Posts Tagged ‘Morality’

Today is July 5.¬† You can charge me with waiting past the last minute if you like; but I prefer to think I prudently chose to wait for the holiday happenings to die down ūüôā

john_adamsI’ll take this opportunity to return to one of my favorite films, the HBO miniseries “John Adams.”¬† Adams (Paul Giamatti), even before becoming part of the Continental C0ngress, frequently alludes to the “great men” of the past in his discourses as a lawyer.¬† His wife and dearest confidante, Abigail, warns him this makes him come across as pompous and erudite; he defends himself on these grounds: Men of various times and places have throughout the ages agreed on certain universal principles, and therefore their “witness” is important for his defenses.

brad-pitt-12-yearsThen there’s the Best Picture for 2013, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.”¬† In the film, an itinerant abolitionist (Brad Pitt) confronts a tyrannic Louisiana plantation owner with the possibility that the laws of the state protecting his supposed right to own slaves just might not be enough.¬† He points out that the laws of times and places change, while “only¬†universal truths abide.”

He adds: “What’s true and right is true and right for everybody, black and white alike.”

Media references aside, you can certainly go to the horse’s mouth and read the Declaration of Independence.¬† As much of an enigma as Thomas Jefferson was as a person, we can hardly accuse him of being a relativist when it came to¬† principles.

Far from suffocating people’s freedom and keeping them in thralldom, absolute truths are actually what liberate¬†them.

Intimately related to absolute truth/principle is virtue, which pertains to the human ability to live up to the aforementioned high and noble principles.  Out of this comes heroism, patriotism, love, sacrifice, courage, compassion, and the many laudable qualities that make for a happy life and a prosperous society.

Not all of America’s Founding Fathers were Christians, but they were all inspired by the principles of the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage.¬† Underlying their defense of independence and liberty were two basic assumptions:

1) Man is capable of virtue, and therefore of self-governance; and
2) There is a natural law ingrained the fabric of the universe that guarantees and protects mankind’s liberties.

St._Gregory_of_NyssaIn the fourth century A.D., fourteen centuries before the Founding Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa had this to say:

[T]he best Artificer made our nature as it were a formation fit for the exercise of royalty (…) for the soul immediately shows its royal and exalted character, far removed as it is from the lowliness of private station, in that it owns no lord, and is self-governed (insofar as its relations among humankind are concerned)

[T]he King of all, made as it were a living image, partaking with the archetype both in rank and in name, not vested in purple, nor giving indication of its rank by sceptre and diadem (…) but instead of the purple robe, clothed in virtue

(From “On the Making of Man,” Chapter IV — bold and parenthesis mine)

Human beings need governance and authority, of course. But all governance and authority must operate with respect for the dignity of each person, and with a view to the rights of persons as individuals and as meaningful groups (the family most of all).

But again, all being held equal in rights and dignity also implies all being accountable to the same standards.  To the extent that we ignore or stray from virtue, we become less fit to govern ourselves and more vulnerable to tyranny.

We Americans celebrated our independence yesterday.  Hopefully, we take a moment each day to consider the privilege of living in a country so free and so great.  But let us not forget the role of principles and virtue in the very foundation and history of this great nation, and of our freedom.

Movie images obtained through a Google image search; other images from Wikipedia

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Fr. Barron offers insight into why Catholic moral teaching is often perceived as “out of touch” with the culture:

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