Moral Relativism and the Decline of Britain and the US

Liverpool_riot_624 The riots in Great Britain last week are eliciting some interesting reactions across the pond. I am so used to unrest in America always being attributed to poverty or injustice or bigotry of some kind, that I was taken aback when Prime Minister David Cameron blamed Britain's problems on moral decline – and he is being taken seriously instead of being mocked in the media and by the late night comics (as far as I can tell). Cameron said,

“This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Mr. Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England. “Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.”

Social problems festering for decades.  Interesting. We have been told for decades that how you live really doesn't matter. We have an entire social system set up to alleviate the consequences of moral relativism. Want to have sex outside marriage? Sure! Abortion and birth control can take care of the consequences. If you do happen to get pregnant, we have a massive safety net available. Want to drop out of school and not get an education?  No problem! You don't really need to work. The government will provide. Truth doesn't matter. There is no right and wrong. Fathers are not needed in the home (they can actually be quite a bother). Do whatever feels good whenever you want to do it and there are no consequences.

As long as you don't hurt someone else (and who can really define that, anyway, at least in the long term?) be free and pursue happiness, as you define it.  THIS has been the popular, accepted religion of the West for the past 5-6 decades now and it was brewing in academia and the arts long before that. Finally, it seems, some are realizing that there are consequences to removing any sense of a moral foundation from Western culture. Eventually, you are left with a society of thugs.

Cameron goes on to say,

“We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong,” Mr. Cameron said. “We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.”

“Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized,” Mr. Cameron said.

What the social libertines among us fail to recognize or admit is that there is a right and wrong and choosing wrong over and over again usually leads to some pretty severe consequences. When you actually incentivize wrong behavior and alleviate natural and societal consequences of wrong moral behavior, you end up with a broken society that does not know its left from its right and ends up calling up down and down up.  When anger swells and riots break out, or when investment bankers swindle a nation driving it into economic collapse without any real consequences (and they actually make money off of it), we find that our entire society is bankrupt with little to stop it from spiraling out of control.

The same thing is happening in the US. Unreported riots are occurring in Wisconsin, Kansas, Birmingham, AL, Chicago, etc.  They are being spread through social media and the regular media is not reporting it. The real driver behind these riots of young people attack pedestrians or creating flash mobs to rob stores is not poverty or lack of opportunity.  It is the lack of imagination and moral certainty. There are no lines to cross anymore.  Bradley Green, professor at Union University, points us to CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man predicting this turn of events by saying that when one generation changes the meaning of things from objective to subjective truth and ideals, then eventually, you will create "men without chests," or men who have no inner strength or moral fortitude. That is where we are.  Still, the poets and prophets of our age tell us to continue on as if all is well when clearly it is not.

The truth is, the West has a 1500 year moral foundation that created the society that we now benefit from. Over the past 100 years or more (longer in some respects), that foundation has been systematically removed with the belief that the progress, prosperity, and cultural attainment built on that foundation would survive, because, after all, philosophical foundations are interchangeable and really don't matter much, right? We are now finding that not to be the case. Ideas have consequences and the removal of foundational ideas has consequences as well.  There will still be a society and culture in the West – it will just look VERY different than what has come before.

More on this later . . . with some solutions.  

See also the New York Times: Britain Debates Slow Motion Moral Collapse and Agenda: With George Friedman on a Crisis of Political Economy from Strafor.


6 Responses to Moral Relativism and the Decline of Britain and the US

  1. I read an article about five years ago talking about the indicator or the water line for social decay was when the petty and small was punished with grave severity and the truly severe was treated as inconsequential.
    They pointed, in that article, specifically at London. They pointed to a man being nearly put in prison for making a drunken slur to a policeman’s horse but that a group of kids setting a building on fire got barely a slap on the wrist.
    And the idea, the thing that really stuck with me, is that our moralistic hearts need a target. They groan for the correction of a reconciled world. And so we, humanly and sinfully, attack what we can that means nothing because the idea of actually conforming to God’s image is repulsive to our societal intelligence. We build these legal little sandcastles so that we don’t have to deal with what’s truly wrong. We so clearly don’t want to have a true moral absolute that we end up burning the house down because it would be wrong to take away the matches from the kids.

  2. Excellent post. To speak of right and wrong and moral clarity requires Objective Truth. As Christians, we understand that this Truth is Christ. We also understand that we cannot effect positive change in and by ourselves since there is no such thing as inherent goodness in humans – everything good in us comes from and by the Holy Spirit. That being said the Christian who is observant and active in the world at large is faced with a quandary. What is our role in the on-going drama of this World? Or, what is the Christian’s most biblical means of helping to bring about change? I think I am speaking mainly about civics and government here. The Religious Right is much maligned amongst “thinking Christian” circles these days… but was it just a matter of getting off topic – too much Right, not enough Religious? Or is that kind of organIzing and active political participation not a good way to address our nation’s moral ills?

