The religious and political machines in America are undergoing rapid changes. But the changes are in tune with the rapid decline of popular culture. And that's not good.
A recent issue of The Economist told of the declining influence of the American religious right, particularly that of Dr. James Dobson, probably the most influential evangelical leader in recent years. Dr. Dobson with his Focus on the Family ministry has exercised tremendous clout with the American evangelical community. His organization has an annual budget of $150 million, employs more than 1,300 people and has a mailing list of 6 million names. One author has dubbed his operation a "Jesus Machine."
But Dr. Dobson is 70 years old and is probably nearing the end of his career. Some of his latest initiatives have not gone the way he planned. His recent support of some political moves and individuals has failed.
Recent months have seen several conservative politicians, moralists and evangelicals caught up in scandal. They include sexual sins, gambling addictions and taking bribes. Hypocrisy is not selective in who it afflicts. Democrats or Republicans, religious or nonreligious, we are all subject to the temptations of our affluent, globalized world.
Americans are fabulously wealthy beyond the imaginations of any previous generation. This wealth has brought with it an abundance of temptations. Americans from every walk of life gobble up every available distraction and luxury with the easy and unlimited credit available to virtually everyone.
Debt, drink, drugs, gambling, lotteries and sex all happen without much restraint or rebuke. And everyone, from the rich and prominent to the middle class and obscure poor, is subject to the abuse of these vices.
Isaiah the prophet lamented Israel's excesses. "Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD... The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it" (Isaiah 1:4-6).
Our celebrity-obsessed society focuses more on sound bites and media saturation, talk and vanity. This is what people are interested in and what drives much of what passes for news and entertainment in our media. We are more interested in the sad death of a blonde woman who contributed nothing of lasting value to society than we are those men and women who put their lives on the line every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the sad reality of our popular culture.
American religion and most of its leaders have been transformed by a culture that cannot recognize and resist sin. Rather than transforming a people with the gospel of the Kingdom of God, religion and those who believe have been transformed by a culture closer to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Our political leaders are out of touch with those they represent. What they say, regardless of party, is basically the same. They may champion "values," but most likely they are libertine.
Both religion and politics have failed to teach the moral law of God that can bring justice, peace and a stable world. The world is changing and careening rapidly toward a time of crisis. Our moral climate is a larger threat to our survival than any foreign power.