Higher Standards

Blog|10.7.17

This week our nation recoiled in horror at the news of the shooting in Las Vegas. The depth of depravity that would lead anyone to commit such acts, coupled with the death and suffering that resulted, have left us with many questions that demand serious introspection.

Everyone wants to find a solution that will reduce or eliminate the possibility of a similar atrocity in the future, but that is where the agreement seems to end. Some say issues related to mental health need more attention, while others cry out for restricting or eliminating the Second Amendment. Perhaps a tragedy of this magnitude will cause us to drill deeper, and discuss the issues underlying a broad array of problems.

As Samuel Adams said in 1749, “neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will
secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”

In other words, there is no law we can pass, no initiative we can fund, that will significantly reduce the odds of another large scale act of evil. We have seen it play out in other parts of the world, where those bent on evil use knives, bombs, or trucks. The problem is not access to a particular weapon, but rather the unrestrained compulsion to harm others.

I’ve heard it said that “you can’t legislate morality,” and to some degree that is true. Each of us must first be governed by a commitment to morality in our own lives. If we expect our cities, state, or nation to elevate civility, we will have to return to a place where we expect from each other a certain degree of personal morality.

Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned that “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

His thoughts were similar to those of Richard Henry Lee, another signer of the Declaration, who said “It is certainly true that a popular government cannot flourish without virtue in the people.”

It’s easy to point fingers when we are in pain. We can even find some degree of relief from our grief by blaming an opposing ideology or political position. However, if we hope to restore the greatness of our Constitutional republic, we must each do our part to elevate morality and civility.

George Washington wrote in 1788 that America could “never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people.” We would be wise to heed his warning, and to pray that we would not be the generation that proves his point.