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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, January 13, 2014

VIRTUE AND HOLINESS

"You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues. Wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, Father. Ambition; that can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness. Courage; perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage. Devotion to my family, and to you.

But none of my virtues were on your list.
-Commodus, in Gladiator"

To a certain degree, I share the concern libertarians have about Christian conservatism.  There is a brand of conservative out there that does want to limit what you can do legally in your own bedroom, that does want to outlaw certain behaviors and actions in the world in the name of righteousness.
Mostly its the left doing so these days (smoking, salt, speech codes, etc) but there's still a movement on the right to stop people from doing what they consider wrong or immoral by the force of law.  Now, to be sure, everyone does this and supports this to some degree.  Even the most rabid Ayn Randian has limits to what they believe should be legal in their fellow man.  Its just a question of where you draw that line: murder or heavy petting?
There's a guy in the Virginia Legislature who has proposed a bill which would criminalize oral sex between teenagers.  There's been plenty of this kind of moral behavior legislation proposed in the past, and most states still have some on the books such as how you can dress in public on certain days or what you can drink.  Western Oregon State University is situated in a town which outlawed liquor over a century ago, and reversed the legislation only recently.
And it is not unusual among Christians to hear at least one person wish there was a law to stop certain behavior or activity, because it is sinful.  There's always been a movement in Christianity which has grown or faded as the culture shifts over time which believes that it is up to Christians to make the world better through political and legal force.  That movement is quite small these days, but in the 80s it was pretty strong.
In the same way I reject the left's attempts to force people to be nice by the end of a gun, I reject the right's attempts to force people to be righteous by the end of a gun.  Laws against certain behavior such as homosexuality are just as misguided as laws against preaching against homosexuality.  Both are rooted in a basic misunderstanding of humanity and ethics.
You can legislate morality, despite the oft-quoted line.  Almost every law on the books has a moral basis.  What you cannot do is make people moral by legislation, which is what the saying really means.  You cannot make people righteous through any external force.  It is impossible to impose goodness on anyone.
HOLINESS
Righteousness is a characteristic of doing what is good and right and just from inside, it is a voluntary and natural response to a change within.  And yet, righteousness - true righteousness - is a response to something outside us, a glory that transforms and produces a response of gratitude.
Thus, you cannot make people righteous, you can only make them pretend to be righteous, when anyone is watching and when they might get caught.  Laws and rules and force are of no use here.
Laws do not make righteousness, they describe righteousness.  Take the 10 commandments.  Telling people Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery does not make people stop sleeping around. It makes them try to keep it secret and try to not get caught sleeping around.  But a righteous person does not commit adultery, they behave in a certain way because they are righteous, not because there are laws.
The fact that righteousness is an adherence to an absolute code of objective ethics does not mean that it comes about by the imposition of laws and ethics.  The mere existence of these laws doesn't create righteousness, it is from within and from a change of heart, a transformation of the soul.
That cannot come from a set of rules and regulations and the force to back them up.  If anything, that makes people more unrighteous as they keep doing wrong, but then compound the sin by lying about it and sneaking around.
Further, you cannot extort righteousness through a system of promises.  You'll only get people who give the pretense of righteous behavior around the people who give the goodies.  True righteousness is not how you behave, but why you behave, from inside.
Again, that's not to say there should be no laws, we just have to understand the simple truth that you're not making anyone ethically more pure by passing that law against murder.  We have to understand as well that people change from within, not without.
However, that doesn't mean we need to abandon culture and society to anarchy.  This is the mistake of the left, they've torn down every single structure, foundation, and framework to build a coherent, ethical culture and put nothing in its place.  Their attempts to create a replacement are nearly random and often contradictory, and always by force.  So we have exactly the same people who want tobacco cigarette smoking banned because its bad for your health and others around you demanding pot smoking be made legal.
VIRTUE
A diverse culture made up of fallen humanity cannot be made righteous, however you think that looks, from the outside, and you cannot force people to behave righteously by laws and force.
What you can do is create a system of virtues which a culture will adhere to, a system of principles that the culture agrees to and considers proper.   Virtues are a code of action that people live by and hold to, not laws produced by a legislation, but agreed upon morality that a culture produces and agrees to as a group.
There always will be outliers who reject this; criminals, radicals, etc.  You cannot produce a culture with complete homogeneity, and you wouldn't want to.  But you can produce a culture with enough people sharing enough of the same sort of basic beliefs that there's a shared identity and morality.
It is inevitable, in fact, that any organized society does have this kind of shared identity.  Even in the moral chaos of modern western culture, there are some basic shared virtues and vices.  Racism is a vice, for example.  Protecting children is a virtue.
Virtues are principles that people agree to and will structure their behavior around, rather than laws that are imposed upon them by a small group of people with power.  The laws of a culture almost always reflect these virtues, and lag behind any changes, but they are not the source of these virtues.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
The way to produce these virtues is by tradition, shame, education, and entertainment.  Consider the incredibly rapid transformation of modern society regarding homosexual "marriage."  20 years ago the very idea was laughed at by the culture and homosexual activists considered the very idea oppressive and "heteronormative," an attempt to force homosexuals into patterns developed by heterosexuals.
Today, you're a monster, a bigot, and a freak if you question the absolute gaia-given natural right of homosexuals to "marry" each other.  This happened not through legislation or force, but by pressure through education, entertainment, and shame.  Nobody was pursuaded through logic or reasoned into this shift, they were pushed into it by a group of people manipulating culture.
