Promoting a Virtuous Society, Part 3

In my last article, I mentioned that two major obstacles to a virtuous society are:

  1. A lack of a common standard for morality
  2. A lack of self-control in the populace

Both of these are very difficult obstacles to overcome, and they are interconnected.

Many people have attempted to establish a common standard for morality to no lasting avail. Socrates thought (and his followers still think) that education was the cure for vices, since ignorance and poverty were the cause of them. But that depends entirely on what you mean by “education.” The modern concept of education (as morally neutral) is one of the most insidious causes of social immorality in human history. And all of our attempts to overcome poverty as a source of crime and immorality have also failed. Are not the rich just as vicious, if not more so, than the poor?

If we are to educate our youths in virtue, we must be clear about what we are going to teach them. It is my contention that virtues mean nothing outside of the worldview system that supports and defines them. Take for instance one of the central points of agreement among almost all moral codes: human life is sacred.

Most everyone would agree that murder is wrong. But why? What is murder? Unjust killing? What makes it unjust? One needs a worldview to inform the boundaries of the sanctity of human life.

Life means something far different in an atheist, evolutionist worldview than it does in a Christian one. Though many evolutionists have a problem with eugenics on personal grounds, the worldview of evolution supports and encourages the “purification” of animal species through selective breeding and “mercy” killings. Abortion and euthenasia make sense within an evolutionary framework. They are strictly forbidden within a consistently Christian framework.

So if we are to have a common framework for morality, it isn’t good enough to agree on disembodied “virtues.” The conservative emphasis on “family values” or “traditional morality” misses the point. The virtues themselves cannot produce societal solidarity. And they can’t survive in a vacuum. Solidarity comes from a common way of understanding—a common worldview. Ironically, this solidarity can survive even when people disagree on the practical outworkings of a worldview. But the converse is not true—even when people agree on disembodied “values” and “virtues,” they will not retain solidarity when they disagree on fundamental worldview issues.

Our society is broken because we disagree on the most basic cosmological questions—how we got here, and what we should be doing. With that rift in place, we will never agree on ethics or virtue, even when we use the same words. For instance, I do not believe it is merciful to put the aged, infirmed, or unborn to death, or to let the murderous criminal stay alive. I do not believe homosexuals really love one another because I have a different framework for understanding love. I do not think the world will achieve peace through the United Nations or any governing body. I do not believe truth is limited to facts, so I have no confidence that science can lead us into all truth. You see then that virtue means nothing outside of a defining framework. We should not really be looking to agree on virtues themselves. We need to be seeking agreement on basic worldview issues first. In other words, in order to achieve a common morality, we need a common creed.

As far as self-control is concerned, I think the only way for people to learn self-control is for the family to regain its authority. Fathers and mothers need to take responsibility to teach their own children how to restrain themselves. We need to teach our children to wait for good things. The essence of self-control is the ability to resist the appeal of instant gratification. We as parents have done a very poor job on this front. When our children are born, we teach them that the world revolves around them. We cater to their every whim, and we withold discipline from their schedules, their minds, and their bottoms. Then we send them off to a school that teaches them they are animals and that “repression” and “guilt” are societal evils. Then we wonder why our kids are a bunch of self-centered, entitled brats. It is very difficult to learn self-control later in life. And it is far more painful. Childhood is the best time to learn to control yourself, and the family is the best place.

So, if you look at it, it seems that our emphasis on the civil government has in fact made a virtuous society very difficult to achieve. We need to re-emphasize two spheres of government that have become weak in the wake of civil centralization: the church and the family. The church? Yes. In order to achieve a common creed, our churches must become relevant again. It would take article upon article for me to relate just how anemic and irrelevant they have become. But nearly 80% of Americans claim to be Christian. And how many of them do you think care to live in accordance with the whole counsel of God found in the Bible? Not a huge percentage. And this must be laid at the feet of the many churches who have jettisoned a biblical standard in order to gain cultural acceptance. The salt has lost its flavor, and it is no wonder they cannot be trusted as moral or ethical guides anymore.

So, promoting a virtuous society comes down to establishing a common moral framework or worldview and emphasizing self-control by returning societal authority to the church and family governments. This will not be easy. And the practical steps involved in doing it are up for discussion. But I can do little more than open up this discussion in a format this brief.