Category: Virtue

Christian-EducationOne of the advantages of living in a free society is that parents have multiple options for how they can educate their children, including enrolling them in religious education. Christian education is unique in that teachers can integrate faith and learning in the classroom to unlock academic disciplines from mere materialistic or rational concerns to direct interdependence and collaboration with the providential work of the Triune God in his plan to redeem the entire cosmos.

In light this fact, if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. These four questions wed the goal of the Christian life — namely, to glorify God — with our day-to-day lives in a way that expands the scope of how we think about vocation.
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calvin

Calvin Sr. and Calvin Jr.

In reading Amity Shlaes’ marvelous biography of Calvin Coolidge, I was struck by a brief poem written by Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr., during his father’s stint as vice president to Warren Harding.

Coolidge was having a hard time adapting to life in Washington, ridiculed for a variety of things, and struggling to remain supportive of an administration which, as Shlaes puts it, boasted “a temperament wilder than his own.” As one glimpse into these matters, Coolidge’s close friend, Frank Stearns, had sent him a letter expressing his sympathies. “It makes me a little sick at heart that you should not get more comfort out of your success,” Stearns wrote. A sample of Coolidge’s reply: “I do not think you have any comprehension of what people do to me.”

“The price of their status, having it or lacking it, was becoming clear to all the Coolidges,” Shlaes explains. (more…)

scaliaSpeaking on February 14 at a Chicago event celebrating George Washington’s Birthday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s headline remark was his insistence that Chicago-style pizza is “not pizza.” But Scalia focused heavily on the abysmal state of civic education, which not surprisingly, includes law students as well.

Over at the Liberty Law Blog, Josh Blackman, offers some excellent highlights of Scalia’s words from the event. On the relationship between religion and good government, Scalia declared:

Let me make clear that I am not saying that every good American must believe in God. What I am saying, however, is that it is contrary to our founding principles to insist that government be hostile to religion. Or even to insist, as my court, alas, has done, that government cannot favor religion over non-religion.

It is not a matter of believing that God exists, though personally I believe that. It is a matter of believing, as our founders did, that belief in God is very conducive to a successful republic.

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“The definition of a good job, the meaning of work,” says Mike Rowe, Acton’s favorite blue-collar philosopher of work, “[is] the willingness to see what a lot of people might call a bad job and only see an opportunity.”

Rowe said jobs have been available since 2003, but Americans aren’t defining them as “good.” Meanwhile, employers are desperate for people willing to learn a “useful skill” and work hard.  In a TED talk in 2008, Rowe also talked about the nature of hard work, and how its been unjustifiably degraded in society today.

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differenceOne of my dreams is to meet the person responsible for introducing the charge to young adults to “go out there and make a difference.” Youth and young adults are pressured and challenged to go “make a difference” but making a difference has never been clearly defined or quantified anywhere. For a few years now I have refused to tell my students to “go change the world” or “go make a difference.” Do those phrases really mean anything?

In light of this, I was naturally confused by Neal Samudre’s article over at Relevant Magazine titled “6 Things Holding You Back From Making a Difference.” The six things include comfort, entitlement, apathy, money, time, and yourself. That is, we are often too comfortable with our current circumstances. We often feel like we deserve to have whatever we desire. We lose interest in the things that matter outside of ourselves. We often reduce life to making money. We waste a lot of time. And, finally, we talk ourselves out of getting personally involved in important issues.

Ok, great. I get that. In fact, these are all part of the human condition that keeps us from doing all the regular things Jesus commands, like loving God and loving neighbor. My suspicion, however, is that the main “thing” holding young people back from “making a difference” is that they are being sent out on a mission that has no real meaning or a mission that is solely defined by one’s individual, and likely narcissistic, interpretation.

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Today at Ethika Politika, I take issue with Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue.

