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David Otten: The need for a virtuous and moral society

By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 9/21/2021 10:43 PM

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." - John Adams.

I became aware of Adams' statement when attending a lecture by Professor Robert George of Princeton University at a Lutheran conference at Concordia University in Chicago this past summer.

Dr. George, a prominent conservative, gave a lecture entitled, "Making the Case for the Constitution and Civic Virtue."

There are several reasons why it is to our advantage to have a moral and virtuous society, but Dr. George saw it as necessary to keep our government from overstepping her constitutional limits of power.

Our government is not a monarchy and those in office are elected have limits set on their power by our Constitution. Dr. George pointed out that many think it is our Bill of Rights with the U.S. Supreme Court enforcing these rights that limits the power of the government, but it is the Constitution instead. Many of our Founding Fathers feared that a bill of rights might weaken the checks and balances on the government, so the 9th and 10th amendments were added.

Dr. George also brought up the problem of keeping the branches of government in check. He quoted Benjamin Franklin, who responded to a woman's question on the kind of government our representatives gave us, with these words, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

Winning a revolution or defeating an enemy militarily can be the easy part, as we have seen with Vietnam and Afghanistan, but to keep a republic in which the government has limited powers and works for the common good of the people is the hard part.

Our Constitution -- if not governed by virtuous leaders with we the people holding our leaders to the Constitution -- will not be able to maintain the ideals of freedom that the framers envisioned.

We the people must be educated and virtuous to maintain what we have inherited. It was not hard for Dr. George to point out examples of the failings of men and women in the various branches of government.

And even though it is the Constitution that provides the constraints against tyranny it must be the "little platoons" that is the family, churches and civic societies that will enable our nation to stay the course.

But if these institutions fail, become corrupt, remain a silent majority, or fail to understand the way our nation governs herself then we will invite those in the government to act without regard to the Constitution.

Sloth, both an unvirtuous cardinal sin and an enemy to good governance, tempts people to "trade away their liberty for protection, for financial prosperity, or economic security or comfort, for being looked after, for being given stuff by the government for being taken care of, for having their problems solved quickly." (Dr. George).

Moral courage is needed by we the people, the little platoons, and our elected and appointed leaders if we are to continue as a democratic republic.

Continue to pray for our nation.

• David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.