Saturday, November 10, 2012
American Politics and Faith: What Difference Does Morality Make
I was having dinner recently when I noticed a report on Fox News regarding the top five airports for TSA theft. After I got over my initial shock, I turned to a gentleman and simply stated how amazing it is that the people who are supposed to be in a position of trust are actually stealing from us. More amazing than this revelation was the man’s startling and mind-bending response. Without flinching he said, “people are human.” After hearing his response and regaining my composure, I asked him what the last thing he stole from someone was. He was incredulous. “I don’t steal. I don’t take anything that I don’t earn,” was his response. I then asked him if he was a non-human alien? After all, humans steal. I suppose we shouldn’t be so hard on thieves or even murderers. After all, they are human. And as for Hitler, he was human. Take it easy on him. No one is morally perfect. The man's attitude is typical of many in both the secular community as well as the church. The idea of morality hasn't changed, but the idea of what is moral certainly has.
A few years ago when Bill Clinton won the election against George Bush, the beating drum was, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Mitt Romney and many conservatives thought the same motto would work this time around. Sadly, they were terribly mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, if things were bad enough, even Obama could not have pulled this one off. But at least we know now that economically speaking, things still aren’t bad enough to fire the liberal president. The Bush rebuttal was to attack Clinton’s character. Character matters! It didn’t work. Oddly enough, Obama used the same tactic against Mitt Romney with great success. The difference was the “kind” of morality that Obama employed versus the traditional kind that Bush employed. The worldview of American culture is undergoing a drastic, even radical fundamental shift and it is doing so rapidly.
The new norm as it has been called is essentially the new morality. There is a reason we cannot dispense with morality or norms altogether. You see, human beings are created in the image of God. While sin has terribly marred that image, it has not completely destroyed it. That image inclines humans toward norms, standards, ethics, morality, values if you will. However, as unbelievers in rebellion against God, we exchange God’s morality for our own. The entire point in Eden with our parents was that humans were very attracted to the idea of self-determination. That is, determining and knowing evil on their own steam. The word to describe this is ‘autonomy.’ We want to erase as much of God as we can from our conscience, but we cannot erase Him completely. The best we can do according to Romans one is replace what God gave us with our own idolatrous innovations. As well have seen throughout history, like their Creator, human beings are innovative creators. How have these innovations influenced morality? In some cases, the influence has been swift and dramatic. In other cases, it has been subtle. In America, the changes have been slow in coming until recently. The break from historic Christian values as the driving influence has increased at an alarming rate over the last decade or two.
I think a few examples will help to demonstrate the moral shift. Not so long ago, divorce was viewed as wrong, and its occurrence was rare in American culture. Today, over 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Divorce is common, normal, and even acceptable. In fact, today it is considered immoral to remain in a marriage unless you “feel” love for the other person. If you are not happy, you ought to divorce because it is considered wrong not to be happy. Self pleasure has displaced external standards and norms. No longer is subscribing to a norm that transcends self, a source of pleasure as it once was. There was a time not so very long ago that health professionals believed the gay lifestyle to be abnormal behavior. Not only was it unhealthy, it was not natural. Today, not only is it natural, it is elevated to the same status as heterosexuality. Despite that it is an extremely unhealthy lifestyle, it is held out as perfectly normal. Not only that, the only group that seems to care about disclosing the health consequences of this lifestyle are Christians who oppose it. Moreover, these individuals are classified as haters because they believe that gay behavior is wrong. Now it is considered immoral to think that the gay lifestyle is unnatural, abnormal. It is considered hateful to view gay behavior is a sin and certainly wrong to think that it is unnatural. In addition, some evangelical pastors actually believe that gay couples should feel comfortable in our churches and worship services. Apparently, these pastors believe you can feel comfortable even if your lifestyle is not acceptable. I am not sure how that works and I am still waiting to see if any of these young, clever, innovative men can tell us. If you believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, you are the immoral person.
It used to be that every person was expected to behave a certain way, get educated or learn a trade, work hard and earn your compensation and rewards. Irresponsible behavior brought serious and sometimes, lasting consequences. If you did drugs, broke the law, became pregnant out of wedlock, the consequences for you for the rest of your life could be devastating. Today, we seem to think that every homeless person is homeless as a result of something someone else did to them or at a minimum the product of circumstances beyond their control. That is to say, they are victims of uncontrollable circumstances. The truth is just the opposite. There are legitimate poor people who need our attention and help (and it could be me or you tomorrow) and then there are those who have a long track record of living recklessly and consuming life upon their own lusts, engaged in illicit drug use and a plethora of other vices. Should these people be categorized along with legitimate widows and orphans or families displaced by the economic collapse? Common sense tells us no. But modern liberal thought seems to refuse to even consider such distinctions, lumping everyone together. The point is that we want to displace consequences with entitlements. We are even offering irresponsible women the option to murder their babies at the tax payer’s expense. The old American work ethic and the idea upon which it rests has been replaced with the mentality of entitlements. Everyone deserves a home. Everyone deserves healthcare. Everyone deserves a second, third, and fourth chance. These are things you use to have to earn by working hard and living responsibly and honorably.
Morality is unavoidable. Your morals drive everything. They drive your thinking which is the primary source of your emotions. Hence, your morality sets the tone, not only for how you think, but for your overall attitude about life. When we say that character has nothing to do with being president, that is a reflection of a very particular morality. It isn’t the absence of morality entirely because such an absence is impossible. It is not amorality, it is simply a different morality. It is a new morality. Morality is the reflection of core values, of what one believes is right and wrong. The question is what informs our morality. Morality either transcends humans or it is the product of humans. There are no other options. We then must ask if man is the measure of all things, which man? Obama or Romney? Hitler or Gandhi? If it isn’t the man and it is rather the culture at large, then we must ask which culture? Any morality that fails to transcend humankind always lands in a sea of arbitrary relativism. Even in evolutionary theory where survival of the species serves as the moral foundation, that theory fails to answer why should an accident survive or even want to for that matter? Evolutionists have no answer that satisfies the human intellect on that matter. Is rape only wrong because some culture or some human said so? Deep in our being, we know this cannot be so. We know it isn’t that arbitrary. We know real evil and genuine good actually do exist. But as I said earlier, humans are in rebellion against God. God is the only good explanation for morality. Since we are rebellion against God due to our insistence on autonomy, we must reconstruct every produce of God into a product of man. And that includes our own construction of a moral system with which we feel comfortable. As American culture has shifted away from those Christian values it had early on, it has reconstructed a system of morality that helps it function, one that is consistent with its autonomous desires to live apart from the demands of God. The message from the Christian community must remain focused and clear. That message is simple: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. That is the only message this world needs to hear. Repent! It was the message of Christ, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul. The time for creating moralists who wear the name Jesus and as a result think this saves them has passed. The church, to a large degree, is responsible for millions of false disciples who fit this mold. We are not called to moralize the ungodly culture. We are called to preach to it, to baptize converts, to make disciples, and live our values, the values of Christ for all the world to see. Those who are being saved by the power of God will come to Christ. Those who are not will hate us, persecute us, say all manner of evil against us falsely, and even kill us. And that is as it should be because that is what Jesus predicted they would do.