Posts tagged with: virtue

Today at Ethika Politika, I review The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha’s Path by Addison Hodges Hart:

Addison Hodges Hart, a retired pastor and university chaplain, offers in The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd a wonderful exercise in comparative religion, examining the common ground that can be found in spiritual practice between Christianity and Buddhism. Hart focuses on the ten ox-herding icons of Zen, originating in China by the master Kakuan and accompanied by his verse and prose commentary. Hart, then, adds his own Christian perspective on the spiritual journey depicted and described by Kakuan, highlighting in the end his emphasis that outer acts of compassion require a prior, inner transformation.

One such person who was inspired by an inner, spiritual conversion not only to “outer acts of compassion” but also to build a freer and more virtuous society was the Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Lord Acton writes in his address “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,”

But in all that I have been able to cite from classical literature, three things are wanting: Representative Government, the emancipation of the slaves, and liberty of conscience. There were, it is true, deliberative assemblies, chosen by the people; and confederate cities, of which, both in Asia and in Europe there were so many Leagues, sent their delegates, to sit in federal councils. But government by an elected parliament was, even in theory, a thing unknown. It is congruous with the nature of Polytheism to admit some measure of toleration. And Socrates, when he avowed that he must obey God rather than the Athenians, and the Stoics, when they set the wise man above the [civil] law, were very near giving utterance to the principle. But it was first proclaimed, and established by enactment, not in polytheistic and philosophical Greece, but in India, by Asoka, the earliest of the Buddhist kings, 250 years before the Birth of Christ.

Tantalizingly, this is all that Acton says about Ashoka (=”Asoka”). Who was he? Why does Acton single him out? (more…)

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…)

By now even many people who didn’t watch the Oscars have seen or heard Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech for Best Actor. The Texas actor thanked God for all the opportunities in his life, thanked God some more (cut to Academy members squirming in their seats), and then he told a story about when he was a teenager and was asked who his hero was.

The answer he gave at the time: his hero was Matthew McConaughey in ten years. Then when he was asked the same question ten years later, he gave the same answer: himself in ten years; and so on and so on throughout his life because, as he explained, he’ll never achieve the ideal he was striving for, but the important thing is to aspire to the heroic ideal and chase after it.

It’s easy to make fun of this: an apparently narcissistic actor picking his future self as his hero, thanking God while being infamous for the wild oats he has sown, and drifting into theological incoherence at certain points in his speech. And while all that may be worth noting, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. (more…)

devil made me“It doesn’t matter what I believe…as long as I’m a good person.”

How many times have you heard that? As our society trends more and more to the secular, this type of thing becomes more common. We’ve gone from a society that, at the very least, paid lip-service to communal worship and having moral standards set by a higher authority, to “I can worship God on my own; I don’t need a church to do that” to “It doesn’t matter what I believe, as long as I’m a good person.”

Is that right? Can a person believe “whatever” and still be good. Fr. Robert Barron disagrees.

I would imagine that, if pressed, most people in our society would characterize “being a good person” as treating others with love, honoring the dignity, freedom, and inherent worth of their fellow human beings. And most would agree that ethical violations—stealing, lying, sexual misbehavior, infidelity, cheating, doing physical harm, etc.—are correctly seen as negations of love. But what is love? Love is not primarily a feeling or an instinct; rather, it is the act of willing the good of the other as other. It is radical self-gift, living for the sake of the other. To be kind to someone else so that he might be kind to you, or to treat a fellow human being justly so that he, in turn, might treat you with justice is not to love, for such moves are tantamount to indirect self-interest. Truly to love is to move outside of the black hole of one’s egotism, to resist the centripetal force that compels one to assume the attitude of self-protection. But this means that love is rightly described as a “theological virtue,” for it represents a participation in the love that God is. Since God has no need, only God can utterly exist for the sake of the other. All of the great masters of the Christian spiritual tradition saw that we are able to love only inasmuch as we have received, as a grace, a share in the very life, energy, and nature of God.

