Why virtues still matter

Posted: Jun 27, 2005 12:00 AM

From a young age our parents teach us the difference between right and wrong. As we grow up and our perspective broadens, we naturally question those early lessons. We observe the all too human shortcomings of our parents and wonder whether there truly exist moral absolutes to arbitrate our lives. For a teenager feeling those first twangs of shortcoming in his parents, the world can seem like a meaningless universe.

For the better part of two thousand years, religion helped fill that void. Still, every once in a while, the elevated primate makes a power play and places himself at the center of the universe. Because we have that kind of luck, we happen to inhabit such an era. It started with the industrial age. At the turn of the century, technological advancement empowered man as never before to exert his will upon nature. As that mechanical engine purred along, man realized he could create the world he wanted—complete with skyscrapers and microcomputers. He began to use up the world around him. There was, consequently, a tendency for man to place himself at the center of the world that he was rapidly re-constructing.

All else quickly became relative. Want to know the result? It’s plain to see: crime is rampant. Drug dealers occupy entire blocks, stalking through the streets with their guns. Criminals are glorified as symbols of empowerment in the popular culture.  Wealthy neighborhoods suffer form the same affliction. It is no real surprise that school shootings, like what we witnessed at Columbine, only occur in neighborhoods of wealth, where materialism increasingly reigns as the most desirable goal in life. In environments where mean personal vanity reigns supreme, spirituality twists inward and horrible violence erupts. Of course, it’s not uncommon for adolescents to test the extremes of their existence. But now they lack the moral foundation, the unspoken boundaries that pull us back into society. And so they drift from one whim to another, unable to cure their moral indifference.

Their illness is spiritual. A belief in God helps provide a foundation to arbitrate our decisions. Without this foundation, we are condemned to live essentially formless lives. It is only after one finds a religious foundation that one can move beyond a vain, aesthetic frame of reference and do well.  Jesus says in Matthew 16:24 that if we are to be His followers, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him! In other words, we must move beyond our own egocentric and vain rituals in order to discover the truly spiritual possibilities of life.

In short, we cannot grow, we cannot achieve authentic discovery, and our eyes cannot be cleansed to the truly beautiful possibilities of life, if we simply live a neutral existence.  Therefore the great mediator of any community is human morality. Even in this glowering age, morality animates our lives with meaning. Sadly, this point is lost on the modern relativist, who is replicating bacteria-like throughout our society. You'll know him when you see him. He’s the guy who willingly places himself at the center of the universe; a place he'll happily occupy for a few minutes, prior to the fall.