A recent feature article in a major American newsweekly stated: "Things are better than you think... In 2005, as in 2004, the world economy grew by about 5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF projects similar growth for several years to come...The great engine of this growth is, of course, the United States, which produces more than one fifth of world economic product and whose gross domestic product has been growing at around 4 percent—4.8 percent in the latest quarter" (Michael Barone, "Heard the Good News?" U.S. News and World Report, May 29, 2006, emphasis added throughout).
Of course, several other major economies are growing as well, a few at even greater rates than the American economy is.
Still, President George Bush underscored American economic achievements, saying, "This economy is powerful, productive and prosperous."
The author of the first article also pointed out that, overall, genocides and wars have decreased rapidly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and he listed all the changes that benchmark incident produced. Violent conflicts in particular have apparently dropped by 40 percent since 1992. The writer concluded, "In most important respects, our [Western] civilization is performing splendidly."
But is this an accurate portrayal of what is happening to the United States in particular and the Western world in general?
A much gloomier picture
Curiously, the very next feature article in the same issue starkly presented the flip side of the coin! Its author stated, "Sadly, Katrina has become a metaphor for the nation, a symbol of what can happen when challenges to our well-being gain force, and we fail to address them" (David Gergen, "The Danger of Drift," U.S. News and World Report, May 29, 2006).
He pictured the U.S. president as wounded, the Congress dogged by division, the American public in a state of increasing anxiety about the future and a divided nation in danger of merely drifting for the next three years or so.
As the author sees it, five big things are wrong with America: The "rising tide of mediocrity" in public education, an unsustainable health-care system, government spending gone amok, unacceptable energy dependence on foreign lands and an administration that refuses to recognize the dreaded implications of climate change.
The author concluded that these factors are tied together: "Mediocre schools mean we become less competitive. High medical costs make it impossible to bring our deficits down. A lack of energy independence makes us even more hostage to others. Losing our competitive edge lowers our incomes and makes it harder to pay for better schools and information systems that could help reduce healthcare costs. Each gathers force year by year" (ibid.).
Which one of the two scenarios should we believe? It is certainly true that so far no other nation has so successfully first invented and then taken advantage of modern technology and globalization like America has. Yet only one in four of the citizenry apparently believes that the U.S. economy is now performing well.
Perhaps a mini crisis of confidence exists partially because the wage packet of the average person has apparently grown little in the last several years. "Factory-floor wages are now 10%-30% higher [in Japan] than in the U.S." (World Business, June 2006).
The traditional middle class feels economically squeezed and social mobility "from poverty to riches" is now greater in some European countries. Yet in any economic evaluation no one should underestimate the propensity of Americans to find the solution to stubbornly difficult, knotty economic problems. History shows America has enjoyed many such unexpected blessings. Will they continue?
A serious lowering of moral standards
The West's real problem has not even been addressed in these two disparate scenarios. What is wrong with America and the Western world as a whole involves basic morality—not economics. The fundamental problem is a moral one.
Many facets of Western immorality could be cited to support our case. For instance in America today, although the religious right is fighting a courageous battle, the gay agenda and same-sex marriage proponents are gradually gaining strength. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages was defeated recently.
Also, hardcore pornographic films are readily available to travelers in most major hotels and motels. What one sees can often translate into what one does. Yet money talks, and what is morally best for the whole nation is not a serious consideration.
Even more disturbing, "A sample of 10 million U.S. Internet users shows the most trafficked sites by category during the week ended May 26, [and] X-rated fare [adult entertainment] leads the pack" over e-mail services, more acceptable entertainment, search engines, business and finances, shopping and classifieds, etc. (ibid.).
Then there is the subject of aborting unborn human beings. Many pro-choice proponents claim that abortion is acceptable in early stages of pregnancy. Others claim that abortion should be legal during any stage.
A professor at Princeton University took the debate even farther. Dr. Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics, maintained that mothers should have the right to kill any baby that is physically or mentally disabled for up to 28 days after birth. His rationale was that a baby isn't a thinking, self-aware person at this time (Gary Petty, "The Abortion Quagmire," www.ucg.org/reprints).
Even most pro-choice proponents would find Professor Singer's position repugnant. Yet it highlights the all-important question: Who determines the point when an embryo or fetus is no longer considered mere tissue but a distinct life with the moral right to live?
Obviously the Creator God would have that right. We need to ask ourselves: What does God think? Doesn't He always think in terms of what we could be and will be rather than what we are now? It was God who said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply." Conception should lead to birth!
Somehow too many have lost their appreciation of the wonder of conception. Two scientists described it this way: "Human life begins in…cooperation of the most intimate sort. Two cells wholly merge. They combine their genetic material. Two very different beings become one. The act of making a human being involves…cooperation so perfect that the partners' separate identities vanish" (the late Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1992, p. 199).
This description by a husband and wife team, whatever their religious beliefs, gives at least an inkling of understanding about the providential purpose of human life.
The Hebrew prophets condemn our way of life
Isaiah spoke to the whole human race in his long prophecy. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear O earth" (Isaiah 1:1). He firmly warned: "Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity [lawlessness], a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away backward" (verse 4).
These words were written to our peoples in the Western world (primarily the descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel during the end time) as much as to the ancient nation of Judah. Biblical prophecy is often dual in nature, a principle we explain in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.
Continuing in this passage we read: "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, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment" (verses 5-6). Isaiah is speaking figuratively of what our spiritual sins look like to God.
He then calls our peoples by some very unpleasant but appropriate names. "Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah" (verse 10).
Increasingly Western governments are giving legal endorsement to a false way of life that is directly condemned in the Bible in both Old and New Testaments—even now threatening to enact into national law provisions that would punish those who would stand up for God's great spiritual law and His way of life. Nearly 2,000 years ago John the Baptist paid with his life for boldly telling the vassal ruler of Judah that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife.
God's advice to us today through Isaiah is simply this: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (verses 16-17).
The prophet Hosea hits the problem from a slightly different angle, but the overall message is virtually the same. "Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: 'There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn'" (Hosea 4:1-3).
There is now a growing rejection of the Ten Commandments in the whole Western world. Violence is a problem in particular. One murder often follows another just like links on a chain. Serial killers are at large in our world.
Hosea goes on to say: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6). Clearly our peoples are in the process of rejecting the knowledge of God's basic spiritual law embodied in the Ten Commandments (verse 2).
We don't seem to grasp the fact that the price of breaking God's law results in severe penalties that we are presently paying and will increasingly pay in the future—unless we turn away from disobedience and begin to learn about and follow Jesus Christ's biblical way of life.
Of course, real repentance and accepting Christ's sacrifice for our past sins and mistakes are a big part of our responsibility to God (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:9).
A sorely needed standard: the Ten Commandments
Are things really better than we think? Not when we consider the things that truly count. When are we in the United States and the Western world as a whole going to return to keeping the Ten Commandments? Do many of us even know what all 10 are?
No matter what your neighbor does, you can personally decide to swim upstream and begin leading a truly abundant moral life (John 10:10). The United Church of God publishes a free booklet that will help you get started in the right direction.
Please request or download our 80-page publication titled simply The Ten Commandments (www.wnponline.org/litreq). Using sound biblical principles, we explain each one in a careful, thoughtful and in-depth manner, showing how they all apply to our everyday lives. WNP