Reflections on American Morality

The whole Anthony Weiner incident has left me deeply disturbed about the tenor of our society. That’s nothing new, of course, since I believe man in sinful and plays out that sinfulness continually. Yet this particular episode I find particularly perturbing. Let me see if I can explain why.

Weiner himself is what I always expected him to be; I’m less concerned about him personally than I am about other aspects of this. The media, both liberal and conservative, seem to be painting the women involved as victims of a sexual predator. There’s no disputing Weiner is a sexual predator, but if these women were victims, they were more than willing to be victimized.

One of them, Megan Broussard, has conducted interviews over the past two days, one on ABC, the other on Sean Hannity’s Fox program. I watched the latter. First of all, I was not impressed with her grasp of basic morality. She thought it would be “fun,” I guess, to banter sexually with a married congressman. Only when she feared her tweets would become public, or the pictures she sent him would be displayed on the Internet did she decide to preempt that exposure by speaking up. Even now, she doesn’t seem to have any real concept of having done anything inappropriate—at least on her part. And when asked if Weiner should remain a congressman, she had no opinion, saying that it was up to the voters in his district.

She is a microcosm of the state of morality in America at this time, I fear. She obviously doesn’t represent the morality of all, but I do wonder if she is representative of the majority: morally clueless.

Even now, only a slim plurality of Weiner’s constituents think he should step down. He may be able to ride this out. His arrogance is that great.

I think back on the Clinton impeachment. Even though it was evident that he had abused the trust given him by the electorate, and that he had committed perjury, public opinion polls indicated that about 2/3 of the country didn’t want him removed from office. I recall being dispirited over that at the time.

Just who are we as a people?

I want to believe better about us, but I don’t know if I can. After all, we put Barack Obama into the highest office in the land.

There is no golden age in our history where everyone was Christian and all was well, but there certainly was a time when we, as a society, had a keener understanding of eternal right and wrong, and when we veered off course, we at least felt guilty.

Does genuine guilt exist as a force in America anymore? Only by comprehending guilt will we ever seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God. I hold the firm conviction that nothing less than an explicitly Christian moral standard, and a firm belief in the transforming power of a Spirit-filled existence, will suffice to hold our society together. Without that basis, we will spin out of control.

I’m reminded of a quote from Christian statesman Robert Winthrop, who, in a speech to the Massachusetts Bible Society in 1849, pointed out a significant truth:

All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.

Here’s the rub: do we still have enough people who live by individual self-government to make the difference, or are we in the process of losing all moral restraint? The reason I write and teach is that I believe there is still hope. I hope I’m right.

Weiner vs. Genuine Repentance

You knew it had to happen, right? When someone like Congressman Anthony Weiner dominates the news cycle, I can’t ignore him completely. I don’t intend to enter into the realm of double-entendres or get involved with the details of what he has done. You already are aware of the details—unless you’ve been on a deserted island for the past week. His so-called confession on Monday was anything but a real confession, and that’s where I would like to focus.

I stayed silent about the Weiner story on purpose because I wanted more facts to come out first, and I figured they would. I never for a moment believed his fantastic tale of being “hacked.” Why not? I’ve watched Weiner for years; his character was obvious from the first time I listened to him. Lying about policy was his staple already; if he had to lie to cover up his indiscrections, I had no doubt he would. I mean, get serious. Who really believed him?

Yes, he had his staunch defenders in the Leftist blogger world, aided by like-minded compatriots at MSNBC and other media outlets. A great cry went up that it was a vast right-wing conspiracy. Now where did we hear that before?

Finally, though, when confronted with more incriminating photos, one of which apparently was so pornographic that Andrew Breitbart, who now possesses it, has declined to release it publicly to spare Weiner’s marriage, the congressman realized the jig was up, and he had to put on a contrite face.

Supposedly, he takes “full responsibility” for his actions, yet refuses to resign. In other words, he doesn’t want any real consequences for what he has done. He’s hoping that a “confession” will be enough, and that he can continue taking taxpayer money as a representative of the people. After all, he’s got the Bill Clinton model he can follow. For the record, what Clinton did was worse than Weiner’s actions, but he was allowed to remain as president when he should have been kicked out on the street.

What Weiner did in his press conference was put on a show of humility without anything substantive to indicate it was genuine. I’m reminded of the Scripture where the apostle Paul has to discipline someone in the church at Corinth. He had written to the church a stern message, and it created the proper reaction:

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. … I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God. … For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. [see 2 Corinthians 7]

Paul clearly explains that there are two types of sorrow: one that doesn’t produce the fruit of repentance; another that provides evidence of a genuine realization of sin and leads to a changed life.

Has Anthony Weiner truly changed? Not if he seeks to keep his perks as a congressman when he has disgraced himself publicly. His moral character disqualifies him from holding any public office. If he were truly repentant, he would step down.

He may have to do so anyway, simply from the external pressures. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he weathers this storm; after all, Bill Clinton did even though some of his own people said he had to resign.

Shame is a lost trait in our society.

Republicans have disgraced themselves at times, too. Most of them had to leave office rather quickly. The Republican party at least holds to a moral standard publicly, which, if it is violated, points to hypocrisy. But at least it has a standard. There’s a political cartoon from a couple of years ago that I recycle now and then—it speaks so eloquently to our moral situation today. It’s time to use it again:

Anthony Weiner is a fine representative in one way: he represents the moral standards of his party quite well.

Christian Morality: A Harmful Infection?

Let me introduce you to Owen and Eunice Johns. They live in the UK and have taken care of 15 foster children since 1992. Social workers have praised them as “kind and hospitable people” who “respond sensitively” to the children who have made a home with them.

