As we’ve increasingly become a culture where everyone does what is right in his own eyes and looks out for himself at the expense of others, the force of law has stepped in to regulate our individual and common lives.
Virtue forming influences of family, Church and societal expectation have gradually disappeared in our nation as we’ve become a culture of law.
The shared virtue of honor, for example, once played a greater role in our common life. But as people began to show less respect toward each other, maintaining civility became the work of law enforcement and we’ve become more dependent on social authority.
We must recognize that expansive social authority over individual conduct is a poor substitute for a culture of honor and respect.
Law is more of a negative and consequential force than a positive and preventative influence. I realize that human flourishing will always require some degree of law and law enforcement, but expansive law enforcement rarely provides the best context for such flourishing.
Consider the fact that America has put more of its citizens in prison than any other nation (1 out of every 100). The outlook for our future does not look good.
- Our prisons are overcrowded and unsuitable as effective places for reform.
- Our legal system is weighed-down, slow and sometimes wrongly weighted toward those with resource and influence.
- Our families are dysfunctional and disintegrating.
- Our tax burden continues to increase.
- Our schools are struggling to be effective.
- Our Churches are in decline.
- If the American experiment has taught us anything, it has at least revealed that a free society is the best context for human flourishing. Yet freedom cannot flourish without deeper personal commitments to individual civic responsibilities that promote healthy social order.
We cannot afford to be indifferent to the need for virtue-forming influences through families and Churches. Without widely shared virtues like honor and neighbor love, narrowly defined self-interests will continue to threaten our future. Pursuit of freedom without virtue and character ultimately destroys those who seek it.
I believe that Churches must especially renew their roles in the lives of families and communities. As Churches become the humble, redemptive, truth-telling communities of love that Jesus intended them to be, they will serve as surrogate families and reduce the need for a society based on law.
Churches are called to be communities devoted to one another in brotherly love who delight in honoring one another (see: Romans 12:10).
In a dysfunctional and disintegrating society, regaining such a vision for the Church is not only a matter of obedience to the Lord, but the best hope for restoring our nation.