How does that old joke go? “This is your captain speaking; I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re lost . . . I have no idea where we are. But the good news . . . we’re making exceptionally good time.”
Seems to me, that’s a pretty good description of America today.
If anybody today is paying even casual attention to the news, it must be obvious that our society is going through cataclysmic changes. While there have always been occasional scandals and public shocks, they’ve never been the rule. I remember reading about the “Teapot Dome” scandal, involving major politicians in cahoots with unscrupulous businessmen. But that enormous fiasco seemed to effect a wholesale cleanup that lasted perhaps a decade. That’s the way it seemed to work: a big shameful mess followed by a period of decorous, moral behavior.
For most of our history as a nation, the Judeo-Christian principles that fostered and permeated our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution — our very way of life — dictated that immoral, corrupt, dishonest behavior was simply unacceptable. It was no secret that we all, fallible and failing at times, actually believed that there are unchanging standards of acceptable behavior. And, that failure to live up to those widely accepted standards would bring consequences: loss of reputation, position, compensation, and possibly jail time, depending on the enormity of the breach.
I mention “Judeo-Christian” principles. In other words, the Bible. Even atheists, non believers and total reprobates had to acknowledge that America was guided by and founded upon principles from the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule and all the well known biblical pronouncements and examples.
Oh, some few agnostics and non-religious people questioned the guidelines, calling the accepted rules “puritanical,” as Hugh Hefner did in his long running, pompous “Playboy Philosophy” in his slick, sick, decadent magazine. And Larry Flynt presented himself as a proponent and “defender” of the First Amendment, even while he abused and degraded it.
But, for as long as any of us can remember, our currency has borne the slogan “In God We Trust,” our national motto. Most of us find it only natural that our Pledge of Allegiance affirms us to be “one nation under God.”
As much as 90 percent of the populace traditionally has professed some measure of faith in the existence of God and continued to expect us all to at least try to live in a way compatible with the teachings of the Bible, which is, after all, the indisputable source of moral thought.
In other words, the Bible has served as our moral compass, not forcing behavior but pointing the way to compatible, harmonious, civilized society. It was evident in our earliest days; the celebrated French observer de Toqueville, after touring our infant nation, declared, “America is great because America is good; if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
And it’s happening. More and more, every day.
A governor of New York resigns in disgrace, with his humiliated wife at his side, caught in a sordid prostitution ring bust. A governor of New Jersey resigns in even more shocking disgrace, hauling his stunned wife to stand with him, admitting to a continuing homosexual affair with an aide he has since “married.” Congressmen and senators are caught in various decadent activities, with pages and homosexual “busts” and payola scandals. One congressman in Oregon, revealed to be living in a bicoastal bigamous relationship with two unknowing wives, is re-elected by his constituents!
And of course, two presidents of the United States are faced with impeachment, one for illegal break-ins and lying to congressional committees, and the other for disgusting sexual activity in the Oval Office and again for lying under oath. Bill Clinton’s lame and inexcusable claim that oral copulation was not “sex” has directly spawned an epidemic of that activity among high school and even younger boys and girls, and this week we learn that 1 in 4 teenage girls now has a sexually transmitted disease! He is forever our “corrupter in chief.”
In the business world, where American industry and innovation and marketing vision made us the global leaders, giant businesses have collapsed and prominent executives have gone to prison for breaking laws right and left, intent on profiting not from their industry, but from bilking the public and taking obscene personal payoffs, while stockholders and the public pay the bills.
Even in the religious world, renowned leaders have stepped down in shame, having been caught in the most sordid and compromising situations and relationships, discrediting everything they’ve ever preached and stood for.
And movies, television, and music have increasingly become cesspools of decadence, glamorizing every kind of immorality and violence, uncaring about the poisonous fallout in the minds and souls of our young — the industry consciously investing millions to convince kids to fish in the toilet bowl called “entertainment.”
Liberal media, even CBS and the exalted New York Times, emulate scandal rags with innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations against political candidates, to “rig” elections. Is it any wonder that kids bring drugs and guns and condoms to school, and that teenagers roam in gangs, even randomly shooting innocent people as if they’re part of a violent video game?
Have the notions of “right” and “wrong” disappeared? Not completely, of course, but our society truly does increasingly seem to be like that plane “making exceptionally good time,” but speeding toward catastrophe. Instead of demanding consequences for conscienceless, destructive behavior, politicians and philosophers and even rank and file citizens cry for “understanding,” blaming others and “the times.”
In our formative, post-colonist days, founding father John Adams warned, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and a religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Wise old Ben Franklin added, “Only a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom. The more corrupt and vicious a society becomes, the more it has need of masters.”
And President George Washington, speaking for all early Americans, proclaimed, “Religion and morality are the twin pillars of freedom.”
Their eyes were on the compass, the only reliable guide. Without it, we are indeed . . . lost.
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