First published September, 2001
The terror inflicted on America last week should shake clear thinking Americans into deeper sobriety. It should ring in our ears as a wake up call.
Strong democracies are strong by more than military might. Strong democracies are strong through the virtue of its citizens. Years ago Samuel Adams wrote, "A free government cannot be supported without virtue." Adams, like many other great thinkers of his age, recognized that liberty itself depends on moral character.
Virtue - morally right thinking and behavior, goodness, rectitude, uprightness - is vital for a nation that values its liberty. Liberty is built on the bedrock of morality.
Liberty requires justice and just laws require a clear sense of right and wrong. Liberty requires fair and equitable treatment towards all people, a knowledge drawn from the certainty that all persons have inalienable rights endowed by their Creator. Liberty requires moral courage, a courage found only among those who see an obligation higher than their own desire.
The source of morality is religious faith. Religious faith is the well from which the knowledge of right and wrong are drawn. The prophet is lawgiver. Moses descended from the mountain of God to give the people the Law. The Ten Commandments are still with us. They shape the moral bedrock of Western Civilization.
The founders of our nation knew this. Patrick Henry wrote, "...virtue, morality, and religion...is the armor that renders us invincible...If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed...but so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger." John Adams wrote, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
A return to these first principles will preserve our liberty, and in preserving our liberty we preserve our nation. If we marshal the moral courage to face this new enemy we can defeat it.
But the threat is not only from the outside. Americans have grown slack. The dependence of liberty on moral virtue is not as clear as it once was. We are too slow to challenge forces that undermine the moral foundation of our culture. We don't listen to the Lawgiver with both ears.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us almost thirty years ago that the drift from God would cost this great nation dearly. He was right. We have forgotten God, and in forgetting God we entered a period of moral confusion that has brought untold suffering to many. The collapse of families, crack babies, AIDS, epidemic STD rates, drug abuse, Columbine, mothers killing their children, so many of the problems that have touched almost every American in one way or another arises from the diminished moral sense that results when we forget God.
But people can return to God, and in returning to God they can be restored. What the modern world needs most are moralists, said Solzhenitsyn. This return requires men and women with moral courage to stand against those who bring moral confusion into the culture. People who speak the truth can clear the confusion that causes the breakdown and suffering we see around us.
"Bad men cannot make good citizens. When a people forget God is when the tyrants forge their chains. A debased state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom," warned Patrick Henry. We should take greater heed. Let the terror last week serve as a warning.
Fr. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and edits the website www.orthodoxytoday.org.