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Virtue is in the news, and people are outraged. As we wrote on Tuesday, Attorney Bill Barr gave a sweeping speech at Notre Dame University on religion and virtue and their role in the American “experiment.” Barr described the Founders’ vision for our republic:
“They would leave “the People” broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people.”
What could outrage so many about that? Barr said virtue depends on religion:
“Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.”
And there’s the rub: God. God defines virtue, not man. Says Barr:
“From the nature of things we can, through reason… discern standards of right and wrong that exist independent of human will.”
The response was intense
Said Paul Krugman of the New York Times:
“God Is now Trump’s co-conspirator.” [Barr] sounds remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots” [who commit] “mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution.”
Mary Papenfuss of the Huffington Post made a fuss about Barr’s Catholicism:
“The speech revealed how deeply the top lawman in the nation is tied to his Catholicism. [He] ‘lashed’ a recent New Jersey law requiring LGBTQ curriculum in public schools to support civil rights.”
Joan Walsh of the Nation fretted that:
“William Barr Is neck deep in extremist Catholic institutions” like the Knights of Columbus, whom she characterizes as “a fraternal order of Catholic men” and “a patriarchal cosplay group.” (Cosplay means they wear costumes, which must make them bad, unless, of course, they were to dress up as women.)
Over at the New Yorker, Jeffrey Tobin raged that Barr is out to get those who desire to act on their same-sex attractions:
“The real beleaguered minorities here are gay people who are simply trying to be treated like everyone else, but Barr twists this story into one about oppression of believers.”
This is a good time for you to conduct a Google search on who has been targeted by lawsuits the most, Christian florists and cake shops, or our friends with same-sex attractions.
Virtue is indispensable to democracy
Ultimately, Barr invoked the American belief that virtue is indispensable to democracy. And what are the virtues?
The theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. Faith in God is certainly reviled, as William Barr’s critics revealed.
Charity has certainly fallen out of favor if one defines it as the voluntary giving of financial assistance out of one’s own pocket. Today’s political and cultural critics suggest government-backed coercion in the form of higher taxation as the most proper form of charity.
And these same critics believe hope is found in the perfectibility of mankind under the watchful eye of a large, central government, not God.
The Cardinal Virtues
The four cardinal virtues don’t fare any better. The virtue of prudence seems antiquated to modern culture. Prudence is about having the wisdom to discipline our lives on matters of money, power, sex, and other gifts God provides.
Human abortion dishonors this virtue with its lack of discipline toward our bodies, and a rejection of God’s beautiful gift of life.
The virtue of temperance is all about using self-restraint in our lifestyles. St. Thomas Aquinas says temperance is a “disposition of the mind which binds the passions,” such as one’s sexual appetites.
Human abortion dishonors this virtue with its lack of self-restraint on sexual matters and unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of these actions.
The virtue of fortitude is all about confronting our fear, uncertainty and intimidation we face in our lives.
Human abortion dishonors this virtue in the face of a crisis pregnancy by succumbing to fear, uncertainty, and even intimidation from family members pressing for abortion.
The virtue of justice calls on us to promote the common good by respecting the rights of our neighbors.
Human abortion dishonors this virtue by disrespecting the rights of the unique human being in the womb.
The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ are thriving
As the assault on virtue builds in intensity, the seven deadly sins seem to be coming into their own.
Pride is in, whether it is gay pride or “shout your abortion!”
Avarice is in as politicians vow to take seize assets from those who earned it and redistribute it to those who didn’t.
Envy is in as resentment has become the foundation of entire political movements.
Gluttony is in, as 39.8% or Americans are obese, and another 31.8% are overweight.
Sloth is highly prized as politicians call for a Green New Deal which includes “economic security for those who don’t want to work.”
Lust is everywhere: on our phones, our laptops, and our tablets as porn’s tentacles spread.
And anger abounds. Breathless outrage is the norm, as William Barr discovered in the media response to his speech, noted above. Anger is especially acute toward those who stand up for our unborn brothers and sisters in the womb, as the Covington Kids discovered at last year’s March for Life.
How to save our republic
If virtue is essential to democracy, and if moral values flow from God, what must we do to save our republic? It takes education.
As William Barr asserts:
“We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing to the next generation our faith and values in full vigor.
The times are hostile to this. Public agencies, including public schools, are becoming secularized and increasingly are actively promoting moral relativism.
If ever there was a need for a resurgence of Catholic education – and more generally religiously-affiliated schools – it is today.
I think we should do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels.”
Iowans for LIFE is already engaged in this mission. We stand up for our unborn brothers and sisters in the public square day by day, week by week, year by year.
What can you do? Support us financially. Without money, our pro-life message is silenced.
[William Barr’s speech is worth listening to in its entirety, complete with his ad libs. You can watch it below.]
[Tom Quiner is president of Iowans for LIFE’s board of directors.]