The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


During the Reformation, the concept of monasticism came under serious attack from several of the reformers.  Among those were John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  Calvin, in particular assailed the concept of monasticism and it is in large measure due to him that we have the term “cloistered virtue.”

Christians of that time viewed the world and our place in it as a struggle to enable that which was good in us to overcome that which was evil.  That the world offered many temptations then as it does now is undeniable.  But Calvin believed that only those who confronted evil and overcame it had the potential of being one of God’s elect.  Those who sat in monasteries, far away from the world’s allures could never overcome evil because they were secluded from it.

Allow me a simple example to explain his philosophy.

We will assume that consuming alcohol is a “sinful behavior”.  There are two people involved in our discussion.   One lives on a desert island where there is no alcohol.  As a result, he never consumes any.  But he is not virtuous because he never was in a position to consume it.  The second individual never takes a drink either.  But he lives in a home within a few minutes of six alehouses.  He is virtuous because demon rum was available to him yet he rejected its temptation.

Obviously, the world has changed in the last five hundred years.  There are few uninhabited desert islands left – and virtue is something we leave to dull people who really aren’t with it.  That brings me to the subject of this post which is the horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO.

If you read my earlier post, you realize that I do not want to talk about the young man who was the perpetrator of this tragedy.  I don’t even really want to talk about the tragedy itself.  I want to talk about why this happened – and how we can minimize the likelihood of such events from recurring in the future.

But I am going to break my own rule for a moment and discuss a specific aspect of this event because it provides a good segue into my main discussion.  That is that there was a three month old infant who was among the injured.

What kind of people are these parents to bring a newborn who needs rest and quiet to a movie theater with sonic-level audio effects when their child should be at home sleeping?  How self-absorbed are these two – and what further damage will they inflict on this child as they “rear” him?  What sort of future is in store for this infant, growing up in a home lacking positive and thoughtful parental direction?

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system and I apologize for what may be a rant.  But I know that my parents took far greater responsibility with me than the parents of this newborn.  I was very fortunate.  And I admit that I’m more than a little mad that there are so many people roaming planet earth who possess the genitalia but not the common sense to bring children to life and then fail to nurture them.

We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and extoll a culture of violence.  We are almost inured to it through the daily reports of how people, whether a rogue individual, a cadre of extremists, a gang or a government inflicts death on others.

When I say extoll, I mean that we stand in line to buy the newest and most violent video games.  We enjoy movies in which there is violence – the more gruesome the better.  We spectate at boxing matches which have produced numerous permanent brain injuries and wonder why some of those boxers go home and physically abuse their spouses and children.

Is there an explanation for our increased embrace of violence in our culture?  Some will suggest that we have abandoned our standards of decency – and I think there is much to argue for that viewpoint.  But I think there is something even more insidious – if you can imagine something that is yet worse.

There is an historical corollary between what is happening in America today and what befell the Roman Empire as it went into decline.  As the Empire started on its way to collapse, so did the moral standards that had been its underpinning.  Depravity and orgies replaced philosophy and reason.  And the games in the Coliseum became more and more gruesome.

“Panem et circenses.”  Bread and circuses.  It was described by Juvenal as a way those in authority used to distract the common people from the collapse that was imminently to befall them.  The uneducated can easily be lead down the path that leads to destruction.  And there is no one more willing to initiate a policy of distraction than a politician who is looking to hold on to his own job.

So is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

We can elect people to represent us who hold to high standards of ethics and actually serve as examples to the rest of us through their conduct. And we can rid ourselves of those who talk the game but prove through their actions that they are unworthy of our support.

We can refuse to buy any violent computer games and demand of those companies that create them that they stop producing them, explaining our reasons for boycotting their products.

We can stay home and read books that have guided mankind for centuries rather than sit and watch worthless drivel in our movie theaters and explain to Hollywood that unless they elevate the quality of their product we will not patronize them.

