Eric Metaxas, in his book If You Can Keep It, has provided us with a thrilling review of America’s uniqueness. It is also a chilling reminder that America’s greatness cannot continue unless we the people embrace our own crucial role in living out what the Founders entrusted to us.
He makes it abundantly clear that America is not a nation bounded by ethnic identify or geography. To use the author’s words, we are a “nation of nations.”
More importantly, we are a nation woven together by a radical and unprecedented idea, based upon “liberty and freedom for all.”
The early American colonies did something that had never been done in the history of the world — govern themselves. They would truly be free in a way no people had ever been free. However, it is important to note, that a major premise of the book is summarized in a single sentence.
In short, self-government cannot exist without virtuous leaders. In others words, the virtuous behavior of our leaders encourages a virtuous culture in general. In turn, this enables people to govern more effectively.
Unfortunately, the opposite corollary is also true. If at any point, in the life of a Republic, the people begin to distrust their leaders (elected officials) and view them as corrupt or more concerned with themselves than those they serve, the whole of self-government begins to unravel and is fatally threatened. At this point, we are no longer “keeping” the Republic but watching it “go to seed.”
The unraveling process may take various shapes and forms. For example, increasing numbers refuse to pay or cheat on the taxes; a growing reluctance to serve in the military; fewer and fewer don’t bother to register to vote, and if they do, they don’t vote when they have the opportunity. In some cases, they will only vote for those who will promise them what they want at the expense of the greater good.
However, elected officials can also add significantly to the problem by effectively abandoning their constituents carrying more about being re-elected and becoming a career politician with all of its perks.
Let’s pause and back up for a minute, the author clearly stated, and I repeat:
SELF-GOVERNMENT CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT VIRTUOUS LEADERS. When was the last time you heard someone, anyone, use the word “virtuous” in a conversation? I can’t remember a single example. Better yet, do you know what it mean?
Certainly, in my life time, the word “virtue” has lost its place in American parlance… or so it seems. Dare I suggest that it has fallen out of favor because virtue is no longer considered something to be desired or valued in today’s society. Instead, it has become like a virus, something to be avoided.
Virtue is not a plague. Virtue is moral goodness. It is purity in heart, motivation and intentions. It is morally sound behavior. Virtuous behavior is that which seeks the best for those around us. It is not self-serving but serving others. Virtue is the outward display of inward character. The so-called light of American liberty and virtue is rapidly becoming very dim. We are rapidly gaining a reputation around the world for vice rather than virtue.
It is common knowledge that crime increases as darkness falls. With the dawn of light, misdeeds diminish. So it is that as the light of virtue and morality has been quenched by purposeful and systematic snuffing of the candles and social values, we see crime and numerous other consequences of “darkness” flood in upon us.
The most vocal elements of our society have for the past 50 years led us to believe that virtue is “out” and moral neutrality is “in.” Many brave souls have been branded with various labels for speaking up for that which was/is right and honorable. Unfortunately labels and characterizations mold us and make us feel that somehow we are not in the mainstream.
Because we all have a great need to be loved and accepted, I am afraid that the vast majority of us have unintentionally defaulted on virtue and standing for morality in order to be part of the “in group” and avoid feeling rejected. We have been made to feel as if “virtue” were a four-letter word. Allow me to provide an alternative option going forward.
Because the word “values” or phrase “family values” is morally neutral, perhaps we would be better off talking about “virtues.” Virtues have morphed into values to camouflage our hypocrisy. Changing the terminology from “virtue” to “value” eliminates the stigma of a moral standard for behavior thus seemingly freeing us to do what we “want” to do rather than what we “ought.”
The Statue of Liberty was envisioned and sculptured by a Frenchman, Frederic Bartholdi. It was dedicated October 28, 1886. The seven spikes in Liberty’s crown represent the seven continents of the world and the seven seas. Inscribed on the tablet held in her hand is the date of our Declaration of Independence.
Bartholdi envisioned the Statue to be a lighthouse. Shedding its light across the sea from its crown. He titled it, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Congress, in 1887, accepted the Statue as a beacon. Later the torch was re-sculpted and became a beacon as well, radiating the light of liberty and virtue as far as the eye could see. Apart from the American Flag, the Statue became our symbol.
Sadly, the famous words of poet, Emma Lazarus, inscribed in bronze inside the Statue have now become tarnished and have an uncertain ring…
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
In other words, The Lamp of Virtue is rapidly becoming a Fading Symbol of Moral Character.
In closing, I share with you an observation of Alex de Tocqueville. He warned us, “America is great because America is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
If America’s future depends on your example of virtue and morality, what is America’s future?
If I would have virtue, I must be virtuous.
If I would have morality, I must be moral.
If I would have goodness, I must be good.
In other words, the true test of our character will require more than applauding politicians, and passing resolutions. In the end, it is not the laws we pass, but the lives we live.
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.