Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Legend of Virtue

Virtue is part of what keeps people human. Understanding the depths of virtue may be a different story. In pondering virtue, one might ask, is it better to possess virtue or to believe in virtue? Tonight, I watched the film, The Next Three Days and the idea of believing in virtue was a driving force within the film. If you don’t want any film spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

In the film, a woman is accused of murder and sent to prison for life. Her husband never gives up believing in her innocence. His belief in her virtue is so pronounced that he plots to break her out of prison. Once plans are in motion, laws are broken and people die at the hands of the husband. Did the husband forfeit his own virtue because he believed, so strongly, in the virtue of his wife? The film The Next Three Days delivers entertainment, while prompting a philosophical question.

Using film as a framework for discussion, one asks, is it better to possess virtue or to believe in virtue? First, let’s define the idea of virtue: it is one who possesses outstanding character and moral conduct. This definition is a paraphrased interpretation of what one would find in a dictionary and it presents a vexing question; does any human being truly possess virtue as defined herein or in the dictionary? This author doubts such fortitude is either natural or possible for people to exhibit. The idea of outstanding character seems lost in Western culture amidst the Millennial generation – we are a fast-food-nation with an appetite for individualism. Furthermore, moral conduct has no common standard anymore because beliefs have been whittled down to what feels good or right.

Considering the constraints on valor, believing in virtue may be all that is left of the attribute. Nonetheless, confidence in the fortitude of others is, likely, more natural to the human condition than a personal possession of excelling character and morals. How often do people want to acknowledge that their friends or their family are capable of unimaginable horrors? The movie that prompted these questions makes it clear that most of us probably want to see the good in people. Without inspecting one’s own morality first, there is little credibility to believe in the ideal of valor. In order to provide substance or meaning for morals and character, one has to acknowledge their own selfishness and be slightly more concerned with the needs of others than they probably are (if they are honest with themselves). Fortunately, there is the grace of God – who knows the human propensity for selfish desire – and that grace is always sufficient. Virtue exists through God. Therefore, it is better to believe in virtue if it attributed to the divine and not to humans.

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