One could not help feeling the frustration in James P. Gannon’s letter bemoaning the current state of morality, civility and “decency,” and I agree with much of his argument about this state of affairs. In fact, I said as much, a bit more succinctly, in my recent column about the “dumbing down” of the ever-descending lowest common cultural denominator.
“In other words, we are going to hell in a handbasket,” I opined. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t all noticed and commented on this for several decades now. Probably, some wag has been going on about the sorry decay of society since the days of the Neanderthals.
But Gannon’s targets, those he holds responsible for this sorry state of affairs, include many of the Tea Party’s usual suspects: the counter-cultural hippies of the 1960s, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and, by whatever reasoning, the “anti-war movement.” That last culprit strikes me as odd coming from a Catholic moralist. But to each his own conclusions.
Mr. Gannon’s view of the good ol’ days begins with the “America of the 1950s, the last normal decade before things started coming apart.” Ah yes, the good ol’ days of HUAC, and Joe McCarthy, and Orval Faubus, and Tricky Dick Nixon, and coat-hanger abortions in back alleys, and grinding poverty, and white supremacy, and strict segregation enforced by the occasional lynching, and smog-filled skies and polluted rivers, and the Legion of Decency, and J. Edgar Hoover, and backyard bomb shelters, and when “a woman’s place was in the home.” Back in those idyllic days when two-thirds of American doctors smoked unfiltered cigarettes, Alger Hiss hid stuff in Whittaker Chambers’ pumpkin, and Hugh Hefner read Alfred Kinsey. Maybe Gannon grew up around the corner from Ozzie and Harriet, but where I lived, things weren’t so, uh, “white bread.”
In the ’50s, “juvenile delinquency” and rebelliousness were blamed on things like comic books and rock and roll. I was a “rebel” for sure. But there was a lot more than that going on in America.
The post-World War II economic boom brought a new and unprecedented prosperity to America. The middle class began to grow, folks moved from inner cities to the suburbs, automobiles were available and affordable, and the new gadget that was television sprouted antennas from every rooftop. That new mobility and exposure to cultural diversity was a big influence in a nation which was beginning to change at an ever-quickening pace, as our country and the world became smaller and smaller and more connected economically and socially.
Gannon is right that our culture has become coarser and much less concerned with decency and “traditional values.” It has also become much more violent. Yet he mocks and condescends to those of us who want to pass civilized restrictions on military assault weapons in our communities. “The predictable liberal lament on the latest mass shooting and the need for stricter gun laws,” he says.
I would suggest that the national outrage about 20 dead first-graders is more than a “predictable liberal lament.” To me, that line sounds like a defense of “the merchants of death and degradation in our culture,” rather than a search for a comprehensive solution to the current assault-gun carnages. He says that government and gun laws will not save us, which is what the NRA has been saying for years. Obviously a ban on assault rifles will not “save us” from the effects of the inexorable and cancerous internet and media slime, but it might have saved a few of those kids.
The film industry of Hollywood, about which I have some familiarity, couldn’t care less if you or I or Jim Gannon or Barack Obama or Billy Graham or the Pope or anybody else is concerned about the content of their films. They are in business to make money, and they will tell you that if sex and violence didn’t sell, they wouldn’t be selling it. These huge international media conglomerates answer only to their stockholders.
They are immune to moral pressure, unless it begins to seriously affect their bottom line. For all of the sermonizing, until that basic business model changes, the deluge from the “entertainment” sewer will increase, protected – as it should be – by the First Amendment, yet rationalized by a “free market” philosophy.
Jim’s lecture seems to assume that he has a superior understanding of the degrading of our culture, but his remedy is a scolding sermon of platitudes. “We are individually responsible for our own behavior,” he says. But who really disagrees with that? “Our secular culture has driven God and prayer from public schools and the public square,” he tells us. Well, Jim, the God I believe in can’t be moved around so easily. He has not, and cannot, be moved or “driven” anywhere by humans disagreeing about public policy.
My belief is that the Creator of Life is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. I don’t worry about anyone moving Him around; I just worry about trying to do right every day. And I worry about those who would insist that their version of what is right and moral should be imposed on the rest of us.
Jim says that “our violent, sex-drenched, rules-free society shames America in the world – a spectacle reminiscent of the last years of the Roman Empire.” Well, I wasn’t around to hear Nero fiddle or see the Vandal hordes roll into Rome, but I have been around enough to know that Europe is far more “secular” than we, that Africa is a moral basket case, that the Middle East is filled with religious zealots, that China and North Korea are slave states that forbid religion at all, and that much of our planet suffers in poverty, disease and crime. The cultural things that we six billion earthlings have in common are Hollywood and the World Wide Web.
To say that government, at whatever level, has no role in solutions is to forget that we are a “nation of laws,” an established government with the oldest living constitution on Earth. If your God has been moved somewhere (as mine has not), it is the result of Supreme Court interpretations of that Constitution, not of some imaginary coterie of nefarious counter-culture types whom you say are “those who overthrew the rules.”
Come down from your pulpit, Mr. Gannon, and slug it out down here in the trenches of reality.