The basic idea is that, due to the Enlightenment, we have lost the social conditions — in particular a shared moral and religious narrative — that make virtuous living an intelligible and shared social standard. Thus, MacIntyre claimed, “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” He concludes, “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Dreher has done much to popularize this “Benedict Option,” which he defines as “an intentional and thoughtful retreat into narrativity, by which I mean a reclaiming of the church’s story, inculcating commitment to it within the lives of its members, in defiance of the narrative collapse around us.”

There is at least one major problem with this, however. I respond,

Yet as Owen Chadwick noted, it was not until the early ninth century, and that due to strong papal support, that the Rule of St. Benedict became the standard rule in the Frankish Empire. Until that time, the dominant rules were often Celtic, especially the Rule of St. Columbanus, as well as a strong influence from St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, and the fathers of the Egyptian desert.

And the Celts, importantly, were not retreating from the world but rather from Ireland in feats of what they termed “green martyrdom,” missionary exile as ascetic discipline. If Thomas Cahill is even half-right, the Irish played just as much a part in saving civilization as the Benedictines, if not far more so. Far from a retreat, their approach was quite confrontational (as was St. Benedict’s, as Goerke points out).

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Thankfully, we need not wait for a “new and very different” Irish people as the Irish are still with us. Indeed, the equal respect accorded to Roman Catholics in the United States today is the result (in large part, at least) of a hard-won, confrontational battle of Irish immigrants to carve out an equal place in American society for their children and their cultural and religious heritage (see, e.g. Dagger John). Perhaps traditional Christians looking to preserve a moral culture today have more to learn from them.

It might have been better had I written “see, especially, Dagger John,” since his story is one of remarkable social action and spiritual reform, defending the cause of religious liberty and equal rights for Irish Roman Catholic immigrants in the 19th century and emphasizing the vital role of personal responsibility. (more…)

1776 wshSometimes I recoil a little when somebody declares that there can be an American president greater than George Washington. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee declared Washington, “First in the hearts of his countrymen.” Washington is great for many things, but perhaps he is greatest for the manner in which he surrendered power not once but twice.

One of the best recent commentaries written on Washington is David Boaz’s, “The Man Who Would Not Be King.” In the piece from 2006, Boaz wonderfully sums up the depth of Washington’s immense character and what that means for liberty and America. The entire commentary is worth reading but the conclusion is especially poignant:

From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice – at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Washington’s moral model of leadership is timeless. In everything he said and did, he affirmed the spirit of the American Revolution. His fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson noted, Washington would “rather be in his grave than in his present situation [the presidency]; that he had rather be on his farm than to be made Emperor of the world.” All Americans should study Washington because he is the embodiment the principles of liberty. His peers would all argue and did, that in America there was no leader who possessed greater virtue. Charles Francis Adams, the son of President John Quincy Adams, declared of Washington:

More than all, and above all, Washington was master of himself. If there be one quality more than another in his character which may exercise a useful control over the men of the present hour, it is the total disregard of self when in the most elevated positions for influence and example.

SharkBloodHOCOver at The American Culture, I have some thoughts about the first season of House of Cards ahead of the premiere of the second season today.

As many have noted, the drop of the Netflix exclusive today coincides with Valentine’s Day, and there have been some serious considerations about how to plan for the contingency that only one of the partners in a couple enjoys the show.

But the question of love is also a helpful analytic device for understanding the show’s protagonist, Frank Underwood. Early on in the show we see that Frank and Claire are well-matched. Frank professes his affection for her in one of his Shakespearean asides to the audience: “I love that woman. I love her more than a shark loves blood.” Frank has a rather curious love for Claire, however. He loves her for what she can do for him, for her shared disposition toward power. When their interests clash, we see what Frank’s priorities really consist in.

In the TAC piece, I draw heavily on Augustine to explore the depth of Frank’s pathological pursuit of power. It’s clear that despite his profession of love for Claire that what Frank really loves is himself and what he lusts for most is consolidating and collecting power. Augustine wonders at this all-too-human tendency: “There are many different kinds of lust, of which not a few have names peculiar to themselves, while others have not. Who, for example, could easily give a name to the lust for mastery, though the evidence of civil wars shows how great a sway it has over the minds of tyrants?”

