A recent article in USA Today captures the essence of present discontent in the United States. It laments: "In poll after poll, two-thirds or more of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Oil prices are near an all-time high. The president's popularity hovers near record lows over a deeply unpopular war. Millions of homeowners are in danger of losing their houses to foreclosure. And many more Americans fear the loss of their jobs" (Thomas Hine, "How to Tackle America's Familiar Funk," Jan. 17, 2008).
The article goes on to compare the country's plight today with its tumultuous national picture in the 1970s: "Americans were shocked by the '70s. We seemed to be running out of everything: oil, beef, even toilet paper. Prices were rising, and so was unemployment. Both the president and vice president resigned from office. The long struggle in Vietnam ended in a desperate retreat from Saigon by helicopter."
Comparisons with recent history can be very instructive, but we should not ignore ancient times. The biblical "song of Moses" also invites historical perspective. It reaches down through the generations and suggests meaningful comparisons with the past: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you" (Deuteronomy 32:7, emphasis added throughout).
If young and middle-aged Americans were to ask the country's "greatest generation" of World War II what they thought of our current cultural behavior, what would the answer be?
Would they be full of praise for our national conduct? Are they pleased with what passes for entertainment on television during the evening of their lives? Would they not think that what's really wrong with the nation is its steep moral decline over the last half century?
A half century of American television
Growing up in a small town in southern Texas, I well remember the sitcoms of the 1950s: Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, I Married Joan, My Little Margie. Although these programs didn't always perfectly exemplify biblical standards, they weren't immoral or suggestive. They were usually just relatively harmless entertainment about family life, and they always had a good ending.
Fast forward to the late '70s and the '80s. Soap operas had normally been consigned to afternoon TV viewing. But programs like Dallas and Dynasty (really just soap operas) hit prime time and proved to be highly profitable, long-running shows with vast audience numbers.
These programs normally depicted the upside-down lives of greedy, power-hungry top business executives who broke every rule of proper family life and reaped "their just rewards" with dysfunctional, mal-adjusted offspring who regularly had to be bailed out of crisis situations.
But even these programs and their spin-offs eventually proved too tame for jaded audiences who demanded even more salaciousness. In the decades that followed, producers gave them what they wanted: Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives, The Jerry Springer Show, to name a few.
The saucy, sexed-up dramas offered today have hit new lows. As one writer put it before the start of the latest TV season: "Traditional appeals to family values find no resonance beyond the religious and conservative base. This has so emboldened America's TV executives, desperate to staunch the hemorrhaging of audiences to the internet, that the autumn schedules [of 2007] offer such an orgy of sexually explicit programming, even [Janet] Jackson will be blushing" (The Sunday Times Magazine, Aug. 12, 2007).
Since the contents of the four main U.S. television networks are subject to the supervision of the Federal Communications Commission, much of the most salacious material is found on cable TV. Up to two thirds of American households have access to cable.
Television wasn't alone in its downhill plunge during the last 50 years. At the same time, much of American publishing experienced a similar decline in moral standards. As a high school student in the early '50s I read men's magazines like True and Argosy, fairly wholesome and enjoyable reading. The emergence of Playboy and other similar titles with their explicit content eventually caused these adventure magazines to disappear from the shelves.
It should go without saying that movies followed the same sad path. The year 1967 saw the first mainstream film showing female nudity. After that it was all downhill. The U.S. movie rating system was introduced the following year, and since then well over half of American movies produced have been rated R, meaning that even the rating board felt their content is so sexual, violent or profane that children under 17 should not be allowed to view them without a parent.
How and why the moral decline?
Do such trends have consequences? Financial Times feature writer Philip Stevens recently stated, "The overarching geopolitical fact of coming decades is likely to be the decline of US power" ("A Physicist's Theory of the Transatlantic Relationship," Dec. 14, 2007). Morality is not really what he had in mind, but in the long run it may prove to be the most crucial factor in the overall American decline.
With some notable exceptions, national leadership in all three branches of U.S. government have generally reflected the sliding moral standards of the people. Consider, for example, Supreme Court decisions. Roe v. Wade (1973) set aside the states' constitutional right to protect innocent, not-yet-born human life, striking down their laws. Abortion became just another method of birth control, and since then 50 million lives have been snuffed out.
Other court decisions virtually ordered God, the Bible and the Ten Commandments out of our public schools and court systems. State laws forbidding homosexual behavior were struck down. Long-held traditional values were summarily cast aside by a generation that thought very differently from its progenitors.