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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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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.

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Admiral James B. Stockdale

Earlier this week I reviewed Defiant, the riveting new book by Alvin Townley. Admiral James B. Stockdale (1923-2005) is a principal figure in Townley’s account about POWs in North Vietnam. Stockdale’s famous to many for being Ross Perot’s vice-presidential running mate in 1992. He was widely ridiculed for his rather clumsy and cluttered performance in the debate. Republican political consultant Ed Rollins offered this marked observation of the debate in his book Bare Knuckles and Backrooms:

Of all of the political injustices in my lifetime, what happened to Jim Stockdale was the greatest. Congress should pass a law requiring every person who laughed at him during the vice-presidential debate to read the citation that explains why Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a senior prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than eight years. This man is a great academic scholar, a true war hero, and a wonderful human being – the best the military and this country has to offer. He deserved better.

While the citation testifies alone to his impeccable leadership, Townley’s book made me dig out my copy of Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot by Stockdale. I shared these poignant comments by Stockdale on public virtue and our federal debt on the Powerblog in 2009. The book is a gem, and it’s worth sharing a few of his thoughts on morality and leadership, especially since the trait is clearly lacking by so many of our leaders today.
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Coolidge In November of 1925, President Calvin Coolidge delivered an address on the topic of the proper relationship between government and business. His audience was the New York State Chamber Commerce. One of Coolidge’s main aims of the speech was to elevate the spiritual value of business.

As president, Coolidge oversaw unprecedented economic expansion and growth, but he also lived through the rise of America’s progressive era and Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. New ideas about government and society had already long been popularized in large segments of America by 1925. Coolidge, who saw himself as a civic educator, articulated a much more traditional and conservative view of American ideals. A common recurrence of his public addresses was to praise the truths and virtues of America’s founding principles. At the very end of this address, Coolidge closed with the line, “The truth and faith and justice of the ancient days have not departed from us.” Below is a poignant excerpt from his 1925 address:

While there has been in the past and will be in the future a considerable effort in this country of different business interests to attempt to run the Government in such a way as to set up a system of privilege, and while there have been and will be those who are constantly seeking to commit the Government to a policy of infringing upon the domain of private business, both of these efforts have been very largely discredited, and with reasonable vigilance on the part of the people to preserve their freedom do not now appear to be dangerous.

When I have been referring to business, I have used the word in its all-inclusive sense to denote alike the employer and employee, the production of agriculture, and industry, the distribution of transportation and commerce, and the service of finance and banking. It is the work of the world. In modern life, with all its intricacies, business has come to hold a very dominant position in the thoughts of all enlightened peoples. Rightly understood, this is not a criticism, but a compliment. In its great economic organization it does not represent, as some have hastily concluded, a mere desire to minister to selfishness. The New York Chamber of Commerce is not made up of men merely animated with a purpose to get the better of each other. It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain. It could not successively succeed on that basis. It is dominated by a more worthy impulse; it rests on a higher law. True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other. While it is not an end in itself, it is the important means for the attainment of a supreme end. It rests squarely on the law of service. It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race.

a-cold-morning-on-the-range-frederic-remingtonSeveral years ago, the Catholic intellectual Joseph Bottom observed that American literature has entailed a substitution of geography for heroes in our moral vocabulary.”

In other words, we don’t have many heroic types in American literature. What we have instead is heroic geography. The Virginian, the Down Easterner, the Texas Ranger, the cowboy, the Hoosier, the hillbilly, the Okie. These are tropes that serve the moral function filled in other cultures and other literatures primarily by heroes. And these geographical tropes survive well into our own era of indistinguishable shopping malls from Maine to California.

Why did the collective literary imagination take this turn? I suspect it may have something to do with our country’s democratization of civic virtues.

Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen. Not surprisingly, American literature appears to have revived (albeit unconsciously) the citizen virtues of ancient Rome.
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dexterThe domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.

We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)