Got virtue? What’s old is new again

The Catoosa County News - - FRONT PAGE - Kathryn Lopez

free­dom, con­ve­nience, progress, equal­ity, authenticity, health and non­judg­men­tal­ism. The prob­lem with hav­ing th­ese as our or­ga­niz­ing frame­work is that they are largely su­per­fi­cial, con­cerned with “the outer self ... the part of our­selves that the world sees most read­ily,” Last writes. They cer­tainly are “in­suf­fi­cient” in fos­ter­ing the moral sup­ports a democ­racy needs.

For the fic­tional first daugh­ter on “Scan­dal,” her es­cape from the Se­cret Ser­vice was a des­per­ate girl’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, echo­ing a fa­mil­iar sta­ple of our times: the “good girl gone wild” that does no daugh­ter any fa­vors. In fact, judg­ing by “the re­ceived wis­dom, chastity is the thick-an­kled step­sis­ter of virtues,” Matt Labash writes on his as­signed virtue, with a flair for hu­mor. “With an iden­ti­cal be­gin­ning and end­ing, along with the same num­ber of syl­la­bles, chastity has the pho­netic ring of the sex­ier virtue, char­ity. Ex­cept when you prac­tice char­ity, you get pats on the back and de­duc­tions on your taxes. Be­ing chaste just gets you odd looks and sus­pected of be­ing a weirdo.”

The TV character’s drug-ad­dled trans­ac­tion with two boys that night was taped by one of them, be­cause that’s the way we are now. In­stead of en­coun­ter­ing one another and cre­ation, we click a photo or record the scene. “We in­creas­ingly live amid the ether of ‘the cloud’ and the pix­e­la­tion of the screen, for­get­ting that our great­est tools for com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other as hu­man be­ings are not our sleek smart­phones and lap­top com­put­ers, but our less-than-per­fect faces, ges­tures and voices, even when we are at our most an­noy­ing,” Chris­tine Rosen writes in pro­mot­ing fel­low­ship. “It is only when we are face-to-face and phys­i­cally present with one another that we can ex­pe­ri­ence the kind of gen­uine fel­low­ship that has been the hall­mark of civ­i­liza­tion.”

Where, of course, do we tra­di­tion­ally learn how to love one another “at our most an­noy­ing”? In the fam­ily, of course. And to­day’s fam­ily is not helped by the mod­ern “virtues” rewrit­ing, un­der­valu­ing and poi­son­ing the well­springs of hu­man flour­ish­ing: life it­self, mar­riage, the unique­ness of man and woman.

Talk of the fam­ily so of­ten to­day gets wrapped up in de­bates about th­ese con­tentious is­sues. But work is also an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of the fam­ily. Pope Fran­cis of­ten talks about un­em­ploy­ment be­ing an evil we face to­day, even say­ing re­cently that there is no fam­ily with­out work -- speak­ing to both the hard work of fam­ily life and the prac­ti­cal and even spir­i­tual need for work in the life of a fam­ily.

In Vir­ginia, Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Ed Gille­spie has worked to pro­mote a con­ver­sa­tion about the dig­nity of work in his cam­paign stops and speeches.

“I don’t think we make the case strongly enough from a con­ser­va­tive per­spec­tive that true so­cial jus­tice is en­abling peo­ple to have the dig­nity of work, to be able to pro­vide for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, and that our poli­cies make that pos­si­ble,” Gille­spie told me in a re­cent visit to his Lor­ton, Vir­ginia, cam­paign of­fice. Eco­nomic po­lices need to help, among oth­ers, “a sin­gle mother who is fac­ing the chal­lenges of be­ing a sole provider and a sin­gle par­ent,” he said. “And that’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant if you be­lieve in fos­ter­ing a cul­ture that re­spects and pro­tects in­no­cent hu­man life,” he said.

Work is never the sex­i­est of top­ics, but it is es­sen­tial to our lives, and the life of the fam­ily. It’s a scan­dal when we don’t in­sist that it be taken more se­ri­ously.

Gille­spie wor­ries, among other things, that we may be los­ing our work ethic, and ex­pressed grat­i­tude for his par­ents’ ex­am­ple of hard work.

Last writes of grat­i­tude in his book: “It is grat­i­tude that al­lows us to ap­pre­ci­ate what is good, to dis­cern what should be de­fended and cul­ti­vated.” Fac­ing a cul­ture of changed val­ues, what’s old can be key to our re­newal.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@ na­tion­al­re­view.com.

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