Posted by: gcarkner | January 13, 2018

Recovery of Identity through Virtue

 The Power of Virtue to Transform and Empower

What kind of people do we aspire to be? What will help us persevere amidst challenges and tragedies and show resilience for the long haul? What kind of things which we think, say and do will make us stronger, focused, more effective? How do we locate ourselves in relation to the good? What do wisdom, courage and hope, benevolence and love, moderation, self-restraint and frugality, patience and gratitude have to do with academia and with everyday life? Can we live well if we live and love virtuously? Our virtue will inform our academic vision, and our vision shapes our goals and actions day to day, and cumulatively this impacts creation and society. Virtue involves our desires and emotions, disposition and attitudes, our stance towards and within the world. There is an art, a joy, a creativity, a finesse to virtue. To embrace virtue involves living deeply, prayerfully, circumspectly, hopefully, expectantly.

A moral virtue is an excellence of character, developed by conscious choices over time and thus for which we can and should be praised, that disposes one to act in such a reasonable way to avoid extremes, to act in short as a sage would act. ~ Aristotle

Here are some examples of virtue that leads us into taking responsibility for ourselves and our world from Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth.

  • Respect & Receptivity: If life in all its diversity is a gift from a benevolent Creator, we should respect its innate, intrinsic and precious value—its creational integrity. Biodiversity (a rich and full flourishing fittedness) is an intended result of God’s wise and orderly creative activity. We as human creation are only one species among many and we should cultivate the earth in harmony with other creatures, so that we can all sing a symphony of God’s praises together (Psalms 104; 148). In other words, other creatures count morally or have moral standing; we have the same God-loved home, and are interdependent with other God-loved creatures on this planet and it is our obligation to respect and manage it well. The virtue principle is to act to preserve diverse kinds of life and the opposing vice is conceit to ignore or disdain other creatures, or just use/or abuse them for our appetites or pleasure. Conceit has no genuine interest in another and will if necessary violate the integrity of the other through a lack of regard. Another different vice would be to worship the other creatures through an excess of reverence. Receptivity is a form of hospitality, which acknowledges our interdependence with the creaturely other; self-sufficiency is the vice that says we don’t have need of the other.


  • Self-restraint and Frugality: The assumption here is that since creation is finite, others basic needs take precedence over our greedy wants. We should learn to live within our means and learn when ‘enough is enough’. There is a prima facie duty to preserve non-renewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources. Self-restraint is moderation (old Greek concept) of inordinate desires, or temperance, a habitual control of one’s appetites. The vice here is profligacy or self-indulgence (to be belly-oriented). Frugality speaks to an economy of the use of finite goods which is a sort of planetary hospitality. The opposing vice is greed (excessive acquisition) or avarice, a craving to acquire blinded to the limits inherent within creation.


  • Humility and Honesty: Humility speaks to the art of being responsible, unpretentious and aware of one’s limits; it recognizes that we humanoids are both finite and faulted; we should act cautiously and move slowly with a view to the consequences of how we consume and live with others. The vice is hubris or overweening pride, an exaggerated self-confidence. Honesty means to be without guile or duplicity (perversion of truth for personal gain); it entails that we will act with forethought. It opposite is Deception a cunning misrepresentation often fuelled by envy and spite in order to see enemies harmed and humiliated.


  • Wisdom and Hope: Wisdom is an excellence of intellect, developed over time, that allows one to live the good life (150). It originates in the fear or worship of God. It is sound practical judgment based on uncommon insight honed through long experience and informed by cultivated memory. Assumption: it is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful and flourish and not just humans. We should act in such a way that the ability of living creature can maintain themselves and reproduce. Foolishness is the position of habitual lack of sound judgment, to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable. Hopetrust oriented forward in time rooted in God’s promises, a yearning for shalom. Despair is the absence of any expectation of a good future; it leads to the sickness unto death of Kierkegaard.


  • Patience and Serenity: 152 assuming a belief is Sabbath rest for land humans and animals, it is a principle of rejuvenation. It takes the long vew and shows a calm forebearance. We should act in such a way that the creatures under our care are given their needful rest. The vice is impetuousness, an impulsiveness based on fear of the future that drive to gratify our desires in the immediate moment. Serenity is an unruffled peacefulness, an inner calm amidst chaos rooted in a assurance of God’s grace.


  • Benevolence and Love: Benevolence is willingness to promote the well-being of another plus a feeling of affection for the other. To love the earth means to serve and cultivate it and protect it from harm (to be earthkeepers). It involves recognition of God as the real owner and we humans as the tenants, those who tend the earth gardens. If we love God’s good creation, we will not exploit or pillage it; we will nurture it. This may seem strange, but it is biblical (Genesis 2:15). The ecological tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico should actually break our hearts.


  • Justice and Courage: Justice, a central feature of human flourishing, is the disposition to act impartially and fairly; it implies respect for the rights of others. In Isaiah 24, justice is intimately tied to the health of the land; sociall justice and ecological health are bound together. We are enjoined to act so as to treat others, human and non-human fairly. Courage is the moral strength in the face of danger, tenacity in the face of opposition, a stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. Often it takes tremendous courage to sustain justice.

A virtue is a state of praiseworthy character—with the attendant desires, attitudes and emotions. Formed by choices over time, a virtue disposes us to act in certain excellent ways. Knowing which way is the truly excellent way involves avoiding the extremes of vice by looking to people of virtue as role models. As certain virtues shape our character they influence how we see the world. And the entire process of forming virtues is shaped by a particular narrative and communities. The settled disposition to act well, which makes us who we are, are nurtured by the stories  we imbibe and the communities of which we are a part. ~ Steven Bouma-Prediger

See also David Brooks, The Road to Character.

Our lives often follow either of two dramatically different routes:

  1. expedience, pleasure now, entitlement, short cuts morally, take all you can get and run, immediate self-gratification. This route can lead to nihilism (loss of self) or tyranny.
  2. sacrifice, work hard for a better future, delay gratification, focus on the greater good, think about others, share, take responsibility. This is the route to a higher freedom, a legacy life. You are saving up for a better future self (a university education, a better marriage, a better reputation, a better world).

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