Is America in a state of moral decline? Are we teetering on the edge of judgement from the angry hands of God? Maybe, but I am not as convinced as some are. What I do know is that nostalgia is a common condition among us politically conservative Christians. “If we could only get back to the way things used to be.” If we could only see how America is going downhill fast. If we could only see how far we are fallen in our morality. Divorce, gay marriage, socialism, abortion, and the like are often used to raise the big red flag and dictate our marching orders.
Fear. That is the word. Fear calls us to action. Fear, it could be argued, is as great a motivator as hope. And with the elections coming up, fear tactics seem to be used to take away hope. For years I have heard comparisons to the great civilizations of the past and how they fell. America, we are told, is not far behind. Once this type of fear begins to sterilize hope, the guns come out of the closet.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have often admitted that I am a one-issue voter. Regardless of the importance of the myriad issues facing our society, abortion is the one my mind and conscience simply cannot overlook. I pride myself in being able to see all sides of an issue, but this is one where I have never been able to see the “pro-choice” side and I don’t suppose I ever will.
However, that aside, I am not so sure that yesteryear looks much better than today. Getting back to the “glory days” of early America seems like a bit of wishful thinking where we are not fond of wearing our historians’ caps. Do we really want to get back there? Do we really think that we are in the death valley of American history? For me, it is hard to see how, excluding abortion, America was not worse then than it is now (or at least on equal footing). Here is a list of things that goes through my mind:
1. Over half a century ago, blacks were thought to be inferior to whites. In many cases they had to use separate restrooms, ride separate school buses, drink from separate water fountains, and a host of other unconscionable things.
Let that sink in for a bit.
2. I don’t think women were better off. Back in the “good ol’ days,” it was culturally acceptable for husbands to beat their wives. It took activists nearly 100 years to win women the right to vote in 1920.
3. Going back a bit further, we had people who fought and died to keep slavery a part of the American “dream.” Not only this, but they did it with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other.
4. How about the glory days of child labor?
5. What about eugenics? You know, the evolution-based sanction upon those who the courts decided were so mentally unstable that they should not be able to have kids that might inherit the same dysfunction. In all, 60,000 Americans were sterilized in the name of hope for mankind. We were one step away from being Nazis.
Maybe we should go back even further.
6. In the 19th century, prostitution was ingrained within the culture to such a degree that there were over 200 brothels in lower Manhattan alone. It is estimated that nearly seventy-five percent of men in New York had a sexually transmitted disease. And that is uphill from today when we talk about sexual ethics.
I could go on.
Am I missing something about the glory days?
I don’t mean to say that the moral climate of our world today is not terrible. The breakdown of the family, the killing of the unborn, homosexual marriage, and the intellectual persecution of Christians are terrible. In many ways we have become a lot worse. But in many ways we have become much, much better.
I don’t think America is going downhill morally. We have always been in the valley of depravity. Is our moral climate today THAT bad? Yes. But it is not THAT much worse than before, is it? God’s judgement was as deserved then as it is now. I just don’t like all the talk about how bad things have “become.” God’s grace sustains us now as it did then. Let’s keep improving and fighting for human rights, the family unity, sexual morality, and all these things. But let us also realize that we live in a broken world. No matter where you go in history, I don’t see it being too far “uphill.” And maybe we should tone down the fear propaganda in the church. It might get some donations here and there, sell some books, preach some good sermons, and get people fired up, but it also fails to take its cue from history.