Category: Virtue

13317570-indoor-crime-sceneEmily Badger at The Atlantic Wire posts a common sense story regarding the debate about whether or not the dispersing of poor people out of inner-city housing projects into suburban neighborhoods, through government housing voucher programs, increases crime rates. The article reflects recent research by Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA.

A growing stack of research now supports [the] hypothesis that housing vouchers do not in fact lead to crime. Lens has just added another study to that literature, published in the journal Urban Studies. He looked at crime and housing data in 215 cities between 1997 and 2008 – controlling for national and regional crime trends, demographic and income variables, employment rates and more – and found “virtually no relationship” between the prevalence of Housing Choice Voucher Program households and higher crime at the city level or in the suburbs. In previous research, Lens and colleagues had investigated the same question at the neighborhood level.

“Although communities with a higher prevalence of voucher households appear to be higher in crime,” Lens writes, “there is no evidence that this is due to voucher households increasing crime.”

Lens’ findings should not sound too surprising given the fact that poverty does not cause criminal behavior in the first place. In fact, immoral behavior has never been a function of class but a matter of moral fortitude. Granted, poverty most certainly introduces particular temptations (Prov 30:8) but so does wealth (Prov 22:16). Poor people do not have more moral limitations than those who are wealthy. To assume such is make human dignity a function of class and once we cross that road, the poor find themselves the victims of patronizing oppression.

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adderallWhen a culture values individualism as a virtue, it sends a message to young people that what really matters in life is your performance. To make matters worse, this performance pressure is coupled with the idea that unless you are on top, you just don’t matter. In fact, if you sprinkle in a little anxiety about being materially successful in life on top of individualism you have the recipe for moral compromise. This is exactly what is happening on high school and college campuses across the West. Just as athletes are known for taking performance enhancing drugs in high school and college, students are falling prey to taking performance enhancing drugs to increase their test scores.

College professors are opening up to the idea of drug testing students for the use of “smart drugs” before exams just as we might test athletes for steroids before a major competition. The Telegraph newspaper recently reported the following:

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aa-bookIn a sermon to the class of 1864, Williams College President Mark Hopkins addressed the intimate and inevitable relationship between character and destiny, “Settle it therefore, I pray you, my hearers, once and forever, that as your character is, so will your destiny be.”

Within the academy, this basic prescription for earthly happiness, says Lewis M. Andrews, reigned supreme for almost three centuries, from Harvard’s founding in 1636 until the early twentieth century.

The typical centerpiece of the moral curriculum was a seminar, taught by the college president, that took up most of the senior year for undergraduate students and was designed to show them how to apply their newly acquired knowledge within a Christian context. University presidents of all denominations focused on the importance of good character and the dangers of vice and immorality.

Problems that are now thought of, at least to some extent, as mental health conditions — depression, discouragement, fear, loneliness, self-doubt, addiction, anxiety — were viewed in large part as consequences of the moral character of the students. Pursuing vengeance will depress us; a willingness to tell white lies leaves us anxious; manipulating others makes us lonely; and guilt can only be assuaged through some form of amends or atonement. Conversely, the college presidents taught their students that the proper application of moral and spiritual principles would enable them to build character and lead emotionally fulfilled and happy lives. While these principles were consistent with Christian theology, and their teaching often drew from the Books of Psalms and Proverbs, or the parables of Jesus, they were reinforced with similar observations by classical philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Plotinus.

But students learned also that even though adherence to moral principles leads to real happiness, the immediate pleasures or advantages that come from compromising one’s values can blind us to how such actions often leave us miserable and unhappy in the end. Everybody is tempted to believe that some things are so worth having that unethical choices are justified to achieve them. By an act of great self-deception, the perceived gains overshadow the real losses.

Andrews explains how these university presidents were pioneers of what we would now call mental health care, and why the history of spiritually based therapy is largely unknown:

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AApretzelsWhen walking through an airport or shopping mall the aroma hits me before I even see the store. If happiness had a scent I suspect it would smell like Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. From the first whiff my knees go weak and my brain tells me that I will never know joy again if I pass up this salted, buttery, baked goodness. They are so good that I fully expect St. Peter hands them out at the Pearly Gates.

While I’ve long loved Auntie Anne’s, I never knew the inspiring story of it’s founder. Anne Beiler, a former “black-car Amish” tells Fortune Magazine how virtue and trust helped her become a successful entrepreneur. (She expanded her baked good empire with a loan from a Mennonite chicken farmer who “loved what we wanted to do, and he gave us $1.5 million on a handshake.”)

Beiler says Auntie Anne’s is a modern-day business miracle that never should have happened.

I had no formal education, capital, or business plan. But we practiced what I call the three small P’s. We started with a purpose — counseling and helping people. We had a product that supported our purpose. Then we got the people to do it. The three small P’s, in that order, result in the big P — profit. If you stay true to your values and purpose, you will get to profit.

Here’s her advice for running a business:

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One of the consistent themes in Christian social teaching is the recognition that this world has both material and spiritual realities. As such, it is not only important that we think about the moral, political, and economic structures that contribute to set the stage for human flourishing but that we also pray for those who are suffering that they would be free to live out their callings as human persons made in God’s image.

The Friday weekly intercessory prayer from the The Book of Common Prayer from the Church of Ireland directs our attention to these populations.

