“Teenagers who can shoot and kill a man out of summertime boredom are moral barbarians, dead souls.
But who created these monsters? Where did they come from? Surely one explanation lies in the fact that the old conscience-forming and character-forming institutions — home, church, school, and a moral and healthy culture fortifying basic truths — have collapsed. And the community hardest hit is Black America.”
These are the words of commentator Pat Buchanan in his online article “Dead Souls of a Cultural Revolution” (http://buchanan.org/blog/dead-souls-of-a-cultural-revolution-5770). I agree with much of what Mr. Buchanan writes here. It is a true that black communities have some unique issues and struggles. The attempt to solve these issues through government programs has sometimes created other unintended consequences complicating the matter further. But we must be careful not to limit the scope of the cultural collapse to one segment of our national fabric. Look around. In so many ways “we the people” are in a moral freefall.
Growing up I knew that there was a line drawn between what was right and what was wrong. My parents taught me that and they reinforced those lessons with loving discipline.
I remember very clearly the day an African-American woman pulled up in our driveway to meet with my mother. My mother had a side-job selling jewelry, and this woman worked with her. I shouted to my mother a word that I hard heard countless times. I had no malice in my voice. I meant nothing demeaning or evil by it, but I also had no clue just how bad it was. It was the “N Word.” Once the woman left, my mother promptly guided me to the bathroom where she made it clear that I had stepped over that moral line by washing my mouth out with soap. There are things that are wrong to say and that was one of them. The point was made. I cannot remember ever using that word to refer to a person again.
The moral lines where reinforced as I attended church through the stories of Bible. I learned that there were consequences to doing wrong. I learned that there was a God who cared how we treated one another and would one day hold us accountable. I learned there was such a thing as sin, and that it was because of mankind’s sin that Jesus was crucified. As one called to follow Jesus, there was set out before me a “narrow” way, a path of righteousness. Admittedly, I did not always keep my feet on that path, but I knew it was there.
In school the basics of right and wrong were taught to me. It was wrong to lie, to steal, and to cheat. It was right to share, to encourage, and to help others. When I brought a sock full of marbles to school and took them out to show my friends during class, my teacher took them and put them in her desk drawer returning them when the day was done. I never did that again! It was a simple response to my act of distracting others during teaching time, but it was effective. Lesson learned. There is right and wrong, and there are consequences for both.
I knew about morality and immorality in my childhood years, but it was when I went to college I discovered another category – amorality. Amorality removes the categories of right and wrong altogether. I discovered a whole new world where a person could define for himself or herself what was best. It did not matter what your parents taught you, what the Bible said, or how you learned to treat others in school. The fences were down. You were free to go wherever your passions could take you, and the only restraints on you were those you placed on yourself. To the individual it was liberating; to society it was devastating.
When we read about the shootings in Chicago, one group blames the gun lobby and the other blames the welfare system. When we read about teen pregnancy, one group blames condom distribution and another blames the entertainment media. As a nation we are focused on treating the symptoms of the disease. Our nation is riddled with the cancer of amorality, and we argue over whose bandages will best cover it up.
As I type this, I cannot help but reflect back to one of the earliest stories I learned in Sunday School. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had an intimate relationship with God. He walked with them and talked with them. There was no shame or guilt because there was no sin. But, if you know the story, the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. The first couple was free to eat of every other tree and plant in the Garden. God only said “no” to this one. Right and wrong was clear. There was no ambiguity. Let’s eavesdrop (not pun intended) on the conversation.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)
The serpent introduces a new category to Eve – amorality. He blurs the lines between right and wrong as easily as a batter uses his cleats to erase the chalk line of the batter’s box. He leads Eve to question God’s goodness. He leads her to the conclusion that God is completely and totally unfair to deprive them of this one special tree and that God’s motives were selfish and perhaps even cruel. Moreover, he dangled something before Eve that was more compelling than the fruit that hung on the tree before her eyes – “you will be like God.”
That is the lure of amorality. You can erase the lines. You can set the rules for yourself and change them at your whim. You are the master of your own fate and the captain of your own soul. You are a god unto yourself! Taken to its inevitable conclusion, we, then, are a nation of little gods whose rules apply only to ourselves. We can kill someone because we are bored. We can take from another person simply because we want what they have. We can rape a woman to satiate our own lust for power and sex. We can kill that baby in the womb because it’s merely tissue – and inconvenient tissue to boot. We have bought into the serpent’s lie. We have plucked the fruit from the tree and bitten deeply into it. We want to displace God’s rightful place in the world and act as if His throne is ours.
Defining the problem is one thing; solving the problem is another issue. Neither political parties nor government regulators can fix cultural decay. It is a spiritual issue. I wish I could tell you that the tide will one day be changed and flow back toward righteousness; however, a quick read through Revelation will show you that we are heading toward a precipice that will end inevitably in Armageddon and Judgment Day.
I can tell you that even as we slide toward the abyss, the church has a role to play. Jesus called us “salt” and “light.” He calls and empowers His church to make a difference in the world around us. It’s time for the church has to act like the church!
We do not have to bite into the fruit. We do not have to accept the premise that we are little gods unto ourselves. We can and must stand up to say God is real and He has controlling interest in our lives. We can and must declare righteousness and repentance from sin. We must move our lives in line with God’s revealed will. We must love God more than self and follow Jesus more than our own passions. Can revival come to our nation? I do not know, but this I do know; revival cannot come to our nation if revival does not come to our churches.
As we begin to look more like the Jesus whom we worship, our lives will stand out in stark contrast to the culture around us. When we begin to reflect the attitude and actions of Jesus then we can make a real difference. We are called to “become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16)
If we embrace the same thinking and lifestyles that the culture has embraced, then our influence will be greatly diminished if not altogether erased. We bemoan the weaknesses of our churches and the corruption of our society, but did we ever stop to think that our conformity to the culture is undermining the foundations of our efforts? It is hard to call people to follow Jesus when we go our own way most of the time. It is hard to proclaim righteousness when we harbor unrepentant sin. It is hard to mend the moral fences when we spend our time dancing in the pasture of amorality.
We are not little gods who get to make up the rules as we go along. There is a God who created the universe and created each of us. He has a claim on our lives. It is to Him that we should hold the highest allegiance. It is He, not we, who defines what is right and what is wrong. It is He, not we, who has the right and authority be Judge.
If we want to make a difference in the world, then we must chose to be different from the world for the sake of Christ. We are not little gods, and we live that way to our own peril and the continuing cultural decline of our nation.