Quo Vadis? The Choice is Yours to Make
by Derrick G. Jeter
Whatever happened to virtue? Have you noticed, we don’t talk about virtue nor do we speak of others as virtuous these days? Maybe you’ve not heard the word in so long you’ve forgotten what it means, if you ever knew. Classically, virtue meant “manliness;” it came to mean “moral goodness.” Virtue, today, however, is one of those archaic and quaint words—useful for a time gone by, but too restrictive for modern sensibilities. The word in vogue these days is values; it is a comfortable word, a malleable word. Values can be whatever you want them to be. After all this is a much more progressive and enlightened view of current morality. Virtue is a hard word, a burr under the saddle; regressive and a bit dark. Maybe it was out of such silliness that Philosopher Peter Kreeft in his much needed book, Back to Virtues: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion, wrote: “‘Values’ are like thoughts, like ghosts, undulating blobs of psychic energy.”1
Kreeft is one of those rare philosophers—you can actually understand him; kind of like a pediatrician explaining a boo-boo to a four year old. He explains the boo-boo in our society by explaining the boo-boo in our souls. And what is our boo-boo? We’re not good. He doesn’t mean this in the waif-like sense of values, as if we were only unethical. He means we are morally corrupt. Kreeft penetrating points out: “Ethics without virtue is illusion. What is the highest purpose of ethics? It is to make people good, that is, virtuous.”2
Our moral corruption is exposed for all to see, because we celebrate “‘Mores’ [habits or moral customs of a particular group] [which] are like brute facts, like machines, ways people do in fact behave, not ways they ought to. We are like ghosts in machines.”3 We are living, but not alive. We are the walking dead, with no more concern about virtue, real moral excellence, than a dead man is concerned with whether you buried him in the blue suit or the black suit. This, obviously, does not bode well for our civilization. But more important than civilization, it doesn’t bode well for individual souls. For, you see, “Individuals are infinitely more important than civilizations because they are immortal. When all civilizations are dead, when even the stars blink out billions of years from now, every one of us will still exist, in eternal joy or eternal misery. And that is the only issue that matters infinitely: Quo vadis [where are you going]?”4
We stand on the edge of two eternities. Most give little thought to which they would like to spend their time. Such thoughtlessness has led us to the place where a sissified concept like values can best the manliness of virtue. But unless we are content to remain machines inhabited by ghosts, we had better take serious Kreeft’s question: “Quo vadis”—where are we going? The sensible answer, the progressive answer is to back away from the yawning abyss of Hell and run to the manliest Man who calls Heaven home. This is really what Kreeft is getting at in Back to Virtue—not getting back to virtue for virtue’s sake; we couldn’t even if we wanted to because we don’t know what moral goodness is. It isn’t in the doing, it’s in the being—actually it’s in the Being, the One who embodies moral goodness. He is the One to whom Kreeft is pointing. Who is this man’s Man, this virtuous One—the One who inhabits Heaven and can kiss our boo-boo and make it all better, transforming us from dead machines to living alive humans? Who is the One who can make us virtuous like Himself? It is none other than Jesus Christ, of course.
But of course this answer to our problem is too simplistic to the sophisticates of today. Too bad, for in our society’s fascination at gazing into the black depths of Hell and its deadly values our society misses the neon sign that reads: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
The choice is ours to make—Quo vadis?
1. Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 26.
2. Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 30.
3. Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 26.
4. Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 16.