Aphorisms of Os Guinness

by Marvin Olasky
Posted on Friday, June 21, 2013, at 11:22 am

Before interviewing an author, I normally read at least his most recent book and interviews of him that are available online. I then jot down some of his lines that can become launching points for questions. I generally have much more than I can use in an interview, so here are some unused utterances from Os Guinness that were in my notes for the interview of him in the current issue of WORLD.

On government spending: “Few, if any, superpowers in history have been in deeper debt than the United States today.”

On education: “We have a crisis of civic education. No one today is teaching what it means to be American. As Samuel Huntington says, it’s relatively easy to get naturalization papers—that is, to become an American. It’s increasingly difficult to know what it is to be American. “

On immigration: “The problem is not wolves at the door but termites in the floor. … You could actually take in a lot more people than you do now if, when they came, they were taught what it is they were coming to, what it is to be an American citizen.”

On religion: “Alexis de Tocqueville said religion is the first of the American institutions. At the same time, he said pastors were not involved in politics. They taught the Word, and their people were the salt and the light in society. The heavy politicization of the pulpit in the last 30 years is actually a sign of weakness of the church, not a sign of strength. In other words, we need a revival in the church first, including preaching.”

On freedom: “The greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. Freedom requires an order, or a framework, and the only appropriate framework for freedom is self-restraint, and yet self-restraint is precisely what freedom undermines when it flourishes.

On the two types of freedom: “Negative freedom is freedom from—freedom from oppression, whether it’s a colonial power or addiction to alcohol oppressing you. You need to be freed from negative freedom. Positive freedom is freedom for, freedom to be. And that’s what’s routinely ignored today.”

On the results of atheism: “The framers clearly granted freedom of conscience to atheists along with believers of all sorts. But they were far less sanguine, particularly John Adams, about the possibility of a republic of atheists, because atheism doesn’t have the inspiration for virtue. It doesn’t have the content to tell you what virtue is, and it doesn’t have the sanctions, such as hell, if people are not virtuous.”

On virtue and its development: “The word virtue for the framers was a one-word summary of all the ethical things you need: honesty, loyalty, patriotism, and especially character. Such is our human propensity for self love—or thinking and acting with the self as center—that the virtue it takes for citizens to remain free is quite unnatural.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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