It seems a new virtue has arisen among believers in Christianity. Classic tradition posed four Cardinal Virtues.
The word cardinal has nothing to do with the spectacular red bird. Rather, the word is rooted in the Latin cardo. It means hinge. The concept is: the hinge on a door. A door can not function without hinges. Thus, the hinge is important; thus, cardinal came to mean important.
These important virtues – Cardinal Virtues – were originally posed by ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. The virtues are: prudence (good judgment); temperance (self-control); fortitude (strength in the face of adversity) and justice.
This list of cardinal virtues from pagan philosophers got pinched by Church Fathers like Augustine in the 4th Century to be cardinal Christian virtues.
And now – in our own age – a new virtue seems to be entering the list. Sneakiness!
In my hometown of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania – an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh – borough employees would bring life-sized statues of Mary and Joseph and Shepherds and Wise Men and a manger with Child onto the front lawn of the Municipal Building. The statues would be arranged into the classic Nativity.
The Municipal Building – and thus, the Nativity scene on its front lawn – stood in the center of the business & commercial district – a main street called Lawrence Avenue. The Nativity became a beloved feature, a familiar, nostalgic sight for long-time residents and the many who had left town but would return home for Christmas.
Nobody objected to a religious display being placed on the lawn of the town hall, let alone government employees setting it up. Ellwood City was primarily a Christian community. It was heavily Catholic, but also Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and a few other denominations. There was a Jewish population; indeed, some of the stores on Lawrence Avenue across the street from the Nativity were owned by Jewish families. Whether they and others did not object to the Nativity out of prudence or temperance or some other self-restraint, nobody seemed to object. It was a small town. Things could get personal quickly. And so the Nativity was set up routinely, automatically.
A few years ago, however, the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected. The distaste in the community towards the objection had something to do with their being outsiders; and outsiders worst of all from the left-leaning city of Madison, Wisconsin. A law suit was threatened if the municipality did not remove the Nativity scene.
The municipality could not afford the courtroom costs. And so the borough council – in a split vote – decided to remove the Nativity. The borough council members who voted to remove the Nativity were blasted as cowards buckling under to non-believers.
Interestingly, the council’s reasons for taking down the Nativity all had to do with not being able to afford a court case. Never mind that the Nativity had no reason for being placed on the lawn of the town hall in the first place! A religious display favoring one belief over others on public property and set up by government employees never seemed to strike anybody in the community as improper. Nobody seemed to perceive a violation of the American tradition of separation of church & state. Rather, supporters of the Nativity, including the demagogic Mayor, blustered about “freedom of religion.”
Rallies were held in front of the Municipal Building. Somebody came up with the idea of placing the Nativity figures on the back of a flat-bed truck, and then parking the truck right in front of the town hall. This was nothing other than “in your face” in the season of peace.
Now – the latest tactic occurred this week. Somebody – in the dark of night – sneaked onto the front lawn of the town hall and set up a small Nativity scene. It was discovered the next morning. People in the community hailed the move as a blow for religious freedom.
Once the Nativity was discovered, the borough manager personally picked up the pieces and brought them into the Municipal Building. They lay there as a kind of “lost and found,” waiting for the owner to claim them.
Which will be interesting to see. WILL the owner claim them?
Sneakiness would be attached to that person. But people in the community are making it into a virtue. So long as anybody does something “for their side,” they will support it. Being sneaky about it doesn’t seem to matter.