If you go back to the Framers, there was nothing more brilliant and more daring that they did than reckoning that they could sustain freedom forever. No one had ever done it. They didn’t give the process a name, so my name for it is the golden triangle. (Alexis de Tocqueville called it ‘the habits of the heart.’) Again and again they said these three things: Freedom requires virtue, leg one. Virtue requires faith of some sort, leg two. Faith of any sort requires freedom—the third leg. Put those together: Freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom—ad infinitum, a recycling triangle, a brilliant daring suggestion as to how freedom can be sustained.
From an interview with Os Guinness about his book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP, 2012). Marvin Olasky, "Aliens and Strangers," WORLD (June 29, 2013): 38
It seems to me that there is a great deal of insight in the above statement. Nevertheless, Guinness’s statement raises a few questions / observations:
-Why enter the triangle at freedom? Why present preserving freedom as the primary goal? Rhetorically, this works well in appealing to Americans. But are not faith and virtue more important than freedom? It should exist for the sake of faith and virtue rather than faith and virtue existing for the sake of freedom. Virtue and faith are goods of themselves, not merely means to freedom.
-The weakest link in this triangle is the assumption that any faith will do. Guinness actually touches on this later in the interview when Olasky asks him to comment on Jefferson’s comment: "It does me no injury to say that there are twenty gods or no god; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Guinness responds: "I think Jefferson is dead wrong on that. He could say that because most people in his day were Christians; whereas today, some of the worldviews have no place for human dignity—and the notion that ideas don’t have consequences is utterly foolish."
-The wrong kind of faith leads to the wrong things being valued as virtues. And since a society that wishes to maintain virtue will have to limit someone’s freedom (e.g., anti-obscenity laws), the “wrong virtues” will result in the wrong freedoms being limited. In other words, freedom is not an absolute good. Moral judgment of some sort is inescapable when a society is deciding on what to permit and what to forbid.