We can turn off our cable boxes and instead of exposing our children and ourselves to a constant stream of violence and infidelity, we can support each family member in a loving environment.

We can insulate ourselves and our children, at least in small measure, from some of the atrocities of this world that we have begun to think are the norm rather than the exception.  Or we can allow our exposure to continue to all that is most dehumanizing and destructive.

Do we want to raise the next person who will randomly kill tens of people?  Or do we want to sequester our kids from exposure to the sort of behavior which leads to these acts of violence?  Isn’t that what responsible parenting is all about?

I guess it’s a question of whether we believe in the validity of “cloistered virtue.”  I think you know where I stand on this issue.

Comments on: "ON CLOISTERED VIRTUE" (30)

  1. Outstanding, not least because you echo my thinking! 🙂

  2. Jim Zee said:

    Beautifully written and right on.

    My compliments to your thinking and eloquence.

  3. Thank you, Jim. It just seems so obvious – but I guess if it were I wouldn’t have written this post.

  4. There’s no question there has been violence and anti social behavior in the world long before the advent of television and the computer in it’s various forms. But since the advent of these and other communication media in modern times one has to concede we are being exposed minute by minute to things which do not promote the noble traits mankind was originally meant to have. Violence for example is so wide spread today in every country. Refugees flee torment in their own country but bring the same disfunctional trappings with them. I don’t blame them because that’s what was a norm for them in the countries they fled from. The wise saying tells us “you can take a man out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the man”. The same applies to us in western countries. If we feed violence and exploitation to our kids through the various media and this becomes their normal frame of reference for interaction in society the next generation will become prey to the ultra religious right who in fixing the problem will remove the freedoms we enjoy today.

  5. I couldn’t have agreed with your comment more until I got to the last sentence. A balanced and productive society is always threatened by those who have an extreme view. Whether that extreme has a religious context or a secular one is much the same. And in a world that is essentially secular I believe that poses at least as much potential for the destruction of liberty as its counterpart.

  6. […] friend Juwanndodoright wrote this, this morning. We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and […]

  7. I agree that much of what is produced today is garbage. But it is garbage that makes money, which is why it is made. As a general rule, boycotts don’t work. As Barbara Nicolosi in “Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture” tells us about writing boycott letters:

    “By admitting that you’re never going to watch again, you are essentially letting the writer or executive know that you don’t matter. Why should they change if you’re not going to watch anyway?

    If we avoid all movies, tv, etc. we cede our vote. If instead, we patronize the films and shows that support our values, and let those who made them know we approve, we cast our votes in the culture. Barbara’s book is a fascinating look at the film industry through a surprising Christian perspective. Rather than cloistering, she endorses doing missionary work, right in the midst of sinners.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and your insight. I do attend the movies despite the fact that most are garbage. I have seen three in the last four years which were carefully selected and I am pleased that my prejudgment about these films being works of art were realized.

    I am not familiar with Ms. Nicolosi’s book but will certainly pick up a copy as, from your brief excerpting, it seems to be an intelligent and insightful work.

    I would disagree that boycotts don’t work. Back in the hippy-dippy, touchy-feely decades of the sixties and seventies, boycotts of lettuce and grapes worked very effectively to draw attention to the working conditions of migrant workers and resulted in a significant improvement in their situations. Of course the reason for these successful boycotts was that they gained a great deal of popular involvement. That is the only way in which a boycott can succeed – and I realize that most people go to movies on a regular basis without regard to content simply because it is something to do so I realize this is an uphill battle.

    But the most important thing that I took away from your comment was your statement, “If instead, we patronize the films and shows that support our values, and let those who made them know we approve, we cast our votes in the culture.” I believe that positive reinforcement carries more weight than the negative. You might enjoy an earlier post,, which addresses this point.

    Thanks again for taking your time to comment. I appreciate your response.

  9. I spent much time in college studying film making and screenwriting , and at one point I had considered trying to make that a career.