When they applied again to have another foster child, they ran into a snag. You see, the Johns are devoted Christians who happen to believe that homosexuality is “against God’s law and morals.” For that reason, they were rejected as caregivers, despite their outstanding history in offering a loving home to children without parents.

They took their case to court, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission argued against them, saying that any children that might live in their home risk being “infected” by Christian moral views.

If only such an infection would spread.

The court decided against the Johns:

It was ruled that there was no discrimination against them as Christians but that their views on sexual morality may be “inimical”—or harmful—to children. In that situation, they ruled: “The equality provisions [of the 2007 Equality Act] concerning sexual orientation should take precedence.”

This is another glimpse at how our culture is changing. The most chilling aspect of this change is that Christian morality is now being called an infection and harmful to children. This is only a step away from declaring that orthodox Biblical morality needs to be excised from society.

The only saving grace for the moment for those of us in the United States is that this took place in the UK rather than here. The UK, as with all of Europe, discarded its Christian identity long ago; in America, we still have a vibrant thread of Christian faith leavening the society—the corruption isn’t as advanced.

This case, though, should serve as a warning: Christians need to act to ensure they can still speak Biblical truth without penalty. On the issues of homosexuality, that liberty is slipping away. Can the slippage be halted? I will continue to have hope until there is none, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We need to work diligently to maintain our freedom of religion.

That’s supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution, by the way. Some reminders to those in government will always be necessary.

Tocqueville & American Christianity

Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who toured America from 1831-1833, was a keen observer of what he experienced. He put those observations into a famous book, still used in political sciences courses, called Democracy in America, first published in 1835.

Tocqueville quotes can be found throughout the Internet; unfortunately, some of them dealing with religion in America are more legend than fact. I know, since I’ve read the entirety of his book without finding them. However, he did make clear statements about the influence of the Christian faith on American society. Here are some samples:

There is an innumerable multitude of sects [denominations] in the United States. All differ in the worship one must render to the Creator, but all agree on the duties of men toward one another. … All the sects … are within the great Christian unity, and the morality of Christianity is everywhere the same. …

… America is … still the place in the world where the Christian religion has most preserved genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.

So this French observer was duly impressed with the unity he discovered among the various Christian denominations and the pervasiveness of the Christian faith in the nation. He also saw another practical effect of the universality of Christian faith: “Of the world’s countries, America is surely the one where the bond of marriage is most respected and where they have conceived the highest and most just idea of conjugal happiness.” Would that were the case today.

Christian influence on the morals of society dominated, according to Tocqueville:

Revolutionaries in America are obliged to profess openly a certain respect for the morality and equity of Christianity, which does not permit them to violate its laws easily when they are opposed to the execution of their [revolutionaries’] designs; and if they could raise themselves above their own scruples, they would still feel they were stopped by those of their partisans. Up to now, no one has been encountered in the United States who dared to advance the maxim that everything is permitted in the interest of society. An impious maxim—one that seems to have been invented in a century of freedom to legitimate all the tyrants to come.

So, therefore, at the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything, religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.

Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them the taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.

Tocqueville’s experience in France had taught him that religion combines with the state to produce tyranny. He was amazed to find the opposite in America:

On my arrival in the United States it was the religious aspect of the country that first struck my eye. As I prolonged my stay, I perceived the great political consequences that flowed from these new facts.

Among us [in France], I had seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom almost always move in contrary directions. Here I found them united intimately with one another: they reigned together on the same soil.

What we have here is a nineteenth-century Frenchman with a sharper vision of the greatness and uniqueness of America than most current commentators, particularly those on the Left of the political spectrum. If only they would listen and learn from him.

 

Moral Choices

More insight from C. S. Lewis:

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, “If you keep a lot of rules, I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.”

I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.

I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

C. S. Lewis on Morality

There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was “The sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.” And I’m afraid that is the sort of idea that the word Morality raises in a good many people’s minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time.

In reality, moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine. That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations.

When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, “No, don’t do it like that,” because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.

The Message That Must Be Spoken

The homosexual advancement in our society is distressing to me. Now I know not everyone who reads this will agree, but I believe it foreshadows a shift in culture from which we may never recover. The problem goes beyond the same-sex marriage issue—that’s simply the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The only reason we are now debating same-sex marriage is because we have come to a place where traditional morality based on the Judeo-Christian belief system has nearly been destroyed.

That may sound like an extreme statement, and I hope I’m wrong about this. However, once we changed the concept of rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution, we opened the door for all kinds of aberrations.

Thus far, the only thing standing in the way of full acceptance of this “lifestyle” is the possibility of the Supreme Court remaining faithful to the Constitution. There are some giants of legal understanding who are still on the Court. They have been joined by others, though, who are not of the same stature:

Frankly, it never should have come to this—having to hope for temporal salvation from a court. As I’ve said numerous times, I expect the mainstream of worldly thinking to cave on the issue, but the key is whether Christians remain firm in the truths of Scripture. The reason we are where we are, I believe, is due to Christians wavering on this basic truth: homosexuality is a sin.

Few are willing to say that anymore; it leads to rancor and discord. Too few are willing to stand alone for truth when the rest of society is telling them to change their views. No one relishes being called a bigot [that word, and its sister, “racist,” dominate our discourse]. But it’s not bigoted to speak truth. Neither is it bigoted to point people to the way out of their sin. To do so is to lead them into freedom. The apostle Paul made it clear:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

That’s the message that needs to resound. It calls a sin a sin, yet also shows that every sin can be forgiven and new life can result. Who will speak this message? Who will be faithful to the calling?