by Bruce Cole Vol. XIII, No. 4, April 2000
Morality, which is the bedrock for all society, is prerequisite for the perpetuation of mankind. Man can not exist without morality. Neither can society exist without some moral code of conduct. Without morality society becomes chaotic, a mass of people moving through life with no mooring or purpose. Moreover, morality requires significant spiritual insight and philosophical thought. Therefore, in order to secure a moral consciousness in any society and to provide for the perpetuation of any race, there must be safeguards put into place and maintained constantly by those governing the social order.
This article considers the decline of morality as it relates to society in general and to government in particular. There are several stages in the decline of morality and the consequent collapse of society.
Moral order always begins with Objectivism, which is the philosophy of truth established upon external and independent fact, and wherein there exists a real object as opposed to something existing only in the mind. Objective truth can in fact be known, independent of thinking and what is only perceived to be known.
In the case of America, objective truth has always been found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Laid out as the constituting documents by the founding fathers, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights provide the objective mooring for the government of the United States and for the moral underpinning of society. These, in turn, have derived their absolute authority from the Bible and the Almighty God behind it; God initiating it and sustaining it with His eternal power. America has been a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, founded upon the these eternal truths.
Whenever there have been forces in the past that would have moved America away from her morality, she has turned to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and anchored herself there. In that way America has always stood on solid footing. Historically, America has always been able to maintain an objective authority and preserve a strong social morality.
Because all human hearts are fallen, however, everyone wants his own way. When Objectivism is abandoned and replaced by personal preference, there is no longer a sure footing for morality, and morality becomes relative.
Relativism expresses the notion that things can be known only through their effects on the mind, and that consequently there can be no knowledge of reality or truth as they exist. In other words, all beliefs are true. Whatever you believe is true. Even if what we believe is contradictory, what we each believe is true. No belief is false. Nothing that I or that you do is false. There is no way of knowing which of us is right. My beliefs, my philosophy, my preferences, my actions are right. So are yours. Truth and myth, right and wrong, morality and immorality, all become relative. What is true or right or moral depends on individual perspective and circumstances. In such a society there can be no objective standards. Any authority that does demand objective standards must be reinterpreted or rewritten to place personal preference at the pinnacle of importance.
In addition, in a society where everything is right and nothing is wrong, nothing is considered special. And because nothing is special, nothing really matters. When nothing really matters, when social preference becomes a no-holds-barred, anything-goes free-for-all, nothing any longer has meaning. Society is reduced to nihilism, the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence, that nothing carries any ultimate worth. All things are equally meaningless. And so it is meaningless to argue or do right and wrong. Nihilism, which views all existing things as worthless, demands that existing social, political, and economic institutions be completely destroyed in order to make way for new and more "person-sensitive" institutions.
Truth becomes arbitrarily defined in a nihilistic society, with every person trying to define truth for himself. Under an agenda to bring about social changes and still allow for the greatest amount of personal preference and individual truth, those few who are most influential within the social structure begin to redefine its truth and placate the whole of society. The most tolerant, liberal, and convincing of the social order become the societal authority, and authoritarianism is bred.
Authoritarianism is not quickly and sometimes not willingly perceived by society.
Whenever society becomes nihilistic, it also becomes self-centered and indifferent.
Winfried Corduan suggests some tell-tale signs of an authoritarian society.(1)
-When people try to impose their point of view on others through force(2) rather than debate and reason. -When People feel it is necessary to rewrite history to conform it to their point of view.
-When people look to governmental authorities such as the Supreme Court or state legislatures to decree what is true.
-When schools establish a curriculum and select textbooks for political reasons more that educational goals.
-When information is evaluated on the basis of how well it promotes political goals, not on whether it is true.
-When it becomes apparent that people would rather be comfortable with a known lie than
uncomfortable with the truth.
Authoritarianism is the beginning of oppression and the seedbed of despotism. Whenever society looks away in self-centeredness and indifference, authority falls into the hands of the most powerful and unscrupulous. Within this context, there is always a struggle among the powerful elite, and someone within the pack will rise to the top. There are few powerful men with the character of Alexander the Great; few conquerors envisioning an enlightened "world brotherhood of all men". As a general rule, authoritarianism eventually leads to despotism and an enslaved people.
When a society slips into moral decline, not only can the stages of that decline be identified -- objectivism, relativism, nihilism, authoritarianism, and despotism -- but certain conditions are also found to exist.
