Speech at a County Meeting of Buckinghamshire (1784)- Edmond Burke
It has been said that for a culture or society to be successful it has to promote virtue among its people. But how does a society promote virtue? A friend of mine asked me this week to write on America’s loss as a society, the generation of people who fought in World War II. My friend sees the WWII battle of Iwo Jima as picture of a generation of Americans who were willing to sacrifice everything for there country. It seems that this dying generation of American’s had virtue we rarely see today. Without trying to romanticize and make the battle of Iwo Jima into a melodrama, instead, we should never forget the 6000 men who lost there lives for 8 square miles of land in February and March 1945. (contrast this with the second Iraqi War). “As of Tuesday, April 27, 2010, at least 4,393 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.” Because there is such a lack of virtue in our society today, it was commonly reported that we were losing the war in Iraq due to our growing number of military casualties. Senate Majority leader Henry Reid even declared the war lost. You wonder what Senator Reid would have said during the battle of Iwo Jima?
The American service men who gave their lives at Iwo Jima and all the other great battles of WWII had something in common. These service men still had the lingering effects of virtue promoted in American society. The Webster 1828 dictionary states that virtue is “Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from a sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion. Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.”
American history paints a picture of our country founded on what has become known as Judeo-Christian principles. These principles state that a transcendent God is the standard of morality. The God of the Old and New Testaments give us the standard of morality and hence creates the proper understanding of true virtue. As the definition above clearly points out that if a person who does something moral even though he/she might not be religious they still have virtue. Yet the moral underpinning is always founded on some religious doctrine or teaching. For America the moral underpinning has always been found in Bible.
Dennis Prager states “…There are no moral "facts" if there is no God; there are only moral opinions. Years ago, I debated this issue at Oxford with Jonathan Glover, currently the professor of ethics at King's College, University of London, and one of the leading atheist moralists of our time. Because he is a man of rare intellectual honesty, he acknowledged that without God, morality is subjective. He is one of the few secularists who do.”
My contention is that the generation of American’s that fought WWII were raised in the fumes of men like John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and George Whitefield. I could easily add a hundred more names to that list but this should do for now. Listen to part of the introduction of Governor Winthrop’s “A Model of Charity”:
“God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection. The reasons hereof: first, to hold conformity with the rest of His works, being delighted to show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures and the glory of his power, in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole, and the glory of his greatness that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great King will have many stewards counting Himself more honored in dispensing His gifts to man by man, then if He did it by His own immediate hand. Secondly, that He might have the more occasion to manifest the work of His Spirit: first, upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them: so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor, and despised rise up against their superiors, and shake off their yokes; secondly, in the regenerate in exercising His graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance, etc., in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience, etc. Thirdly, that every man might have need of other, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bond of brotherly affection; from hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy etc., out of any particular and singular respect to himself but for the glory of his creator and the common good of creature, man; Therefore God still reserves the property of these gifts to himself…by the first of these laws man as he was enabled so withal is commanded to love his neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law, which concerns our dealings with men. To apply this to the works of mercy this law requires two things: first, that every man afford his help to another in every want or distress; secondly, that he perform this out of the same affection, which makes him careful of his own good according to that of our Savior.”
Essays to Do Good by Cotton Mather:
“In a word, the kingdom of God in the world, calls for innumerable services from us. To do such things is to do good. Those men devise good, who shape any devices to do things of such a tendency, whether the things be of a spiritual importance, or of a temporal.”
The Method of Grace by George Whitefield:
“…First, then, before you can speak peace to your hearts, you must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God. According to the covenant of works,’The soul that sinneth, it shall die; cursed is that man, be he what he may, be he who he may, that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.’ We are not only to do some things, but we are to do all things, and we are to continue so to do; so that the least deviation from the moral law, according to the covenant of works, whether in thought, word, or deed, deserves eternal death at the hand of God…My business this morning, the first day of the week, is to tell you that Christ is willing to be reconciled to you. Will any of you be reconciled to Jesus Christ? Then, he will forgive you all your sins, he will blot out all your transgressions.”
These men and many more like them influenced the shape and character of our nation. These sentiments expressed our belief in an objective God in whom we have a moral obligation to follow. As the first great awakening taught (Whitefield), we can not follow God without having our transgressions against Him forgiven. Jesus is the satisfaction God required for forgiveness of sins and hence we do good to our neighbor by serving Christ. The moral law then becomes a guide to Christian conduct, knowing we can never fully keep it, but always trying to live in accordance with it. So for the last 200 years men and women have been raised under that societal standard to one degree or another. When WWII broke out for America in 1941, it would be natural that our culture would see the need to defend our country. And even though many of the men who would give their lives in battle may not have been “Born Again” Christians our society’s biblical flavor would have indorsed the general concept that is captured in these verses:
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
1 John 3:16
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
So as you can see, men who were not “Christians” that suffered and fought at Iwo Jima in 1945 had virtue because they did what the moral law commanded even though many of them may not have been entirely conscience of that fact. Sadly, the generations since WWII have fallen even farther down the slippery road of apostasy and what was once fumes have been now relegated to mere memories! That is Post-Christian America.
Could there be a new generation of Whitefields, Winthrops, and Mathers?