Perhaps I should title this, “American Virtues” – but I’d like to look at a few things that we, as Americans, consider virtuous, but which, considered Scripturally, are, in fact, amoral, merely the raw material for virtue or vice.
Independence: Independence is one of the great American virtues. Standing on our own two feet, beholden to no one and nothing but God above, we run our life on our own power. The presupposition that this is one of the ultimate American virtues runs deep. Our culture is based on independence!
And independence can be a good thing. It can help us stand firm on our faith, it can help us escape the octopus-like clinging mess of a dying culture, it can encourage us to stand apart from the crowd, and it can encourage us in the virtue of hard work.
But independence can be a bad thing, when it encourages us to leave good communities, to fail in our duty to support those around us, to ignore wise counsel, to flout sensible tradition as well as folly.
Stoicism: This is a virtue brought over from the English, and is found more in traditional American culture than in modern American culture – at least at first glance. When you go deeper, you find that the refusal to kowtow to undesirable emotion is still considered virtuous.
Stoicism can be a good thing – there is a time and place to carry on and do what is necessary, not make a huge parade out of every little thing.
But I think we take stoicism too far and allow ourselves to become shallow. Happiness, sadness, anger, celebration and mourning are important parts of the human experience. We’ve allowed ourselves to stop trusting emotion so that the celebration of a wedding or a new baby is a brief moment of cheer, not a outpouring of gladness. The death of anyone except those in the immediate family isn’t supposed to stop us from smiling at an acquaintance three days later.
This stoicism encourages us in deceit – to deny in ourselves the depth of our emotions, the breadth of our emotions, so that we can be socially acceptable. And while it is then socially useful – society doesn’t care to be inconvenienced – it fails to be virtuous, because instead of accepting, confessing, and surrendering even the blackest of emotions to Christ, we instead shove them under the couch and pretend they were never there.
We neither rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), we just try to keep everyone – including ourselves – calm.
And that’s something I am personally working on – letting all my emotions have their day, whether that day is a second before I confess them or a week when I delight in their company, however transitory.
I’m sure there are more – what amoral virtues could you suggest?