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Friday 8 August 2014

Virtues Education

At the Toronto conference "Faith in the Public Square" this week at the Munk Centre (sponsored by St. Augustine's Seminary and the Archdiocese of Toronto) the importance of both the language of virtues and education in the cardinal and theological virtues emerged as a focus for understanding much of what has happened in public discourse. 

Whether in the political, social, academic or economic arenas, the paucity of virtue in discourse, practice and education illustrates the growth of intolerance and the growth of prescriptive or convergence pluralism. 

Dr. Iain T. Benson highlighted this focus on virtue in his concluding address, summarizing the contributions of Catholic thinkers from around the country to the question of how we may move forward with the presentation of faith and genuine dialogue in a true pluralism which allows for many voices in what has become an increasingly "naked public square" in Canada. 

Using the seminal description of the late John Neuhaus of FIRST THINGS, the conference began by highlighting his prodigious contributions at various levels of social discourse and engagement in civil society.

In the secularized public square the language of "values", "choice","tolerance" and "diversity" has dominated communication to the detriment of civil society. This language articulates the intolerance of the dictatorship of relativism towards people of faith as it seeks the silencing of the authentic Catholic voice and of other voices of faith in the public square. 
[Dr. Benson has noted that he does: "endorse toleration as a key aspect along with accommodation to living together with DISagreement."]

The mainstream media, however, are often intolerant of any who do not subscribe to the liberal or "progressive" agenda which is, in fact, set by an elite who are very much out of touch with civil society.  Those in government and increasingly in the legal and economic spheres summarily disallow the language of, and the nurture of,  the cardinal virtues (wisdom, justice, prudence and courage) much less the theological virtues (faith, hope and love).

The nebulous language of "values" which is plasticine in the hands of politically correct elites allows them to forward their agendas of sexual license, abortion on demand, euthanasia and open relationships of all kinds.  Most prominent currently is the demand that all conform to the secular "same-sex and gender identity" agenda with respect to marriage and family. The dismantling of the traditional family is at the forefront of this agenda being advocated by use of the "values" Newspeak that pushes aside the language of virtue, the nurture of virtues and education in the virtues.

Calling for a new "tri-alogue" between the Law, Government and Civil Society, Dr. Benson indicated a way forward to true pluralism which allows, once again, a voice to those with religious convictions. Civil discourse allows for and requires civil virtues to provide an interchange between conflicting views as we work out common ground, respecting the legitimate positions of other world-views.

Eschewing the "values" monologue which seeks to foreclose debate and discussion, Catholics and others must re-frame discussion while discovering and developing the tools of civil discourse common to all.  A re-orientation of the debate to shared principles of natural law which are accessible to all regardless of faith or commitments is necessary. Dr. Benson insists that all have faith of one kind or another, including atheists who place their faith in various mental constructs. The challenge is to allow for civil discourse without the totalitarian control of the debate by a politically correct establishment.

As David B. Hart has so ably pointed out, the Christian revolution needs to be reasserted in the current age: 

Innumerable forces are vying for the future, and Christianity may prove considerably weaker than its rivals. This should certainly be no cause of despair for Christians, however, since they must believe their faith to be not only a cultural logic but a cosmic truth, which can never finally be defeated. 

( p. 241, ATHEIST DELUSIONS: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, Yale U. Press)

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