There's a book that explains the virtuesSusan Reimer's...

the Forum

April 28, 1994

There's a book that explains the virtues

Susan Reimer's April 21 column, "Teaching children virtues is more than a quick study," honestly expresses the difficulty many encounter in attempting to pass on moral guidance to the next generation.

Though she helpfully raises the issue, she also clouds it by equating values and virtues, using these terms interchangeably.

The difference between values and virtues is worth examining. Under "value," in my dictionary, I find: "A principle, standard or quality considered worthwhile or desirable."

The key word is "considered," for it points up the subjective character of values. My values are quite simply what I consider valuable.

The subjective nature of values is seen in all the chatter about "family values." I've heard "family values" invoked by some to condemn abortion, for instance, and by others to justify abortion in certain circumstances.

Who is right? The issue cannot be settled by an appeal to "family values," for this term has no generally accepted meaning but only that subjectively injected into it by individuals.

Virtues are another matter. My dictionary defines "virtue" as "moral excellence, righteousness, and responsibility; goodness."

There is a given-ness to virtues. They are not subjectively created but rather in their objectivity are received, acknowledged and (perhaps) appropriated.

Our society is not as friendly to the virtues as it once was. Their objective status rests in the fact that they derive from a higher authority outside of ourselves.

When the moral consensus of our nation was shaped by a Christian worldview, the objectivity of the virtues was seen in their derivation from divine revelation -- the Bible.

But now ours is a post-Christian culture. For several decades, we've been living out Dostoevsky's dictum that if there is no God anything is permitted. But in unbridled permissiveness we've sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

I think this explains the popularity of William Bennett's "Book of Virtues." Having seen the results of casting aside the old virtues, Ms. Reimer's generation desperately wishes to reacquire them and to pass them on.

And so they reach for a book. But perhaps they reach for the wrong one. After all, virtues will be reduced to mere values if presented in a religious vacuum.

If a mother rejects the Christian foundation of the virtues, then what answer can she give when her children ask why they should believe in the virtues?

Surely the opinion of a former secretary of education cannot be an ultimate moral guide. And how does one deal with the fact that we are all guilty of moral failure?

I can think of another best-seller that may offer some guidance.

Steven C. Wright


Murder for free

In an April 22 Evening Sun article, we learned that "supercop" Frank Mazzone was hired temporarily to "command" the execution of John Thanos -- to act as Thanos' chief executioner for $500.

I don't see why the state would have to pay someone to perform this disgusting task when the plethora of death-penalty proponents published regularly in "the Forum" would, I'm sure, murder Thanos for free.

There must be at least one from among this bloodthirsty, vindictive crowd who would volunteer not only to "supervise" the execution, but who would personally inject the fatal potion.

Louis P. Boeri


McNatt on music

Every few months the Saturday editorial page confronts this faithful reader with a musing on music by Glenn McNatt, who knows irritatingly little about a subject that incites him to pontificate.

Recently, Mr. McNatt reappeared to appraise Puccini ("Puccini and the Pangs of Love," April 16).

Puccini was born in 1858 -- a year after Elgar, two before Mahler, four before Debussy, six before Richard Strauss -- and died in 1924, or seven decades ago.

This bygone worthy is nonetheless labeled by Mr. McNatt a "modern master . . . though most critics usually place him at the end of the Romantic tradition of the 19th century." Where, it must be said, Puccini certainly belongs.

Yet with this solecism, this sublime gobbet of illogic, Mr. McNatt leaves off and flits elsewhere. It reminds one of the latter day multiculturalists, who refute facts that confound their theses.

There is also a naggingly disagreeable memory of a column Mr. McNatt did a while back on Rachmaninov and his music -- as if Stephen Wigler's preoccupation with Rachmaninov, bordering on obsessive-compulsive, weren't already overkill in The Evening Sun.

Mr. McNatt's high school musicology cited Milton Cross and David Ewen as scholarly exemplars -- two of the most egregious gunsels in what Virgil Thomson pilloried as "the music appreciation racket."

Because they misstated several facts, Mr. McNatt in turn got things wrong.

Roger Dettmer


Good police work

I just want to applaud the Baltimore County Police Department for efficiency.

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