the level of injustice being promoted and the appropriate avenues available. If it's an intellectual question, then discussion or debate is appropriate. If someone is beating another person, then a physical response is required. But to think that one should never criticize another because the other person may feel poorly due to the criticism is cowardice pretending to be concern. Bad ideas have real consequences, like the significantly higher rates of terminal illnesses for practicing homosexual men. To keep silent would be akin to watching a mugging and choosing not to get involved. Yet our kids hear over and over how not offending anyone is the "right" thing to do.

Faux virtues are rampant in our society today, especially among our young people. College campuses are, I think, complicit in setting a moral code that is hopelessly confused. They seek to free individual expression, but stifle clubs wishing to be consistent in representing their beliefs. They offer shiny gems of faux virtues that turn out to be worth nothing more than paste when applied to the costly complications of real life. We need to train our Christian kids to beware of such baubles; such are too easily crushed under pressure.

References

1. "Aristotle." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The IEP, 2005. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H7
2. "If virtue is taken as aiming toward a naturally attainable human end, it can be said to be acquired by human effort which can exist without charity. Only by virtues can man conduce to the highest human end, and that end is supernatural." Kretzman, Norman; Stump, Eleonore. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print. 240-241.
3. Setzer, Ed. "InterVarsity "Derecognized" at California State University's 23 Campuses: Some Analysis and Reflections." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 6 Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/september/intervarsity-now-derecognized-in-california-state-universit.html.
4. Reed, Charles B. "Memorandum, Subject: Student Activities - Executive Order 1068." THE CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY Office of the Chancellor. 21 Dec 2011. Web. 17 Sept. 2014. http://www.calstate.edu/eo/EO-1068.html

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