Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Danger of One Solitary Virtue


It is often the case that individuals often have a special affinity for one particular virtue. Some are given a greater capacity for the virtue of temperance, others for fortitude, still others for charity. Individuals with those predispositions are called to especially embody that particular virtue.
But obsession with any one virtue is problematic. Obedience to the exclusion of other virtues is slavery to the will of others; an over-emphasis on justice leads to an “eye for an eye” mentality. To be truly virtuous, a man must possess and practice all the virtues in unison.
This is problematic for me, because my obsessive virtue is honesty. I (emotionally, at least) love honesty above every other virtue, and I loathe people who tell untruths. I hate even the smallest shading of the truth to frame a position in the best possible light, even if the general thrust of a statement is true. Next to God and family, truth is my one love – and I worry that that my love of truth surpasses my love for God and humanity.
Those who are "honest" about following their principles, no matter how evil, win my grudging admiration. For example, I respect Floyd Conklin (the FRC shooter), who acted against "hatred" by trying to shoot up a “hate group.” He, at least, was clear about the nature of the "hate" he believed he was fighting. 
I respect the honesty of Huffington Post contributor Noah Michelson when he writes: "But in my fantasies, we're not gunning for gay acceptance - especially not if the only way we're granted it is by "behaving ourselves" and struggling to fit into a heteronormative mold (which, as far as I can tell, hasn't really benefited heterosexual people very well, either). Instead, I want us to be pushing for queer liberation, which to me, has always meant that when it comes to sex and love, we all get to do whatever we want with whomever we want with whomever we want as we're not hurting anyone (unless of course, that person/those people are asking for us to hurt them)." He, at least, recognizes that the redefinition of marriage means much more that the mere recognition of "same-sex marriage."
Conkin and Michelson started from horrific first principles, but were at least honest about where their first principles led, and were willing to take those consequences of their first principles to their logical end.
Others of their ilk set arbitrary limits on their principles based on discomfort as to their logical conclusion (or political expediency), For example, individuals who support gay marriage often refuse to support the marriage of sterilized incestuous couples, even though there is no logical argument to 
For this same reason, I loathe the hypocrisy of Dan Savage, who screams against hatred and bullying yet stokes it at every turn with his rhetoric. I loathe the behavior of those who claim to be Christian, yet who divorce, remarry, and live a life unworthy of Christianity. I loathe the dishonesty of my own life, when I preach mercy or dignity yet fail to practice those virtues. (And it happens often.)  
But honesty lacking in charity is cold, harsh, bitter, and angry. Calumny is sinful, but detraction (the ruining of another’s good name by revealing something evil about the person, even if true) is also sinful.
One virtue, taken alone and  removed from other virtues, becomes a snare. As Catholics, we must embody ALL the virtues, not just one.

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