Virtue or Vice

virtue-viceAs a young boy, I was stirred by the words of President John F. Kennedy when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

The prevailing attitude in present-day America is not that which was envisioned by President Kennedy.  Far too many among our lethargic citizenry are a paradox; they consume energy drinks and assume the rest of the country owes them a living while they watch the world go by.

There seems to be more of a focus on a person’s rights as a citizen and what he is owed and less of a conversation that focuses on a person’s obligations and duties as a citizen.  Is this due to a general lack of what the Founding Fathers referred to as “virtue?”

Virtue can be thought of as moral excellence. It is the “conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles.”

The Founders believed our nation would not survive unless its citizens were a virtuous people.

  • Patrick Henry: Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.
  • Benjamin Rush: “The only foundation for . . . a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
  • John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
  • Samuel Adams: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”

Is a lack of virtue the germ that’s responsible for many of the social ills that plague us? The answer to this question may be seen in the somewhat prophetic statement of Benjamin Rush (1746-1813): “By removing the Bible from schools we would be wasting so much time and money in punishing criminals and so little pains to prevent crime. Take the Bible out of our schools and there would be an explosion in crime.”

In the Proverbs, Solomon said, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people (14:34).”  If righteousness exalts a nation, virtue is the mortar that binds the bricks of its foundation.

 

Piers and the Power of Peers

dockThe answer to the question you may have is, “No and yes.”  There is not a misspelled word in the title of the blog, and I do know the difference between a peer and a pier.  Homophones like “pier and peer” can be a source of confusion:  They sound alike, but they are spelled differently and mean different things:

  • A pier is a structure built on posts that extends from land into the water, and it provides a place for boats to dock.
  • A peer is a person who is equal to you in one or more ways (ability, age, social status, etc.)

This next statement might muddy the water instead of clear it up:  Because a peer is also defined as something of equal worth or quality, it’s possible for piers to be peers.  It’s even possible for you to act as a pier for your peers when you provide a safe harbor for them in the stormy times of life.

As a peer, you exert influence that is either positive or negative.  Solomon paints a powerful contrast of the two:

  • Proverbs 1:9: “My son, if sinners entice you, don’t be persuaded.”
  • Proverbs 27:17: “In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.” character?  Have you been enticed or are you the enticer?  Have you sharpened or dulled the character of your peer group?  Are you the shelter in the time of storm or the storm? general

The storms of life are a common denominator of humanity—everyone will face one at some time.  General Douglass MacArthur knew this, and he offered this pray for his son:

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the weakness of true strength.

Then I, his father will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain. ”

I hope you will do more than just read this and lay it aside and forget it.  I encourage you to peer into the meanings of piers and peers and try to develop a life of peerless character.