“That’s Not Who We Are”–Are You Sure?

This has been a bad week for the public image of the United States. The negative impressions are well deserved; one can only hope, though without a great deal of confidence, that the events now well publicized will be the occasion of some serious soul-searching. Secret Service agents having a very busy time with Columbian prostitutes; American soldiers in Afghanistan posing with body parts of suicide bomb carriers and (perhaps) slain combatants. Not the stuff the land of the free and home of the brave ought to be posting on the shingle at the front door.

In both cases Washington officials were quick to point out that this is not who we are, not what we are about, not consistent with our values. I believe they genuinely believed what they were saying. I’m not so sure that what they said and believed was entirely true. There is a very real and quite legitimate question about whether these acts were really far off the mark we currently aim at in our culture, by default if not by intent.

Both the Hillary Rodham Clinton (Secretary of State) and Leon Panetta (Defense) are part of a generation that takes a given moral order for granted, whether or not their actual beliefs adequately account for or uphold that given order. According to that order, some actions are just plain, self-evidently wrong; and the actions that have made the recent headlines fall very clearly within the category of the forbidden. They are disturbing actions, in one case because, while prostitution is certainly nothing new, employing prostitutes while engaged in the doing of the country’s business in a foreign land obviously disrespects one’s fellow citizens, let alone one’s own family members; in the other case, the actions seem so heinous that many of us cannot comprehend anyone thinking it, let alone doing it and documenting it. It’s not the stuff we would expect anyone to treasure for home viewing in their later years.

But much has happened to undermine the assumptions on which Clinton, Panetta, and the entire generation they are part of, uncritically relied. And the failure of that generation (my own) to think through and validate the moral law with sound reasoning has led to the virtual demise of even its most basic ideas of decency, civility, and discipline of both self and offspring. When the only virtue remaining is a badly warped sense of tolerance, we mistakenly and tragically lose the power to draw lines other than by political force. And among the first to take advantage of this void was the entertainment industry, which continued to push the boundaries with ever weakening resistance. The result has been music, movies, games, and conversation about the same which devalues decency, civility, and discipline. And now we face the generation which such an approach has spawned, and we find ourselves in disgust, yet with no recourse other than to lament.

I am going to venture an opinion an opinion here against which some readers may well scoff, bristle, or rail. It seems plausible, however, to lay some of the responsibility for our moral situation at the feet of a political agenda which includes the leveling of the religious landscape. That is, when a governmental position is adopted, as undoubtedly and avowedly has been done, holding all faiths to be of equal value, it actually holds none of them to be truly worthwhile. And in so doing, it has removed any constraint against on the (im)moral impulses of its citizens other than those imposed by law. This serves the government well in that it allows no room for other lords than itself. If that is too strong a statement, consider the real meaning of religious freedom, including the freedom of grounding morality in a transcendent reality, when government itself defines religion, as the current president has done. It does so in order to control and shape citizens in its own image.

But if the truth about mankind includes a fallen nature along with our undeniable wealth of potential for creativity, watch out for what we create and the purposes for which we do it. And I submit we are reaping the consequences. Or am I just an old curmudgeon?

Another Call to Arms?

Well, here we go again. Nothing like a good controversy to spur a backsliding blogger back into action.

And oh, what a controversy we have, courtesy of the White House, from whence it was announced earlier this week that the fifteen year run of the Defense of Marriage Act will no longer be defended itself. Predictably, a host of conservative watchdogs has been busily rallying the troops for an all-out frontal attack on the decision and on those responsible for it. Anyone associated with evangelical causes of any kind can expect a mailbox flooded with appeal letters pointing out the evils of homosexuality, the callousness of the current administration toward what its citizens truly believe, the necessity of overturning the decision, and–oh, by the way–the need to send a check to make sure all of this happens. (Last time I checked, I did not need to pay someone else to cast a ballot for me. Just saying.)

Let’s make no mistake about it. There is plenty to find disconcerting in the announcement. For starters, there is the hubris of justifying the decision by pronouncing that it violates the constitution. Clearly, that sort of declaration does not come from the Oval Office; but apparently the body charged with making that declaration failed in its duty to so rule and needs to be corrected by the White House. Technical foul. If that were not enough, the administration also presumes itself to be the appropriate arbiter of what marriage is and is not. Flagrant foul. Then there is the flip dismissal of the moral traditions which have been woven into the fabric of this culture as though they cannot speak into the whole question. Just plain foul from the start.

The concern in this corner is not over whether or not to agree with President Obama’s decision; rather, it with what we are to do about it. I cringe almost as much over the coming rantings and deluge of promo materials as I do over the decision itself. Does that mean I am indifferent? Not at all, though interpret it as you must. But I do wonder whether it is time for Christians to evaluate what they have to show for the strategies of the past forty years or so, strategies which have included the giving of untold millions of dollars which have yielded virtually nothing by way of actual policy reform. At the same time, there has been far too much vitriolic language targeting “the opposition.” Unlike the funding, this has produced a yield, albeit of a negative sort; it has created further defensive barriers and animosity, not only toward the attitudes on the issues, but toward the faith supposedly represented. So what do we do? Below are several options, not exhaustively stated by any means.

1. Fight the good fight as before, trusting that the Lord will do mighty things to bring victories which we may not see immediately. Write the letters, send the contributions, and join the marches.

2. Pray for those who represent our views and for those who do not, yet have influence in the decisions.

3. Recognize that the arena of the mind, from which ideas flow, was conceded a long time ago when we preached a private faith, untouched and unaffected by reason. We then must do the hard work of recovering the believing mind, and maybe the even harder work of gaining a hearing, all the while displaying a respectful attitude.

4. Let the world do what it will. It is unredeemed and we cannot expect redemptive behavior from it. After all, no one is forcing believers to engage in homosexual marriages, have abortions, gamble, etc. When they have had enough, we’ll be there to help the lost to see a better way.

It’s just the start of a list, but I’d like to hear where you find yourself and why. Since some of my readers cannot refrain from posing their own nuanced options, you have my permission.