Are We Becoming a Nation of Cowards?

Are We Becoming a Nation of Cowards? July 5, 2012

Over at NRO, I read about the sad and ugly denouement of the Penn State football scandal — the scandal where a former football player didn’t have the courage to seize an elderly child rapist he caught in the act, where a football legend didn’t have the courage to even ban an old friend from campus, and where administrators looked the other way rather than confront ugly truths.  It’s just one story, yes, but there are many other stories.

We have a cultural “elite” that doesn’t merely shun wartime military service (“shunning” would at least indicate they gave it a moment’s thought), the possibility never even crosses their mind.  And so, in a nation of more than 300 million, far fewer than 1% have risked life and limb in our fight against a great evil.

As the Catholic Church stands united against the HHS mandate, filing lawsuit after lawsuit, vanishingly few Protestant institutions — in a land where Protestants far outnumber Catholics — have done anything more than issue strongly-worded statements.  “We’re all Catholics now?”  Hardly.  If we were all Catholics now, the Obama administration would confront a true tidal wave of litigation and opposition.

On an individual basis I speak again and again with Christians who refuse to take action to protect religious liberty and to preserve the integrity of the Gospel — not out of principle but out of fear, fear of lost worldly reputation, fear of lost ministry jobs, and fear of rejection.  We’ve lost more religious liberty battles through surrender than we ever have in court.

When it comes to our personal lives, the numbers simply do not lie.  We are incapable of denying ourselves virtually any pleasure — from the food that makes us fat to the sexual indulgences that lead to abortion and illegitimacy, to the easy and cheap divorce that cauterizes the wounds of a failing relationship — we want what we want when we want it (and may the government facilitate our desires and mitigate the consequences).

Too many of us substitute real virtue for virtuous thoughts, thinking that holding uncompromising political beliefs makes them better than their friends and neighbors even though they actually behave no differently than the people they despise.

Of course there is still courage that comes from America — I’ve seen it with my own eyes in the deserts of Iraq — and we may ultimately have enough courage to muddle through this dark and dismal period of our cultural history, when we have institutionalized the slaughter of children to facilitate our sexual appetites, but I increasingly fear that we’re losing virtues that we won’t regain until, like the children of Israel, we are confronted with the consequences of our own sin.

I’m writing in large part not just to decry the trends I see all around me but also to chastise myself.  How many times have I taken the easy road rather than the right road?  How many times have I given in to self-indulgence and modeled not courage but expedience and perhaps even cowardice?  Yesterday I wrote about the greatness of our nation, but that greatness is fragile — as fragile as my own character, and that is very fragile indeed.

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