Liberalism by its very nature is nihilistic, tolerant, and bent on redefining truth and on discarding old institutions and replacing them with new institutions. Liberalism, therefore, will try to assume a position of authority in a morally declining society. Liberal politicians will control minorities, the poor, and uneducated. Liberal unions will control labor and the working class. Liberal commentators will control the media. In the heartbeat of liberalism, society will become driven by agenda instead of being guided by objective authority, such as constitutional law.
Moral decline becomes evident in other ways, too. The dumbing down, demoralizing, and sensualizing of American society has led to fatalistic consequences. Political correctness, as dictated by the powers that be, has become the standard by which everyone is to live. There is flagrant permissiveness: immorality and open sex. Abortion. Homosexuality has become an acceptable lifestyle within our politically correct American culture. Same sex marriages are viewed as wholesome relationships. The family is being redefined. Those who break the law are being seen as victims. Instead of punishment, rehabilitation has become the answer. Education is provided in the place of incarceration. Drug addicts are given needles and drug supplements, and condoms are given to teenagers in the high schools. Lying and perjury have become acceptable behavior for those among the elite. Hatred is tolerated and even encouraged against those who are presumed to be holier-than-thou. Those who confront political and social change are seen as bigots, self-righteous trouble makers, insisting that "right" exists. There are viewed as anti-establishment and as lacking toleration for anyone they perceive as doing wrong. Racial, economic, educational, moral, and religious differences are used to get and hold political and social power. Elitism prevails and is the new measure of character.
All of these are signs of moral decline in America, as is the process for finding centrally directed solutions for social problems. That process too is a sign that America has abandoned her moral authority.
Government and other social leaders begin the problem solving process by asking politically correct questions: "Why is there a problem?" and "How can we correct it?" If someone is dying from lung cancer, the politically correct solution is to sue the cigarette companies to pay for the pain of the victims of smoking. If illegal drugs are destroying our inner-city youth through transmittable diseases, the solution is to give drug supplements and clean needles to addicts to make their lives better. If teenagers are becoming pregnant and having babies out of wedlock, the solution is to provide them with birth control pills, condoms, and abortions. In America today, those who ask "why" (Why is there a problem of deaths due to smoking, or of drug abuse, or of teenage sex and babies born to teenage mothers?) are not being listened to. No one in the elite, politically correct circle seems to be interested in correcting social problems, only making the lives of victims better. No one is spilling millions of dollars into "No smoking" or "Just say no!" campaigns. No one seems to be really attacking the drug problem. No one within the camp of Liberalism is out there advocating moral conduct and sexual abstinence.
Is there a remedy out of moral decline? Yes. Even in a morally fallen society there is a remedy. Granted, when there is moral decline and the society has become authoritarian, there are no steps the society itself can take to make a difference, if in its self-centered existence it even wanted to. Society no longer has the power of self-government. The "governed" have no say in their lives. Nevertheless, even then there is a remedy.
The remedy is not political, economic, academic, or social. It is redemptive. Redemption in this case needs to be the moral, psychological, philosophical, and spiritual renewal brought about through the redemptive act of God. The only remedy for a society that has slid from objectivism to relativism, from relativism to nihilism, and then from nihilism to authoritarianism or even despotism is spiritual. The Bible says, "... if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). There must be an inward change in individuals brought about by the work of the Spirit of God before there can be a moral change in society.
Whenever the morality of any society declines as it has in America, and that society has become amoral and authoritative, it is time to abandon humanistic schemes and seek spiritual solutions. Today is not the time to get out the vote.(3)
It is the time to get out the Word, the message of God's saving grace through Jesus
Christ. That message is the only hope in times such as these. It is the spiritual
responsibility of every follower of Christ to share with others the hope he or she has
found in Him. Let's pray that we can meet the challenge of our new millennium world and
make a spiritual impact upon the society in which we live. God grant that we will work to
see the advance of moral authority and not its decline.
1. Winfried Corduan, Reasonable Faith (Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville) p. 261.
2. I would add to this statement "or deception" also.
3. I am not advocating that we do not vote. Voting is the only voice the citizenry
has, as long as it is tolerated and/or manipulated by the controlling authority. But
voting can bring only a minimal and temporary fix to the problems brought about by moral
decline. Voting can not address morality itself.
[Bruce Cole is pastor of Hopeful BC, Montpelier, VA.]