This follows a common historical pattern. Historians Will and Ariel Durant reflected on such generational dilemmas: "Caught in the relaxing interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and restless disorder of family and morals, in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways . . . A failure of leadership may allow a state to weaken itself with internal strife" (The Lessons of History, 1968, p. 93).
Moral choices a necessity
America is now fighting a crucial civil war over moral values within its own borders. Put another way, a culture virtually devoid of adherence to biblical standards, and often openly hostile to them, is rapidly growing right inside its own geographical borders. This is the most basic manifestation of the country's current internal strife. In that sense the nation is presently deciding its own destiny.
In his book When Nations Die, cultural commentator Jim Nelson Black documents 10 key factors that led to the decline and collapse of earlier great powers such as ancient Greece and Rome. He sees the United States standing at a historic crossroads, afflicted with those same symptoms.
Describing some of them, Dr. Black wrote: "The United States is at or near the top of all nations in the industrialized world in the rates of abortion, divorce, and births to unwed mothers . . . But in elementary and secondary education, we are at or near the bottom in achievement scores . . . The spiritual and intellectual qualities of American life are seriously degraded, and the soul of the nation is in jeopardy" (1994, p. 7).
Our Creator demands that we make moral choices as to the direction we will take, declaring, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life,that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). These solemn words of long ago echo down through the ages and tell us what we must do to ensure the survival of our nations.
The current race to the November U.S. presidential election reflects our present morality dilemmas. Very few of the candidates have demonstrated high moral standards by relatively clean family lives, supported by verbally professed religious commitments. Others have a more negative personal history, and some have expressed support for abortion and gay rights, among other societal evils.
British values also under threat
Across the Atlantic, one British party leader revealed, in answer to a journalist's question, that he did not believe in God. The gradual breakdown and decline of American values has its common parallels in the United Kingdom.
As it is in the United States, the breakdown of values in Britain is largely generational. Author David Starkey points this out in his book Monarchy: "The Diana story—which reached its climax . . . with her death in a car crashed by a drunken driver in 1997—is also a testament to the revolution in British values that had taken place during the Windsor years . . . [Princess Diana] was photogenic, a celebrity, a clothes-horse and profoundly self-indulgent . . . Duty was fuddy-duddy, happiness a right—at whatever the cost.
"In the face of this tide of sentiment, Elizabeth [and many in her generation], with her determination to stick to the monarchy of her father and grand-father, with its values of duty and service, looked more and more out of touch" (2007, p. 337). In fairness, we should note that the queen's popularity has largely recovered in recent years.
But to confirm Starkey's declaration of a "revolution in British values," one recent poll found that nine out of ten UK residents believe that Britain's social fabric is under threat due to family breakdown and rising crime.
A feature article in The Observer Sunday supplement was titled "Is Anyone Faithful Any More?" The author, Polly Vernon, interviewed American writer Pamela Druckerman, who spent three years studying marital infidelity in several prominent Western nations, including Britain. In a companion article Lisa Hilton wrote, "I cheated because I believe pleasurable sex between consenting adults is no big deal . . . Sometimes we cheat because we're just greedy, because we want more" (July 8, 2007).
Druckerman found that adultery was a major problem in every country she visited. (We urge readers to request or download our free booklet Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension, which presents many biblical principles regarding marriage and shows how we can all cultivate and improve our marital and family life.)
Lack of basic integrity
Recent statistics show a 5 percent increase in violent crime in Britain. But there are many different types of crime, some not as obvious.
A survey by Keele University in northern Staffordshire revealed an appalling lack of basic honesty among far too many British citizens. Cutting corners in basic morality is more prevalent in the West than previously thought possible.
More than a third use cash to avoid paying tax. Nearly a third keep silent when mistakenly given too much change by a clerk or cashier. Nearly 20 percent pilfer small items from the office where they work. The list goes on and on.
Incredibly, "the worst perpetrators are said to be highly paid people facing temporary financial difficulties" (Richard Ford and Dominic Kennedy, "Why Middle England Is the New Criminal Class," The Times [ London], June 25, 2007). Professor Suzanne Karstedt, a criminologist at Keele University, stated: "Contempt for the law is as widespread in the centre of society as it is assumed to be rampant at the margins and among specific marginal groups" (ibid.).