    As I learned more of the art, it seems that one must be a member of an elitist group of insiders to even get an internship/apprenticeship in that club so that career idea hit the dustbin of reality.

    Today’s screen features and tv are most certainly, with few exceptions, complete and total dreck.

    Here is my labor of love, a G-rated and kid/family friendly screenplay for your approval.

    “3:10 to Phoenicia” — A small tourist railroad fights for survival against a bad economy, ecologists, and the State. Adventure/drama/music

    • Jim, thanks for commenting and sharing your play. I agree, Hollywood as in so many businesses functions on a basis of who you know, not the quality of what you produce.

      I read your play and enjoyed it very much. But when I went to click on the film to view it I got an Adobe message error. Would you be able to resend it to my email – or check out what might be the problem. Maybe it’s on my end.


  10. This post is pure gold – however sad that may be. The comparison you make to the Roman Empire is so accurate it’s chilling. Our coliseum is the theatre, cable, video games, etc. Rather than cheer on competitive actual homicide, we cheer on competitive vicarious homicide – each creative endeavor crawling all over each other to up the bloody ante for our ravenous appetite for violence.

    But you said something, in a comment on my blog regarding the sorry state of our news media, about how we get what we patronize. Well, we patronize violence. Apparently, (and God knows why? I mean, where did this appetite for blood come from??) violence is what we want. It’s what we’ll watch, what we’ll buy, what we’ll waste our conversations on. I wish so hard for your solutions to materialize, but sadly, I see our madness only degenerating further in a sick cycle of this-is-what-we-make-because-this-is-what-you’ll-buy.

    But, that said, I don’t believe in giving up & I don’t believe you do either. There are those of us in this mess who are willing to do what it takes to clean up this mess. So, I am forwarding your solutions to every single person on every list I have. Because I agree with these solutions, every one. And because it’s a start…

    • I love you, SB and I thank you. We need to keep the faith – because there is truly no alternative. And if we go down, we’re going to go down swinging and having tried our very best.

    • Hi, SB –

      This morning at the dog park I was thinking about your comment to which I had replied earlier. (I do a lot of my best thinking there). We face an uphill battle – for sure. But then I thought back to the Vientam War era.

      When the protests began against this war, those who were involved were primarily students. They were called “cowards, commie-sympathizers, kooks, un-Americans” and worse. They were a vocal but tiny minority. And this unwinnable war escalated. And our sons and brothers started dying in larger and larger numbers.

      We dehumanized these deaths by referring to them as “troops.” But one of those troops was the only son of a family in Iowa and another family from Texas had lost two of their boys. And when the folly of it all finally started to be felt in every state in the nation, we began to question why we were engaged in this conflict. And the marches and protests were made up not only of students but of the parents and siblings of those we had lost. And the marches and protests got bigger and finally swelled to the point that we stopped the killing and the war came to an end.

      It would take thirty years for then Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara to admit that “Vietnam was a terrible mistake.”

      Like so many, when the protests began, I too sat on the sidelines. I thought that killing was wrong but it didn’t affect me. Until one of my college classmates, one of my best friends, dropped out of school, was drafted and died in Vietnam. A week later I joined the ranks of the kooks and marched in my first anti-Vietnam War protest.

      When I think all is lost and there is no one out there who thinks about what is going on, I play this song which is performed by one of my favorite artists, Judy Small.

    • The fact that she is Australian changes nothing, even in your example, The Aussies, loyal people that they are stuck with our mistake in Vietnam, noting that it was made in Washington, not by the armed forces which unfairly took the blame.

      It is a great song, prefromed superbly.

  11. […] you to juwannadoright for bringing this song to my attention. The current state of our nation begs that every American […]

  12. Bread and circuses. (Sigh.) I like that you give suggestions of living better in order to stop the maddness. Sometimes I just don’t see things ever changing. It’s maddening. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. 🙂
    Hope you and Gracie are well!

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