The tradition does in fact name this desire, the lust for power, the libido dominandi.

At one point Frank makes clear what he seeks in another of his fourth-wall addresses. In speaking of one of his former proteges, Frank bemoans “such a waste of talent. He chose money over power – in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

As Michael Novak has observed, this kind of lust is far more pervasive and dangerous than more mundane grubbing after money: “Lust for power–superbia–is deeper, more pervasive, and more widespread than lust for wealth–cupiditas.” Here Novak connects pride (superbia) with the lust for power, and it is Underwood’s exceeding self-love that leads to his particular brand of politics without romance.

affluenzaIn the book A Conflict Of Visions, Thomas Sowell explains that progressives look for the cause of crime because they believe human beings to be essentially good and not prone to self-interest or moral failings. For progressives, “It is hard to understand how anyone would commit a terrible crime without some special cause at work, if only blindness,” observes Sowell.

Progressives “see human nature as itself adverse to crime, and society as undermining this natural aversion through its own injustices, insensitivities, and brutality.” In other words, criminals are not responsible for their actions. We have to find some external cause to make sense of why anyone would commit a deviant act. For the millennial generation, raised in a therapeutic culture, when they commit crimes the ultimate culprit is usually one class of people: their parents.

It’s not that “the devil made me do it.” No, that would be too simplistic and supernatural. Today, it’s “my parents made me do it.” This progressive vision of human nature is so injurious that it is perverting our justice system. For example, in a recent Texas court case a 17-year-old student who caused the death of several people while driving drunk was given probation because he was too “coddled.” Leigh Jones at World Magazine summarizes the case:
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fireIt doesn’t take much snow to wreak havoc in the Deep South. I remember one time being immediately sent home from high school on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi for the lightest dusting of snow. But yesterday, heavier snow in the Deep South left thousands and thousands of people stranded at schools, work, and on the road. Atlanta, Ga. and Birmingham, Ala. were two metropolitan areas hit hard. Unfortunately, it’s still an ongoing problem. USA Today has great images, video, and a write up on the seriousness of the situation, which has caused at least 12 deaths. Julie McKinney, of AL.Com, has compiled some great tales of good deeds and generosity in the Birmingham area. Here are just a few of the stories McKinney highlighted: 

We were pulled from the ditch twice on 36 right past the senior center by a man with a dually truck. There were 4 wheelers out pulling smaller cars too. It was scary, but so nice to see the true concern for your neighbors, to get out in the cold and rescue people when you could be inside safe and warm. Much appreciated. My church The Connection was helping collect the kids from school and also fed us last night and anyone else who could get there. – Sarah Parish Mccoy via Facebook

My daughter got completely stuck in the ice leaving EBSCO in Mount Laurel. Our #snowangel is Paige Thompson and her family in Highland Park. They took her into their home for the night! Made her dinner and hot chocolate. I can’t thank them enough. — Wayne Rogers

I thought I was going to be spending the night in my car at the Chevron on Old Springville Rd, but a nice man named Herman drove me home! If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be home safe and sound with my family. He went above and beyond and extremely far out of his way to help me. Thank you Herman!!! — Misty Murphy Westover

Stopped in Alabaster…driving a front wheel drive, left my purse at home …no money…I get to the gas station…gentleman offered to pay my gas & something to eat…this is truly my #snowangel! Grateful for blessings such as him! — Naomi Raye Rabago

Read all of the good deeds complied by McKinney here. Even more have been compiled on a Facebook page. And read about Mark Meadows, a Chick-fil-A owner, who saw an “opportunity to help” those stranded in the snow. When it comes to charitable acts and meeting the needs of your neighbor, the citizens of Alabama are well known for rallying to aid those who find themselves in a dangerous or precarious situation. I wrote more extensively about this in “The Church and Disaster Relief: Shelter from the Stormy Blast.”