Materialism and moral decay in all English-speaking countries
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, charged British society with being "fantastically materialistic." He stated: "We seem to be tolerant of all sorts of behaviour, yet are deeply unforgiving. People demand legal redress for human errors and oversights . . . We shouldn't be misled by an easy-going atmosphere in manners and morals; under the surface there is a harshness that ought to worry us" (The Sunday Telegraph, March 25, 2007).
One of the archbishop's major concerns is "the erosion of Christian belief systems." Here he is getting near the crux of the problem that plagues Britain, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa—all the major English-speaking nations.
Like England, Australia is also a victim of the overemphasis on materialism. According to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, "The core value in contemporary Australia . . . is materialism . . . [We] have been thoroughly seduced by the idea that wealth is the measure of our worth. Consumerism is rampant" (Hugh Mackay, "Into the Embrace of the Unholy Trinity," Sept. 15, 2006).
Traditional religious life in Australia has been experiencing considerable decline as well. "In modern secular societies such as Australia, where the grip of convention has relaxed hugely since the 1960s, there's a fair amount of disagreement over what's right and what's wrong as people question, interrogate and criticise traditional moral authorities" ("The Moral Dimension," The Bulletin, Feb. 27, 2002).
Canada is no exception to what has been generally happening to our English-speaking world. Its moral decline has been summed up in "The Moral Destruction of Canada: A Survey" in The Interim: "For about 40 years Canada has been the laboratory for an awful social experiment. Beginning with contraception (1967) and divorce (1968), Canadian society has become a culture coarsened by narcissism and nihilism; these, in turn, have led us to abortion (1969) and euthanasia (2005?). Canada has become a culture corrupted by death . . .
"The state permitted easy divorce and placed itself and its courts in an ever- greater number of family disputes. The state approved and then funded abortions, thus involving itself in the doctor-patient relationship and, more ominously, the womb . . . The state attacked religion, thus entering into churches to tell them what they could and could not do . . . Religion has been banished from the public square" (Paul Tuns, August 2005).
Dr. Black well sums up the situation facing the major English-speaking countries: "The lesson of history is that nations die from a lethal combination of internal and external pressures. Moral decay, combined with rising violence, lawlessness, and intellectual apathy, leads invariably to the disintegration of the structures that make civilization possible . . . From ancient times to the present, the pathology of decadence is unmistakable, and in times of trouble it is imperative that we heed these warnings" (When Nations Die, pp. 4-5).
The message of Moses applies today
At the end of the day what really counts will be our relationship with God—both nationally and personally. That relationship is being challenged by secularism at just about every level. Only the Bible reveals the way to bring us back to our senses.
The "song of Moses" is one of the most profoundly prophetic portions of the Pentateuch. It contains Moses' penultimate message to the historic nation of Israel. But its wisdom and understanding is intended for a much broader audience than that of the ancient Hebrew nation. The song begins: "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth" (Deuteronomy 32:1).
Moses' words look down through the ages to our time and our own English-speaking peoples. The song is fitly designed for the modern descendants of the house of Israel—principally the house of Joseph, presently located in Britain and those nations descended from it, including the United States. This prophetic anthem declares without qualification: "They have corrupted themselves. They are not His [God's] children [spiritually], because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation" (verse 5).
Paradoxically, America is one of the most prosperous countries in the world and at the same time one of the most immoral.
As former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett stated: "While the world still regards the United States as the leading economic and military power on earth, this same world no longer holds us in moral respect as it once did. When the rest of the world looks at America now, they no longer see a 'shining city on a hill.' Instead, they see a society in decline, with exploding rates of crime and social pathologies" (quoted by Black, p. 5).
In large measure our nations are treading the downward path of ancient Rome. Rome's beginnings were characterized by a stable family life. However, this changed dramatically over time. E.B. Castle wrote about the Roman Empire in his book Ancient Education and Today: "Added . . . was the consequent easy attitude to the marriage tie, the increasing frequency of divorce and growing freedom and laxity in women's morals, all of which ended in a loosening of the old family unit in which the best of Roman character had its roots" (1961, p. 119).
The apostle James stated that when you break just one of the Ten Commandments, in principle you transgress them all (James 2:10-11). Immoral family life in Rome was accompanied by covetousness and greed. "Personal aggrandizement was too eagerly sought and too readily achieved by the ruthless . . . and the old traditions of selfless service to the state were weakening" (pp. 119-120).