Almost all of the changes the left has wrought in culture have come through this system, through a concerted effort by a small group working through cultural systems to change people's perceptions and virtues rather than to force people to behave a certain way by law.
The left understood this far better than the right in the 20th century, and were very successful at it.  Many basic understandings and culturally shared principles were changed, even reversed through this pressure.  It is so effective that people don't really even see it happening or understand it.
Yet the left is in power now, and the ones in power tend to use the power they have to impose their ideas rather than the culture to bring about their ideas.  So now we get laws against excessively large drinks and human rights commissions that punish people for saying things they find improper.
WHAT VIRTUE?
Now, the problem with the modern left is that they're trying to create their own (often contradictory) set of virtues that people should live by, but they aren't true virtue.  Tolerance and multiculturalism aren't virtues.  Cheering for the underdog isn't a virtue.  Opposing tradition isn't a virtue.
The only way virtues can build a proper and enduring society with justice and opportunity for the greatest number of people in the greatest degree is if they are true virtues, the real thing rather than simply a checklist of the latest popular ideas from academics.
And most of the things that are actually good which the left proposes (tolerance of different ideas, for example) are the result of true virtues, not an example of them.  This ignorance of true virtue and their meaning causes the left to distort even their own virtues, so that what is called 'tolerance' becomes oppression and intolerance.
Real virtues - fortitude, wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, honesty, humility, charity, and mercy - are not only timeless, but are principles that have stood the test of time and proved their excellence.  At no point has it ever been good for any culture to reject any of these, and it has always been good for every culture which has embraced them.
True, these virtues are difficult and even contrary to the goals and wishes of certain people within a culture, but as I noted there will always be outliers.  The virtue of honesty is tough on politicians.  The virtue of humility is tough on celebrities.  The virtue of charity is tough on the ambitious businessman.  The virtue of courage is tough on the onesie-packing hot chocolate chugger.  But these virtues as a whole are incredibly good for all of society.
EXAMPLES
A long time ago, a man named Montesquieu wrote about what basic government types need to survive.
He noted that a tyranny, a dictatorship, requires fear to survive.  This fear keeps the people from rebelling, it forces them to obey, and it maintains the dictatorship.  It is fed by misinformation, mistrust, and a feeling of powerlessness, but always it comes down to fear.  Every tyranny in the history of the world has followed this pattern, right down to the modern day.  Insofar as any system leans toward tyranny, fear becomes more and more important.
Montesquieu further wrote that a monarchy, rule by a king or powerful class, requires honor to survive.  This honor creates a structure by why people will obey and bow to those in a higher class and the ruling class are considered the "font" of honor, the source of all honorable behavior.  When this sense of honor and obedience to a code and social structure fails, the monarchy falls.
And finally, Montesquieu wrote that democracy, or rule by the people either directly or through representatives, requires virtue to endure.  A people who do not have a shared basic set of principles to live by and further are not basically decent and trustworthy cannot properly run themselves and their government and representatives become increasingly corrupt and untrustworthy, even incompetent as a result.
When you lose either honor or virtue, you tend to end up with fear and tyranny.  Without a shared system of virtue the population can agree upon and follow, democracy inevitably, rapidly falls apart.
A more tangible and clear example of how this works is in economics.
I often say that Capitalism only works if people are virtuous.  I note that Socialism only works if people are holy.  And sometimes I get a response: see they both fail without good people.  The problem here is a lack of word comprehension.  There's a key difference between virtuous and holy, as I wrote about above.
Capitalism only works if people follow and agree to a system of behavior and morality as a culture.  You cannot have capitalism in a cold and heartless society devoid of care for their fellow man.  A sense of justice, mercy, and charity all negate the evils that capitalism can be reduced to.
But capitalism takes advantage of the unrighteousness inherent in all of us, it exploits that to the greatest benefit of the greatest number.
Socialism does not.  It requires a righteous people, or it cannot work.  Socialism actually rewards a lack of virtue, by benefiting people based on their social status and forcing businesses to do things which are not profitable so that others can have what the government decides they should.  As time goes on, more and more people figure out that working hard and achieving is a sucker's game because the people who don't get as much or more than you do, and you are penalized for doing so.  Only a righteous person would continue to work hard for the benefit of others to their own detriment.  Only a holy man would do miserable work for the same reward as pleasant work.
Capitalism requires virtue.
Socialism requires righeousness.
Its not the same; one is theoretically achievable with a fallen people in a troubled world, the other is only theory which cannot survive the test of reality.
GETTING THERE
The only way to get us to the point where we have a truly virtuous society is to raise children under this understanding and system of virtues, shame their lack, promote them through entertainment, and personally display these virtues conspicuously while praising and promoting those who do so.
No number of laws will ever, ever result in a society that is good, and you cannot get people to agree to any system of virtues through force from the top.  This change can only happen from the ground up, and further can only be maintained through constant, conscious effort to promote virtue and punish vice in culture and not through law.
Rewarding what is proper and good and punishing what is not through shame, cultural pressure, economic activity, and education will bring this about, not law, not the right politicians, and not the next election.  It is not possible to transform culture through politics and law.  These lag after and reflect culture, they do not lead it.
And true change and repair of a democracy cannot take place through any method but a shift in culture.  The thing to remember is that we cannot create a holy people or a utopian society on this earth.  All we can do is create a virtuous culture, and maintain it through constant effort.

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