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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Can a Faithless Society Produce Virtue?

Let me define virtue before I actually start this blog. Virtue is simply moral excellence. A truly virtuous person has a moral quality that is consistent even if no one is looking.

I'll admit that people who claim faith do not have much over on those who claim no faith. You can't deny that pastors have affairs, steal from their churches and are often found wanting for morality. It is here that we must make a distinction though. The problem is not in the faith but in the individual. No one who fails to live what he says he believes is living in faith. This is a common reason for people to stop going to church. They had hoped to find a virtuous people and found people a little worse than the people at a local bar.

However, I have seen people completely changed by their faith. I have seen people who have gone to prison become some of the most loving, carefully moral people I have ever met. One such person was Chuck Colson. I had the opportunity to sit down with this man almost twenty years ago and never met a more humble, caring and virtuous man. I only know what his reputation was before Watergate. I am sure I wouldn't have wanted to meet him then.

So, what changed him? True faith. He honestly identified with Jesus in such a way that he started becoming like Jesus. This is what true faith is all about. It isn't being perfect but continually walking with and toward Jesus. True faith changes people.

What changes people apart from faith? I know some reasonably virtuous people who have told me that they do not subscribe to any faith. They are friendly and good people. I genuinely think they aren't trying to fake me out with their words or observable acts. However, as I talked with them, they were influenced by people of faith. One told me he grew up going to a Christian school. Another minored in Bible in college. You can't simply say that they were void of faith all of their lives. Formative years were spent around people of faith and that influenced who they became.

So, in order to answer the question we must go to a people who have no faith influence to find those who are virtuous. I don't know that you will find those people. There is faith in everyone even if that faith is found in humanity itself.

However, if I change my search from trying to find virtuous people who have not been influenced by faith to the non-virtuous people who exist in society I find a plethora of subjects to discuss. Today I read that a man shot his neighbor and ran over her with her own lawnmower because she was mowing at 9:00 PM. There was no virtue in this man to stop his anger. He killed the lady and now faces prosecution. He appears to have lacked any morality. Can I blame this on living without any faith? No, the individual may have been around the same amount of faith as those whom I mentioned earlier but failed to take it in. Individual cases can neither prove nor disprove  whether or not faith produced virtue.

Therefore, I must look at society as a whole. There was a time when a large portion of the American populous went to church. The people never locked their houses and frequently left their keys in their cars. Neighbors knew each other because they went to church together and were involved in their communities to improve those communities. It was understood that forgiveness was something each person needed and many forgave rather than sought revenge when they felt wronged.

Honestly, our society has not gotten better because we have removed ourselves from faith. Each night we watch tv with ads coming from angry lawyers claiming they will "get the money you deserve" because others have hurt us physically. We live in fear of being sued or attacked on the streets because we may have not seen the car we almost hit. Anger rules those streets.

I believe that faith is necessary for creating a virtuous society though I realize that there are individuals who will be virtuous who personally have no faith. Faith changes people when it is true faith. I know that my relationship with Jesus has changed me. I hope that I will live a life pleasing to my Lord. I want to be morally excellent even when no one is watching.

However, I am a work in progress but isn't that what change is?

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)
9  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 

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