The same decline and fall that happened to the Roman Empire could happen to us. It is not impossible! Even the decay of traditional Roman religion played its part. In time "it had wholly lost its power over the human hearts" (Jerome Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, 1960, p. 122).
Today the major English-speaking peoples no longer recognize and appreciate the true God who generously gave them many of the choice places on this planet. "He made [them] ride in the heights of the earth," the "song of Moses" proclaims (verse 13). Yet their thanks is to let these very blessings turn them away from God: "But Jeshurun [a poetic name for Israel] grew fat and kicked; you grew thick, you are obese [literally true today]! Then he forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation" (verse 15).
As foreseen, our nations are rapidly forgetting about God and His laws: "Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful and have forgotten the God who fathered you" (verse 18).
A tragic fate without God's help
The consequences of dismissing God are dire: "And when the Lord saw it, He spurned them, because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters. And He said: 'I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith'" (verses 19-20). There is no real future without the help and favor of our Creator.
God will not be mocked! If they do not repent, He will punish His own peoples, His own nations, for their many sins: "I will heap disasters on them; I will spend My arrows on them" (verse 23). The following verses speak of coming famine, disease epidemics and monumental reverses in war (verses 24-25).
Do we believe such things cannot happen to us? Do we think that God lacks the power to bring these things to pass? The truth is that unless we turn around and go in an altogether different direction spiritually, our tragic fate is inevitable. We are drawing very close to that unstoppable wave of consequences mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Lack of godly wisdom and understanding
In many ways secularism has vanquished our Christian belief systems. In this world's educational system, divine creation is—at best—taught on rare occasions as a peripheral theory for the origin of man and the universe, but usually as one supposedly without any scientific proof.
Evolution, an unprovable theory itself and one requiring even more faith than divine creation when you really understand it, is most often trumpeted as the only possible explanation for human life as we know it today. In concert with secular humanism, the theory of evolution denies absolute values and inevitably reduces humankind by ever-decreasing moral standards.
It starts with the denial of the Creator by those who know better (Romans 1:18-20). That denial of God's existence inevitably leads to all sorts of perverted thinking and behavior (as the rest of Romans 1 shows). We shouldn't be surprised that the Bible is assaulted in academic and intellectual circles by those who seek to discredit its teachings.
These many corrupting beliefs quickly filter down to our children, with devastating results. Taught by evolutionary theory that only the fittest survive and that this life is all there is, we shouldn't be surprised when our children make decisions accordingly.
Among other things, many become involved in sexual relationships before marriage, often with appalling consequences. The message of music, television shows and movies teaches young people to resolve conflicts by the use of violence. Many are not taught by their parents how to peaceably resolve disagreements, disputes and arguments. They are also deceived into believing that alcohol and drugs lead to happiness rather than to sickness and despair.
Former Boston College President John Silber explains that we need not be ignorant of the results of such moral breakdown since "one can foretell the poverty, misery, and despair awaiting a pregnant, unmarried, drug-dependent teenager and the wretched life awaiting her unborn child" (Straight Shooting: What's Wrong With America and How to Fix It, 1989, p. xv).
As Dr. Black explains: "The consequences of the self-serving decisions of the young and restless today have brought about the disasters of AIDS, venereal disease, unwanted pregnancy, illegitimacy, multiple abortions, abuse, death, violent crime, and much of the deep emotional turmoil that is the natural result of profligate living.
"The entire record of human history confirms that despair and disaster are the natural consequences of irresponsible self-indulgence. Immorality and hedonism contribute to the death of nations; yet a number of Americans want to ignore that dark reality" (p. 216).
Modern society has pushed God to the periphery, if not out of the picture altogether. He is no longer the center of our lives. We no longer rely on Him. Moses' warning in Deuteronomy 32 continues: "For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them. Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" (verses 28-29). National repentance is possible if we would only deeply consider where our current national practices are taking us.
Yet God is so merciful that even if we should continue on this road to national oblivion and these calamities become inevitable, He pledges to come to our rescue: "For the Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone" (verse 36).
Does the worst scenario have to happen? Do our peoples have to persist in their ungodly ways and learn godly wisdom and understanding by tragic experience? Or will we have the moral courage to reassess our lives, see where this path is leading and turn to God and His way of life?
Whatever road our nations choose to take, you personally can swim against the stream and begin to change your life for the better right now. You can repent of past transgressions of God's law, receive God's forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice and begin a new and spiritually abundant life. We hope you'll choose wisely! GN