  3. Tom,
    Where the Religious Right went wrong was in their alignment with the Republican Party and the selective nature in which they addressed social problems. While they fought for prayer in schools and to post the Ten Commandments, they did not do anything on the issue of racial justice, poverty alleviation, or rebuilding our cities and neighborhoods. Read Isaiah 58 to see where the Religious Right went wrong. We SHOULD be active in society being salt and light, but we should do so prophetically, not politically (at least in the sense that we become captive to a certain political party).
    I think that the Religious Right could have learned a lot from the Tea Party right now. While the Tea Party is aligned with the Repbublican Party, they are not beholden to it. They could bolt at any minute and they are (so far) sticking to their principles. The Religious Right saw Republicans as a vehicle to get their social legislation passed and the Republican Establishment used them and discarded them.
    Here is my solution: promote righteousness wherever you find it and denounce unrighteousness wherever you find it. Forget about having a political base. If Nancy Pelosi does something righteous, praise her. If John Boehner does something unrighteous, denounce his actions. That way, you are establishing and supporting righteous action instead of political parties. Everyone would be confused until they saw your consistency and then they would know that you are no respecter of persons, but that you are consistent with your beliefs and actions.

  4. I think I am almost there.
    You have said similar things several times and this is the first time I didn’t cringe when you used terms like: “racial justice” and “poverty alleviation”. I certainly am not against those things, I am just a little cynical about terms like those because of how they have been used as political tools for a certain Party to attempt to stay in power. I do appreciate that you didn’t use the term “social justice”. I would likely have vomited. 😉 Whether people intend for it to be or not, “social justice” is simply code for “governmental redistribution of wealth”.
    So…in any case… it should probably be clear that compassion is my greatest weakness as a Christian.
    I think it is because I strongly desire that people experience true Freedom…the elimination of dependence on any government…the recognition that Rights can only exist in the presence of Responsibilities…the transformative Power of Perspective… the cathartic acceptance of Human fallibility and insignificance combined with the revelation of Divine perfection , Omnipotence, and protection… etc, etc…
    Either all that, or I am just a heartless jerk.
    Whatever the case, it is a daily battle to deny my antipathy-laced nature. The good news is that God hasn’t given up on me. I am turning corners in my mind and heart…and each day  there is a great deal of Construction work going on – slowly, but surely chipping away at my old nature.
    All that to say…
    Your words today flipped on a switch to a long-dormant light bulb. A new paradigm is beginning to coalesce from the vapors of my moldy mind and healing heart…
    What if Christians reclaimed “racial justice” and “poverty alleviation” from the political Left?
    What if Christians reclaimed the struggle against Abortion and the defense of biblical Marriage from the political Right?
    Obviously, to change this country and this world for the better, we first must hit our knees.
    But, as we operate in our society, our goal should not be to wield the political power necessary to affect social change… rather, we should strive to seek the Kingdom of God and act as His servants to spread His Love.
    No Party or government can achieve our goals.
    It is only the moving Power of Christ, working in the Hearts of mankind that will bring about racial justice, alleviate poverty, eliminate abortion, etc.
    Our job, then, is to live as Christ commanded… Loving God and Loving People, to the Ends of the Earth.
    So simple…but impossibly profound.

  5. Good thoughts, Tom. I am all for individual responsibility. However, I also recognize that there are evil systems that have been created – that evil gets embedded in institutions, systems, worldviews, social structures, etc. This is part of what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 6 when he mentioned the powers and principalities. Of course, they are demonic as well, but my point is that if you get a lot of individuals together, who are say, racists (using a construct from the past that we all agree was evil), then you have racism not just on an individual level, but also on a societal, structural, systemic, and institutional level. It bleeds through everything.
    The Evangelical church only focused on individual evil – they missed, and thus perpetuated, societal and structural evil. A book that lays this argument out very well is Divided by Faith by Emerson and Smith:
    When I talk about social justice, this would be what I mean – identifying and confronting evil and injustice that is embedded in social systems, sometimes by law, other times by culture. For example, the culture of greed and corruption that warped Wall Street and continues to do so, is a social evil embedded in a system of thought. It is great to see individual investment bankers get saved, but you must also address the structural problems.
    Evangelicals see this – that is why they have tried to pass laws and elect representatives – to change the system of governance. But, we have been doing that by the world’s means. The other way to address structural issues is through prophetic living and acts that demonstrate that we belong to another world, the world of the upside-down Kingdom. We create an alternative community that is, as Eugene Peterson said, “a colony of heaven in the land of death.” In these alternative communities, we model a different way of living and we teach people to live differently. Then, we equip them to take this different way into the Kingdoms of this world. We teach them to serve, to forgive, to love sacrificially, to concern yourself with the welfare of others, to be honest and work with integrity, to forgive, to be trustworthy, to be responsible, etc. This can’t be done outside of community because we can’t just talk about it through disembodied platitudes – we actually have to live it out.
    I am no bleeding heart. I fully understand what the evil of creating a dependency mindset has done to people. At the same time, I recognize that we are not fighting flesh and blood and that we have to live out the full gospel in both word and deed to have any credibility in this discussion. We need to both have and live out hope.

  6. Oh, and by the way, Tom, I am excited about the switch being flipped. I am convinced that we can address every issue righteously and effectively through a conservative theology that takes ALL of Scripture seriously. We do not need to give ground to anti-biblical views to be compassionate, care for poor, or address societal issues and justice issues holistically. Our problem has been that we have neglected that area to others while primarily addressing ourselves or individual responsibility.
    Also glad to see that God is beginning to individually work compassion in you. I need it too.