Freedom Without Virtue?

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Freedom Without Virtue?

For the last few years of his life, Chuck Colson was haunted by the question: “Can freedom survive where virtue isn’t able to flourish?”

He knew the answer in theory. And that answer was: No. Virtue-less societies cannot remain free for long. Without self-restraint, justice, love for fellow human beings and other virtues, eventually real chaos will follow moral chaos.

And Chuck was beginning to see the answer play out in real life, throughout the Western world, and even here at home. The 2008 economic collapse was at heart, Chuck believed, a moral failure at every level of society: Greedy speculators on Wall Street, government regulators asleep at the switch, and too many Americans who couldn’t resist buying things they couldn’t afford.

Sadly, the trend continues. Just last week, JP Morgan Chase admitted it just lost billions of dollars on risky, speculative trading. It’s amazing.

And no doubt you’ve heard Chuck say on BreakPoint and other places that at its root, our nation’s crime problem is a moral problem. Crime isn’t caused by poverty, or racism, or a bad hair day, it’s caused by people making poor moral decisions. Chuck could point to his own behavior during Watergate as evidence of that.

So, I think it makes perfect sense that Chuck’s final “Two-Minute Warning” videos, which he recorded the day before he became ill, were all about virtue.

Chuck was able to tackle the first four of the seven classical virtues. They’re called the cardinal virtues. Those of which are most often expressed horizontally with each other: Courage, temperance, prudence and justice. On today’s “Two-Minute Warning,” Chuck describes the virtue of courage.

Timothy George, the Chairman of the Board of the Colson Center and dean of Beeson Divinity School, and I filmed last week’s “Two-Minute Warning” introducing the series. And we were also able to film three other “Two-Minute Warning” videos that completed the series on what are called the theological virtues: Faith, hope, and charity, or love. These are the vertical ones, understood most clearly on how we relate to God.

So for the next seven Wednesdays, go back to to watch Chuck, Timothy George and I discuss the virtues. And of course, each Wednesday on BreakPoint, Eric Metaxas or myself will talk about one of them.

So, the first virtue is courage. What is it, and why is it often considered the first virtue? Well, as Eric Metaxas pointed out last week on BreakPoint, courage is not the absence of fear. It’s overcoming natural fear. Courage means doing the right thing even at risk of pain or loss.

You can see, then, why it’s also the first virtue. For without courage, could we love our neighbor and be a good Samaritan in a dangerous situation? Could we stand up at that PTA meeting and prudently suggest the latest sex-ed curriculum was morally wrong and promotes risky behavior — all the while risking the ire of the crowd and being labeled a prude, or even worse, a bigot?

Many of you signed the Manhattan Declaration in defense of human life, marriage, and religious freedom. And that’s so important. But the declaration’s success depends on whether you and I have the courage to live up to our commitments — even if it means openly and civilly disobey an unjust law? Would we risk our reputations, our careers, even imprisonment?

Tough question, but they get at the heart of what it means to have courage — and why nowadays especially, we in the church will have to draw often upon that first virtue.

So, please, go to today and watch Chuck discuss the virtue of courage. And come back every Wednesday for the rest of our series on the virtues.

Publication date: May 16, 2012