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Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Today at Ethika Politika, I offer an Independence Day reflection on the relation between political liberty, the associations of civil society, and the ascetic spirit necessary to maintain them:

Yet if these associations and their societal benefit are in decline, how can we prevent that “soft despotism” Tocqueville so vividly and presciently described? He writes,

I see an innumerable crowd of similar and equal men who spin around restlessly, in order to gain small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others; his children and his particular friends form for him the entire human species; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he is next to them, but he does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if he still has a family, you can say that at least he no longer has a country.

While Tocqueville goes on to describe the “immense and tutelary power [i.e. the state] that alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyment and of looking after their fate,” it is worth noting that the atomization of society he describes is firstly a deterioration of culture by a common passion for “small and vulgar pleasures.”

The society he imagines, though it may know nothing of extreme want, also knows nothing of fasting and, by consequence, of true freedom in the sense described by Acton. It reflects the heart of a people that actually wants a government to “remove entirely from them the trouble to think and the difficulty of living.” And as Burke has said, external restraints of the state must multiply when inner restraints of the soul diminish. To the extent that we are on our way to Tocqueville’s dystopian democracy and civil society in the United States is in decline … we can assume, at least, an accompanying decline in the way of life that values self-restraint and virtue over “small and vulgar pleasures.”

The basic conviction is one I have expressed here before. Asceticism, understood as the self-limitation of oneself for the sake of self-discipline and virtue, is essential to self-government and therefore to a free society. In this article in particular, however, I focus especially on the possibility of a link between ascetic living and the rich associational life that Alexis de Tocqueville noted was so important a check upon the power of the state and the passions of a democratic people.

Read the full article, “Self-Limitation, Liberty, and Civil Society,” here.

We live in a country where many believe that business leaders are greedy while politicians are benevolent. This is why they put so much confidence in government to meet society’s needs instead of in the private sector. That is, business men and women look out for their own “selfish” interests where as politicians are generally good-natured people who look out for the interest of the other as an innate disposition.

Time and time again, however, we are confronted with the reality that if business people can be greedy, then so can politicians. Why? Because both roles are occupied by real people who are morally flawed and need accountability. The key difference between the two is that business people can be greedy with money that is earned by themselves or their employees whereas politicians are greedy with money that is taken from other people under threat of being thrown in jail. American taxpayers would be wise to remember, then, that politicians are morally flawed people who, when given the opportunity, will pursue their own financial self interests like anyone else. Why? Because they are human and power has a corrupting influence for those in national as well as local politics.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, for example, reports that East Point, Georgia (an adjacent suburb to the city of Atlanta) cannot account for $200 million taken from taxpayers.

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When Jessica Lahey started teaching English at a “core virtues” school she thought it would only require talking about empathy and courage when discussing To Kill a Mockingbird. She soon learned what it really meant — and what it meant for her students:

I mean come on. Character education? Core virtues? I teach English, not Sunday school, and besides, I teach middle school. If I were to walk into my eighth grade English class and wax rhapsodic about prudence and temperance, those kids would eat me alive. It’s hard enough to keep the attention of a classroom full of middle school students without coming on like an 18th-century schoolmarm.

Somewhere along the way, someone must have started dosing me with the character education Kool-Aid, because five years in, I have come to understand what real character education looks like and what it can do for children. I can’t imagine teaching in a school that does not have a hard-core commitment to character education, because I’ve seen what that education can mean to a child’s emotional, moral, and intellectual development. Schools that teach character education report higher academic performance, improved attendance, reduced violence, fewer disciplinary issues, reduction in substance abuse, and less vandalism. At a time when parents and teachers are concerned about school violence, it is worth noting that students who attend character education schools report feeling safer because they know their fellow students value respect, responsibility, compassion and hard work. From a practical perspective, it’s simply easier to teach children who can exercise patience, self-control, and diligence, even when they would rather be playing outside – especially when they would rather be playing outside.

Read more . . .

Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler gave an engaging lecture on the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law. Despite the contemporary ambivalence among many Orthodox (if not hostility) toward natural law, Fr. Michael argues that it is present in the Eastern Tradition from the ancient to the medieval and modern periods, focusing especially on the thought of the seventh century Byzantine Saint Maximus the Confessor.

A few months ago, I observed,

While it may be that there are important differences between a Thomist understanding of natural law and an Orthodox understanding of natural law, the historic difference is most assuredly not that Thomists accept it while the Orthodox do not.

Fr. Michael’s research further strengthens this statement and helpfully highlighted some of the similarities and differences between natural law in St. Maximus and that in Aquinas. The audio of his lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I will briefly share some of Fr. Michael’s insights here. It’s a little heady, but worth consideration. (more…)

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Friday, June 21, 2013

Chicago is in serious trouble. There has been a rash of crime over the past few weeks that has brought attention, yet again, to a city that cannot seem to make much progress. The Chicago Tribune reported the following about how out of control the city was this past Father’s Day:

At least 34 people were shot — nine of them fatally — Saturday afternoon through Father’s Day Sunday, stretching from 94th Street and Loomis Avenue on the South Side up to about North Avenue and North Pulaski Road on the Northwest Side, according to authorities. The youngest person killed during one of the bloodiest weekends in Chicago this year, 15-year-old Michael Westley, was fatally shot by a police officer Sunday night.

Shootings from Friday afternoon into Saturday left another 13 people shot, 1 fatally. The combined tally resulted in 47 people shot, and eight killed this weekend. Last year at about the same time, there were 53 people shot, nine fatally, in one weekend.

The rash of violent crime came as Chicago has seen a large dip in overall homicide and shooting numbers so far this year.

These murders come on the heels of Chicago reporting good news about the decrease over all in Chicago’s homicide rate:
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