Untying the Ties That Bind Us
Beginning with the so-called revolution of the '60s, we abandoned the sacred in favor of the profane.
Whether Al Franken realizes it or not (bet on not), his resignation speech epitomizes the moral rot that is eating at the foundations of our nation. A lampooning of Franken’s self-serving remarks displayed on the cover of Friday’s New York Post said it all: “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m leaving.” How did we become a nation where blaming everyone but oneself for one’s problems can reasonably be labeled as “quintessentially American?” How did we manage to convince ourselves that right and wrong are individualized — and negotiable — concepts? Beginning with the so-called revolution of the ‘60s, we abandoned the sacred in favor of the profane.
Columnist David P. Goldman defines sacred as “that which endures beyond our lifetime and beyond the lifetime of our children, the enduring characteristics that make us unique and will continue to distinguish us from the other peoples of the world, and which cannot be violated without destroying our sense of who we are.” He asserts, “The sacred is what a country’s soldiers are willing to die to protect; unless there is something for which we are willing to die, we will find nothing for which we are willing to live.”
Last week, our nation commemorated what might have been the last time most Americans felt a sustained sense of the sacred. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and in the ensuing four years, the overwhelming majority of Americans put aside their differences, and worked together to defeat Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack also united us. But by then, many Americans in a nation grown far more cynical, were more than willing to discard that unity — led by a Democrat Party that saw the anti-war platform of activist Howard Dean, who briefly emerged as its front-running presidential candidate in the 2004 election — as the most propitious path back to the White House.
Unity, and the sacredness that undergirds it, was the ultimate casualty.
Yet the seeds for the nation’s moral swoon were sown long before 9/11. “Like many of our social pathologies today, our sexually saturated public culture and the unleashing of sexual predators are the bitter fruit of the free love movement of the Sixties,” writes Bruce S. Thornton. “Those who didn’t live through that period cannot imagine how quickly and radically our society was transformed.”
Thornton blames the mix of “dubious Pop-Freudian psychological ideas” and “left-wing theories of political revolution” aimed at delegitimizing traditional understandings of morality and values that ostensibly empowered “capitalist oppression.”
Half a century later, that original effort to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” still resonates. According to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s “Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism,” 58% of Millennials would prefer living in a socialist, communist or fascist nation instead of a capitalist one.
That those same Millennials reject government control of the economy by a 2-1 margin is indicative of many things, but chief among them is that their understanding of the “enduring characteristics that make us unique” is virtually nil.
This is not surprising. While sexual freedom was the principal theme of the '60s reordering, embracing profanity, a.k.a. secularism, precipitated a paradigm shift in the way many Americans viewed the world. The belief in a higher power gave way to a glorification of the self, freed from the traditional understandings of right and wrong.
In turn, the moral underpinnings revealed by history became increasingly irrelevant, to the point where history itself required removal from the public square, lest it “offend” the egotists and the “superior” modernist morality they purport to represent — 58.5 million abortions since Roe v. Wade notwithstanding.
“Religiously unaffiliated people have been growing as a share of all Americans for some time,” Pew Research columnist Michael Lipka explained in 2015, citing Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study that revealed religious “nones” now comprise 23% of the nation’s adult population.
In 2007, only 16% of Americans defined themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Moreover, the younger the demographic the less religious it is, with 35% of younger Millennials (born 1990-1996) defining themselves as nones, compared to only 11% of the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) who identify as such.
Columnist John Hart asserts this decline may contribute to the nation’s political polarization, and he wonders if ideology has replaced religion altogether. “Many on the Left and Right are bowing to the same false god of state power from opposite sides of the altar,” he asserts. “The weirdness of today’s cult of personality politics didn’t happen by accident. Pew has identified a gap that ideology has rushed in to fill. The challenge for principled people on both sides is to put ideology back in its place. Ideology is a way to organize ideas and facilitate debate, not to provide meaning, purpose or answers to life’s transcendent and fundamental questions.”
Principled people? Principles do not occur in a vacuum, and while Hart would like to distribute equal blame to both sides of the ideological divide, it wasn’t the American Right who championed the ideas that “God is Dead,” all morality is “relative,” and everyone should “do their own thing” — absent the critical addendum that one should take responsibility for the consequences attendant to one’s choices.
Yet those on the Right are hardly blameless. They have their own share of fallen souls, and many have committed acts as egregious as their leftist counterparts, if not more so.
There is, however, a huge difference between a Right that fails to live up to the moral tenets institutionalized by our Judeo-Christian roots and our Founding documents, and an American Left that has largely abandoned those institutions and documents in favor of what Thornton calls the “liberation of the instincts.”
That liberation has engendered a plethora of social pathologies, including the destruction of the nuclear family, millions of abortions, the sexualization of children, high rates of divorce, and everything else attributable to the triumph of hedonism over virtue.
It is a liberation where people can discard religious notions of right and wrong, replacing them with “legal and illegal,” courtesy of attorneys, or “well and unwell,” courtesy of therapists. Moreover, as the current transgender movement demonstrates, the liberation of the instincts can liberate one from reality itself.
As a result, self-rationalization has become America’s most common moral currency.
Whether a sense of the sacred can be restored is anyone’s guess. But if one views the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as the respectively human-condition-defining and power-limiting contracts between a government and a free people they truly are, it is worth remembering that any contract is only as good as moral standards of those willing to abide by it.
In other words, it isn’t our institutions that are failing us. They are only as good — or as bad — as the people who inhabit them. Without a restored sense of the sacred, we will remain an exceptional nation in name only.
For many years, Americans have been led to believe liberation of the instincts, and the self-glorification it inevitably engenders, is the essence of enlightened thinking.
Pseudo-moralistic anarchy is more like it.