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Cultivating Courage

The day before Chuck Colson fell ill at the Break the Spiral of Silence conference, he filmed a series of “Two-Minute Warning” videos on a topic he felt was crucial for the survival of our culture and our nation: The cultivation of virtue.

So starting today and continuing through the next three Wednesdays, you can watch the final four “Two-Minute Warnings” Chuck recorded — all at ColsonCenter.org.

Just as there are laws we must follow for physical health, so too there are laws we must follow for the health of the soul. That's what virtues are: laws for a healthy soul. And healthy souls are a prerequisite for a healthy civilization. As John Adams once wrote, “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

Greek and Roman thinkers placed a high value on cultivating virtue. And four virtues in particular — prudence, justice, courage, and temperance — they ranked as the cardinal virtues, meaning that they are foundational to all the others. For example, courage is a cardinal virtue because doing the right thing — practicing any of the virtues — under pressure takes moral courage.

So what is courage? It’s not the absence of fear. Courage is overcoming a natural fear. Courage means saying yes to right action even at risk of pain or loss, just as Chuck did during Watergate.

At that time he was offered a plea bargain: He could plead guilty to something he didn’t do and be charged with a misdemeanor, or he could face years in prison. But Chuck could not swear to a falsehood. Instead, he pled guilty to a different charge, and he and his family paid the price. The story is all in Born Again. If you’ve never read it, we have it for you at the Colson Center bookstore online.

Another important aspect of courage is that it is not a momentary, one-time thing. Courage sticks with a challenge, however difficult, until it is finished.

The fact is, friends, we’re facing a challenge in America today that’s going to require a good dose of courageous stick-to-itiveness. That challenge is defending religious liberty. Chuck made it very clear in his final months and days — and I agree with him — religious liberty is under assault in America today like never before.

We have been alerted to the danger, and we must act, regardless of the risks. The Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has just completed a statement on this topic called “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.”

As Catholic scholar George Weigel points out, the document not only tackles the so-called HHS contraception mandate, it highlights “state laws that impede the Church’s service to immigrants, attempts by state legislatures to turn religious communities into bureaus of state government, discrimination against Christian students on university campuses, and restrictions on the Church’s capacity to draw on public funds in its service to orphans and victims of human trafficking.”

The bishops rightly say, “Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.”

Folks, they are right. And even though we will face a lot of opposition, this is a battle worth having. But we will need courage.

Editors Note: This week’s “Two-Minute Warning” is hosted by John Stonestreet and Timothy George. Next week, Chuck Colson’s pre-recorded broadcast on the cardinal virtues starts. In total, we have an eight-part series, four of which Chuck recorded.

Publication date: May 9, 2012

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