There was one line in Publisher Walter Nicklin’s editorial last week [“The end of the world?”] with which I agreed. He wrote, “. . . the world as I once knew it surely has come to an end . . . .” He then went on to write about his fun with guns as a youth and his service as a sharpshooter in the military, before easing into the predictable liberal lament on the latest mass shooting and the need for stricter gun laws.
If only it were that simple to reverse the sense that the world is falling apart, we would have done it years ago. I agree with Nicklin that the world we knew as youths has come to an end. The country we inhabit in 2012 bears little resemblance to America of the 1950s, the last normal decade before things started coming apart.
In that long-gone era, Americans embraced certain norms of behavior, civility and decency that only those who wished to live as rebels or outcasts would reject. Some things were considered shocking or shameful: foul language, provocative dress, illicit affairs, divorce, abortion, drug abuse and illegitimate children, to name a few. The fact that these norms were often violated, usually secretly, did not undermine their moderating effect on society as a whole.
But the 1960s ushered in the overthrow of these norms, along with the formerly powerful sense of guilt or shame that reinforced them. The anti-war movement, sexual revolution and anti-authority revolt of the ’60s combined to demolish accepted norms of behavior and enshrine the idea of individual fulfillment – “If it feels good, do it.” It’s your life, your body, your right.
In the decades since, the influence-shapers of American society – academia, the media, the entertainment industry – have ridiculed concepts of sin and shame, promoted relative morality and excused inexcusable behavior as the understandable reaction to victimization by racism or sexism. Just watch TV, go to the movies, or spend time on the internet and you will know that there are no longer any boundaries on what is acceptable in violence, hateful speech, explicit sex or personal degradation.
Our collapsing culture is reflected in a violent acting-out of what is being fed to us from those who overthrew all the rules. Should we be surprised when a mentally unstable young man acts out what Hollywood and video game makers sell to our children – the thrill of killing as many targets as possible? Should we be shocked that life is so cheapened in an era when it’s become a sacred right to dispose of millions of unborn children?
Our secular culture has driven God and prayer from public schools and the public square. Throughout history, morality has always been rooted in religion, and by driving religion out of public life we are undermining morality and its moderating effect on behavior. If a person has no sense of right and wrong, no faith, no sense of restraint, no hope of redemption, then the unthinkable becomes the doable.
Those who see no connection between senseless mass killings and our society’s general loss of behavioral norms, morality, common decency and order are either not paying attention to our culture or are in denial of our directions as a society. So go ahead and pass an assault rifle ban or close the gun show loophole if you wish – but don’t expect that to stop our slow-motion drift toward violent self-destruction.
Government and gun laws will not save us. Hope does not lie in politics or legislation, but in people realizing that what we have lost is what our parents tried to teach us: that we are individually responsible for our behavior; that order, discipline and morality are essential to a good society; that we are not entitled to everything we want, but that we are accountable for everything we do.
Parents, schools, churches and civic groups are the only ones who can begin reversing this cultural decline that coarsens our society. Our violent, sex-drenched, rules-free society shames America in the world – a spectacle reminiscent of the last years of the Roman Empire. It will end as badly, if parents, teachers, preachers and civic leaders will not stand up, speak out and push back against the merchants of death and degradation in our culture, and the purveyors of “progress” toward a secularized society without morality, faith or hope.
James P. Gannon