Hey, Calvary Fremont –
Character is dead. Modern people cannot act morally because they have no character. One of the casualties in the culture war is the death of character.
What is character? Character is moral responsibility. Character is moral discipline. Character is moral maturity: the ability to postpone gratification, the willingness to rise to responsibility, and the discipline to endure temptation and remain constant under hardship. Its most essential feature is the inner capacity for restraint – an ability to control one’s passions, desires, and habits within the boundaries of a moral order. Character is submission to moral authority. Moral authority binds the conscience and bends the will. Character is submission to moral order.
James Davison Hunter in “The Death of Character” argues that character is dead because the foundations of character have been rejected. Those attempting to teach character cannot do so for the foundations of character – creeds, convictions, and commitments have been abandoned. The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present. When self is stripped of moral anchoring, there is nothing to which the will is bound to submit, nothing inherent to keep it in check. The renewal of character calls for the restoration of authority. Creed creates conviction which leads to commitment which nurtures character.
A creed is a statement of what you believe. Creed is from the Latin ‘credo’ meaning, ‘I believe.’ It is a statement of faith. It is a declaration of those truths that capture your mind, bind the conscience, and guide your feet. But the loss of objective truth has neutered creeds – they are no longer necessary. ‘My truth’ has replaced ‘truth.’ Truth is objective. My truth is subjective. Truth is universal. My truth is individual. Truth is absolute. My truth is relative. In giving up that which is objective, universal, and absolute we are left with that which is subjective, individual, and relative. In giving up that which binds the conscience, there is precious little to put a brake on the passions and desires that drive us to do what we do. Creed creates a vision and carves out a pathway for life. Passions and desires create another vision and carve out another pathway to walk in.
A creed – a body of truth – results in conviction. My conscience is bound by that truth. Convictions result in commitments – my will is bent to that truth. I have obligations to live and act in ways corresponding to my convictions. Creed captures my mind. Convictions bind my conscience. Commitments bend my will. Creed and convictions and commitments all result in character – which as seen above, is submission to a moral order.
We’ve all heard the phrase “The Me Generation.” This is from Wikipedia: “The 1970s were dubbed the “Me decade” by writer Tom Wolfe. Christopher Lasch was another writer who commented on the rise of a culture of narcissism among the younger generation of that era. The phrase caught on with the general public, at a time when “self-realization” and “self-fulfillment” were becoming cultural aspirations to which young people supposedly ascribed higher importance than social responsibility.
Wolfe and Lasch are not Christian theologians – they are cultural observers and commentators. They saw the drift away from an ethic of social responsibility to one of ‘self-fulfillment.’ This could not have happened without the diminishing influence of character and the dissolution of the bonds it forms.
Hunter continues: In the early 20th century, the ideal of character began to be replaced by that of personality. The American economy shifted from a focus on industrial production to one of mass consumption. And with growing abundance, more emphasis could be placed upon accumulation, leisure, and the cultivation of personal preferences. The rise of psychology, mass-produced consumer goods, and the expansion of leisure time offered people new ways of forming and expressing their identity. In place of defining themselves through the cultivation of virtue, people began to express themselves through hobbies, dress, and material possessions. The vision of self-sacrifice began to yield to that of self-realization.
In a culture of character, the public demanded a correlation between achievement and fame – in the emerging culture of personality, that requirement was absent. Personality doesn’t require creeds, convictions, or commitments. Character is rare today because truth, morality, restraint, creeds, convictions, and commitments are rare. The problems we see today can be traced to a weakening of moral commitment so central to character and its formation. The loss of character results in corruption and corruption results in chaos and chaos results in collapse. The debacle seen in the Church and in the wider culture is due to the death of character.
Parents – the greatest gift you can give to your children is to give them Christ and work to see character formed in them. Character is submission to a moral order with its accompanying convictions and commitments. Character requires the cross, personality doesn’t. Raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Let’s not work to give a better world to our children, let’s work to give better children to our world. It needs them.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim