The Character Crunch

Greatness is tied to goodness.

by Mary Ann Diorio, Ph.D.

If moral turbulence could be measured on the Richter scale, then the “soulquake” currently taking place in our country would warrant a solid ten. Although many factors have contributed to this moral shaking, at the core of it lies a radical failure in character.


What is character? Webster defines it as “moral excellence and firmness.” But what is meant by moral? In this day of slippery semantics, the word boasts nearly as many definitions as there are people. Having done away with the notion of absolute truth, we have, for the last thirty years, lived by the philosophy that moral is what each person determines it to be. Hence, the era of moral relativism and situational ethics.

Since character is rooted in morality, then according to the dictates of moral relativism, character too is what each person determines it to be. Given the essential depravity of fallen human nature void of absolute truth, such a relativistic philosophy eventually produces a society in which right is wrong and wrong is right.

Moral plumb line

When a builder constructs a wall, he uses a plumb line to ascertain whether or not the wall is straight. That plumb line is the builder’s standard of truth. Without it, he would find it virtually impossible to build a straight wall, and the resulting structure would be dangerously weakened and eventually crumble and fall.

The same principle applies in building a society. Without a moral plumb line — a standard of absolute truth — a society will eventually crumble and fall.

Until the middle of this century, the moral plumb line of America — her standard of absolute truth — was the Holy Bible and the principles of conduct contained therein. As a nation, we believed what the psalmist wrote regarding the Bible: “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160).

All conduct was judged against this truth. Conduct consistent with it was considered moral. Conduct inconsistent with it was considered immoral. With the Bible as the plumb line of society, character was understood as that essential attribute whereby a person responded to situations according to the Bible’s absolute standard of conduct.

Crumbling walls

Today, however, we no longer subscribe to an absolute standard of truth or conduct. America has discarded her biblical plumb line, and now her walls are crumbling. We have become “a nation that does not obey the voice of the LORD their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth” (Jeremiah 7:28).

Without truth, there can be no character. Truth is the seed from which the tree of character grows, and moral conduct is the fruit of that tree. Jesus Christ observed, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18), for as is the root, so is the fruit. Just as a tree is known by its fruit, so is a man’s character known by his conduct.

Believing a lie

When we try to separate conduct from character, we advance the lie of relativism that makes right wrong and wrong right. Only destruction can result: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

Conduct can no more be separated from character than the tide can be separated from the sea. The great Athenian orator Aeschines (389-314 B.C.) observed: “He who acts wickedly in private life can never be expected to show himself noble in public conduct. He that is base at home will not acquit himself with honor abroad; for it is not the man, but only the place, that is changed.”

In the nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville wisely discerned that America was great because she was good, and that when America ceased to be good, she would cease to be great. The indifference toward character that we are witnessing today is a danger signal that America is ceasing to be good. If we continue on this path, we will surely cease to be great as well.

Copyright 1998 by Mary Ann Diorio, Ph. D. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.