Character counts and we must demand it in our politicians. It defines who we are, it’s the summation of our habits, our attitudes and attributes. Character allows us to admit that there is a right and a wrong – that honesty is superior to lying – that fairness is superior to greed and that caring is superior to callousness. Heraclitus wrote that “character is destiny.” Cicero commented that “within the character of the citizen lies the welfare of the nation.”
History proves that civilizations do not flourish forever – they rise and they fall when their moral code deteriorates, when they fail to pass on core values and character to the next generation. Historian Arnold Toynbee observed that “out of 21 notable civilizations, 19 perished – not by conquest from without – but by moral decay from within.”
Virtues transcend time and culture. Ancient Greece named four virtues they considered to be the most noble.
- WISDOM – a virtue that directs all others. Wisdom is good judgment that allows man to put all other virtues into practice.
- JUSTICE – respecting the rights of others – the Golden Rule that tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated.
- FORTITUDE – the ability to do what is right in the face of difficulty. Courage, self-respect, resilience, patience, endurance and perseverance is the inner fortitude that helps us overcome or at least withstand hardships, defeats and pain.
- SELF-CONTROL – the ability to govern ourselves, to control our temper, regulate our passions, the power to resist temptation. Criminal behavior flourishes in the absence of self-control and temperance.
- LOVE – a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another. Empathy, compassion, kindness, service, loyalty, patriotism, forgiveness go hand in glove with love. In With Love and Prayers, F. Washington Jarvis wrote that “love, selfless love, expects nothing back – it is the most powerful force in the universe. It’s impact on both the giver and receiver is incalculable.”
As a nation, we have not only forgotten the value of character, wisdom, justice, fortitude and self-control, we’ve also conveniently laid to rest hard work, diligence, self-responsibility and humility, the foundations of our moral life.
Studies of the predictable decay of empires and cultures generally discern three primary aspects of their decline: Social Decay, Cultural Decay, and Moral Decay. We have already seen the social decay through lawlessness, the loss of economic disciple and the rising bureaucracy. We’ve seen cultural decay through the decline in our educational system, the weakening of our cultural foundations, the loss of respect for tradition marriage, and the increase in materialism. We’ve seen the moral decay through the rise in immorality, the loss of religious belief, and the devaluing of human life.
We as a nation and a people must rise to the occasion or suffer a fate similar to that which has befallen civilizations in the past. Our task will not be easy but anything worth having is worth fighting for.
Sexual promiscuity led to the downfall of nations. So too we find similar patterns of sexual promiscuity and debauchery. As nations fell into decline, life became cheap – infants were strangled, exposed to the elements, sold into slavery, sacrificed to pagan godesses in order to ensure productivity or a long life. Today life has become cheap. At one end of the spectrum, unborn babies are aborted. At the other end, physician-assisted suicide is becoming acceptable for the aged, and disabled.
In his study of history, Arnold Toynbee describes the predictable pattern of “challenge and response.” We as a nation are challenged in fundamental ways, and our response will either pull us back from the brink or push us over it. Will we follow the path to renewal and reformation or will we follow the path to destruction? The choice is ours.
“I sought the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests- and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning- and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution- and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!” Alec de Tocqueville