Monday, April 7, 2014
The Moral Implosion of American Culture
Two very interesting things took place this week that caught my attention. The first was a spot that Shawn Hannity aired about spring break and the behavior that college students engage in when they head to the annual ritual. One student was asked to describe their drinking routine. He said they begin drinking as soon as they get up and they only stop drinking when they pass out. This behavior goes on all week. For years we have all known what goes on during the spring break ritual. We know there is abusive drinking, abuse of drugs, violence, and numerous instances of lewd sexual behavior.
In one instance, the reported talked to one young man who watched two girls have sex with five guys on the beech in public for all to see. In another instance, the reported talked about a young woman that stood on a platform with her bottoms off and allowed anyone who wanted to come by and grope her without embarrassment. I don't know if spring break is worse than it used to be because I never participated in the event. I suspect it is worse but I also suspect that it has always involved drunken lewd behavior, if not so much in the open, then behind closed doors. In other words, I suspect there has always been a lot of fornication between young men and women that do not know each other and will likely never see each other again. Parents with the kind of money it requires to send a kid off to spring break know what happens there. Shawn Hannity and the reporter both seemed shock by the behavior and maybe they were. We all should be shocked by such immorality. But can we provide the sort of rational justification for that shock that we once could?
Another story that came out this week is the sad story of the Mozilla CEO. In 2008, Brendan Eich donated $1000 to California's proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. Little did he know that in 2014, that his personal beliefs about gay marriage would cost him his career in a country that boasts about religious freedom. America has seemingly decided that it is immoral to oppose gay sex or the gay lifestyle or gay marriage. It is no longer acceptable to have a different moral opinion about the nature of gay sex than mainstream culture. More than a few have argued that this is not an infringement on religious freedom because corporations have a right to hire and fire whomever they please. If this is true, then religious discrimination is now legal. The whole point about religious freedom is that you should be able to hold to your deeply held religious beliefs without fear of losing your job or without fear of being eliminated from contention for a job purely on the basis of your religion.
When one examines these two stories, they should evaluate the underlying presuppositions for both. Long ago now, America has said to true biblical Christianity that our morality is out of date, that the Bible cannot be trusted, and that the kind of God we preach does not exist. Liberal Christians have been preaching tolerance and love for so long now that morality, sanctification, and holiness have simply faded into the background and died the same death as modernism. I would say that it is the individual that decides what is right and wrong in our culture. But that is not quite right either as the Mozilla story indicates. We have a real problem on our hands. Spring break kids are deciding that open orgies are perfectly fine. Why not? On the other hand, corporations are firing good men because they simply have a different view of homosexuality. Where are we as a culture when it comes to morality?
Since we have removed Christian theism as the objective reference point for moral behavior, what are the remaining options? If we went with private subjectivism, the college kids should be allowed to do as they please and everyone else should view their behavior as different rather than offensive or immoral. One person likes chocolate and another vanilla. One woman takes a high view of sex while another sees it as nothing more than an opportunity for physical pleasure. Neither is moral or immoral. They are mere preferences. However, it is clear that private subjectivism does not work in our culture. If it worked, Brendan Eich would still have his job. What we see with Eich is cultural relativism. This is a subjectivist form of ethics similar to private subjectivism but it extends to the majority of the culture. If the cultural majority deems something as good or bad, then it means simply that the culture likes that behavior or does not like it. But Americans think that cultures cannot be allowed to determine their own morality because Hitler taught us this lesson all too well.
If private subjectivism is a valid way to view ethical behavior, then how could one condemn date rape under such a scheme? Why shouldn't the boys at spring break take advantage of every girl they can seduce or trick? One might say that we should never hurt or take advantage of someone else. But that is not consistent with private subjectivism. That abandons private subjectivism and seeks to impose an objectivist position into the scheme. Such a move is rationally inconsistent. Moreover, why should one human care about taking advantage of another human? After all, we are not only just sophisticated apes, we are worse than that. We are, according to modern science, nothing more than extremely fascinating accidents of nature.
If cultural relativism is a valid way to view ethical behavior, then how does the culture progress? If the culture is always right, then how did we move beyond slavery? At one time, slavery was morally acceptable in this culture. How did that change if cultural relativism is valid? To go against the culture would be immoral. But great men like Martin Luther King Jr. did just that. And we laud him as a hero and rightfully so. Moreover, cultural relativism would dictate that we stay out of the affairs of other cultures.
Both private subjectivism and cultural relativism fail as systems for ethical behavior when subjected to critical examination. Perhaps we should be more critical. Human beings are created in the image of God. We exist to bring God glory. We exist to honor Him in all that we do. We exist to be a reflection of His image in all of creation to one another and back to God. For this reason, human life has value, dignity, and worth. For this reason, others are to be respected, honored, and appreciated. Because this is true honor and shame are possible. Any appeal to right and wrong, to good and evil, are bankrupt apart from the basic presupposition that God exists and that He brought man into existence for His own glory. Philosophy has failed to establish ethics apart from God. Not only does Christian theism provide for ethical behavior, it provides the motivation for such behavior as well. Fear God and keep His commandments for this is what every human should do!