The Science of Virtue

When conservative Christians think of what they would like America to resemble, thoughts almost immediately jump back to the 1950’s, the 1920’s… maybe even the days of courage and valor and chivalry during the 1800’s and 1700’s. Wouldn’t it be nice to have George Washington or James Madison come into town and show the ACLU what the Constitution is all about? Oddly enough, virtually no one ever holds up modern-day America as a shining city on a hill.

There’s a fairly good chance we’ll be laughed out of town for making this assertion, but we hereby declare that overall, the America of today is better than anything that has preceded it. There are laws that ban prayer in public schools. Isn’t that worthy of notice? Certainly- those laws are intolerant and unconstitutional. But that’s simply one small (and hugely unpopular) area. So those laws are negative.

How about the lack of legislative action concerning any number of social ills, including but not limited to parental consent for a minor’s abortion, divorce, or flaws in the juvenile counseling system? How about the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment? If they interpreted the Second the way they do the First, we’d all be carrying nuclear weapons around! While it is true that laws restricting activities that should be considered as “immoral” have decreased in number, such a decrease is the exact reason that America is better off today. Think about it we, of all people, should have done our homework on what virtue is. Well, Merriam Webster dictionary offers seven different definitions. There are two that seem relevant. In the sense of morality, virtue is “conformity to a standard of right.” In the sense of personal integrity and merit, virtue is “a commendable quality or trait.”

Furthermore, there is another important aspect to virtue. Is virtue, as a character trait, an internal or external attribute? In the sense of the first definition, virtue is external. If you adhere to the set standard of morality, you are virtuous. By the second definition, virtue is an internal quality that depends on your soul (and by soul, we mean the mind, will, and emotions). So which sort of virtue is more important? It seems quite obvious that the second type is much more foundational. If one is internally applying morality and integrity to their life, the exhaustive duties of policing and legislating morality become unnecessary. Many people ask “Should we legislate morality?” Instead, the question really should be “Do we really need to legislate morality?” Parents “legislate” morality for three-year-olds because they can’t police themselves due to a lack of virtue, the internal, important kind.

Let’s take a look at an example of external virtue. Islamic Shariah law is chock-full of external controls. Burkas for women are just an example. In other words, there is no room for trust under, say, Iran’s interpretation of those laws. You can’t move up in the ranks and pass tests that mean you don’t have to walk around with so many restrictions tacked onto your daily life that you resemble a porcupine. A good example of this is the U.S.S.R. At first, Communism was supposedly the salvation of the working class. But what happened to the U.S.S.R. in the eighties? Their working classes basically gave up because no matter how hard they worked, all they got was one apartment and the food lines were just as long. Unless you were a party member, of course- then life was easy.

It works the same way in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, you’ll get your hand cut off for theft. At the same time, the Crown Prince (now King, after his father’s recent death) has a pleasure harem with a population of several hundred women. Either that or he’s just ordering thousands of condoms just for the sake of it. How hypocritical is that? Is there anyone who doubts that Iran’s leading mullahs and military officers indulge in the same pleasures while dealing out harsh restrictions to others? That is the real problem: blanket restrictions that do not heed the person. We are all for punishing crime, but in the case of forcing women to wear burkas, there is no crime. It is simply a restriction of personal liberty. Hypocrisy among the leading classes is a result of external control. There is very little internal virtue in such societies, because there is no call for it. As Christians, we are to truly seek after a society that produces internal virtue (and thus the external kind will follow on its heels). We need to understand that our country, for all of its flaws, is still far, far better than all of the pious societies the world has ever known put together.

Victorian England is, rather unfortunately, held up in some conservative Christian circles as a model society, where righteousness was exalted (don’t you love Middle English?). As any historian will tell you, for all of the external controls and social codes the Victorians had, they were one of the most hypocritical societies in human history. The ruling classes enjoyed life while the working class and farmers had virtually no rights and women were considered property of men. Victorian England had little internal virtue. It was all external. We agree with Dinesh D’Souza when he says that those who do right without a law dictating their every move are the truly virtuous members of society. You can’t do that without a free system- and America is the best there is. Don’t be tricked by the false morality and virtue of controlled systems.

Modern-day America possesses more virtue than any other civilization in human history. Someone ought to tell that to Christians and liberals alike. Maybe someone like Ronald Reagan.

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