- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

It's one thing to teach about character; it's another to develop a curriculum for it.

Os Guinness, a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum in Burke, Va., has just published two books on moral choices: "When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image," and "Steering Through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion." The former book especially dwells on the cultural erosion of character.

"Ours is a world of the spin doctor, plastic surgeon and public relations expert," he says. "The challenge is to lead an examined life in an unexamined age."

Both books have readings from the Bible, Plato, Oscar Wilde and other Western thinkers to inspire readers to evaluate their perceptions of character and morality. It also quotes actress Shirley MacLaine, Martin Luther King Jr., AIDS activist John Weir and the late British author C.S. Lewis.

The format encourages Socratic-style discussion to help participants form opinions and discern the times in which they live. "No spoon-feeding here," Mr. Guinness says. "We're asking mature citizens to wrestle with these issues and make up their own minds about issues fundamental to free societies." Each book comes with a reader's guide.

The books, published by NavPress, are part of a Trinity Forum Study Series for adult discussion groups. The six books in the series, the last four of which will be published next year, tackle character, ethics, faith and freedom, money, ultimate meaning and life purpose.

In "Steering Through Chaos," Mr. Guinness takes a stand against anti-intellectualism, especially among Christians, writing, "As Bertrand Russell put it, 'Most Christians would rather die than think in fact, they do.'

"But failure to think is not confined to any one community or group," the author continues. "Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying, 'In Washington, D.C., there is so little time to think that most people live forever off the intellectual capital from the day they arrive.' "

Mr. Guinness began writing the curriculum for "When No One Sees" in 1992, the year that President Clinton was elected and character became a national issue. While the book highlights historical figures with noble character, Mr. Guinness said he would cite many of today's leaders as examples of bad character.

"We need leaders that will articulate what character is and why it matters in a way that goes beyond partisan and cultural warring," he says. The 20th century especially exemplifies image outshining character, he adds.

The author defines character as who you are when no one is watching.

"As traditionally understood, from the Hebrews and Greeks onward, character is the inner form that makes anyone or anything what it is whether a person or a historical period," he wrote.

"When No One Sees" presents many dilemmas of character, ranging from the Parisian executioner Charles-Henri Sanson, who personally chopped off many heads during the French Revolution, saying he was only an underpaid public servant doing his job, to Sigmund Freud, the world-famous Austrian psychologist whose theories on victimization led to an American tendency of disavowing personal responsibility for one's actions.

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