America’s Perilous Journey (Jul – Dec 1995)

By Matt Dabbs

by Steve Flatt
July – December, 1995

On glancing through the morning paper, Henry’s attention is drawn to a gruesome article about a murder/suicide. As he finishes that depressing piece of news, he sees a story about child molestation and he somberly peruses that piece. Finally, wearied by the detailed depravity, he folds the paper and sighs, “What on earth is happening to this country?”

How many times is that scene duplicated in America each day? How many times has it repeated itself at your breakfast table?

What has happened to our country? And why has it come about? And, most important, what are we going to do about it?

What Has Happened?

The symptoms are legion, but the disease can be traced to two roots.

First, we have become a valueless culture.
There has been a gradual shift of thought in America. Before this century, our society operated from a set of presuppositions largely derived from Christian ethics. That’s not to say that the majority of Americans were ever Christians, but the majority were led and influenced by Christian principles. Those have now been replaced by the principles of secular humanism.

Promoting the exaltation of man, humanism and atheism are opposite sides of the same coin. Atheism says, “I don’t believe in God.” Secular humanism says, “I believe in man to the exclusion of God.” Humanism declares, “I believe in man! I believe in his ability to discern right from wrong, set his own values, and solve his own problems.”

The following scene from the end of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier epitomizes the humanistic value system that has enveloped our country:

Capt. Kirk: “Cosmic thoughts, gentlemen?”

Dr. McCoy: “We were just speculating. Is God really out there?”

Capt. Kirk: “Maybe he’s not out there, Bones. Maybe he’s right here” (pointing to his heart).

G. K. Chesterton said, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing. He believes in anything.”

This humanistic valuelessness is most clearly evidenced in our lack of a sexual ethic, our forms of entertainment, our disregard for human life, the crime epidemic, and a lack of respect for sources of authority.

Second, we have lost a sense of individual responsibility.
With no sense of right and wrong or any absolutes, America has lost her concept of personal responsibility in arenas such as the following:

Our judicial system — What do the Rodney King, Reginald Denny, John Bobbitt, Lorena Bobbitt, and Menendez brothers trials all have in common? Amazingly, nobody was found guilty of anything! Couldn’t you have sworn some crime was committed in all that mess!?

The welfare state — designed to help the poor, the welfare state is destroying them. Our current welfare program has killed initiative and responsibility while running up a current annual price tag of $21 billion.

Fractured families — By now, we’re all too aware of the millions of divorces, single-parent and blended families, and abused children. The reasons and excuses are legion. But what’s the taproot of the problem? A loss of individual responsibility!

How Did We Get Here?

This question can’t begin to be answered sufficiently in a few paragraphs, but let’s take a quick look at key factors from the last three decades that have led us to our present condition.

The ‘60s—The Decade of Rebellion
The ‘60s began as a decade of promise—the new Kennedy administration, the Peace Corps, the space program, all brought hope of a better country and world tomorrow. It grew into a decade of passion. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington monument moved the hearts of millions, and the civil rights movement mushroomed.

But the ‘60s was also a decade of problems:

November 22, 1963 — the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
October 1, 1967 — 55,000 protestors march on the Pentagon.
June, 1968 — Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated while running for president.
August, 1969 — One-half million people gathered at Woodstock.

Each of these reflected the tumultuous rebellious spirit that was permeating our land. But, the greatest single mark of rebellion of the ‘60s occurred on June 15, 1962 — the day the U. S. Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools. Overturning 179 years of high court interpretation of the First Amendment as prohibiting the dominance of the state by a denomination or sect, the court determined “the separation of church and state” (a phrase not found in the U. S. Constitution or Bill of Rights) should ban any religious activity on state property.

Looking back on that date, it was as if America took the scissors and snipped the tether that connected us as a nation to God. The highest authority in the land made the statement that God had no formal place in the training of our young people.

Consider these trends:

    1. From 1963 to 1983, teen pregnancies for girls 14 or under increased 533 percent.

 

  • SAT scores declined for 20 consecutive years beginning in 1963.

 

 

  • Sexually transmitted diseases increased more than 300 percent in the 15-19 age group from 1962 to 1992.

 

 

  • In that same period of time, violent crime increased more than 550 percent.

 

These trends prove no “cause and effect” relationship with the school prayer ban, but unquestionably a significant correlation does exist. And, most significantly, the ban marked the beginning moment when we said, “God, we don’t need you in America anymore.”

The ‘70s—The Decade of Disillusionment
The lingering Vietnam War, Watergate, the OPEC oil embargo, Rowe v. Wade, the Carter administration, and the hostages in Iran were just a few of the low-water marks for the ‘70s. Following the rebellion of the ‘60s, we became a disillusioned culture, and in our disillusionment, we ran.

We ran from commitment. We ran from commitment to God, country, family, and everything else. In the words of one writer, “The one-night stand was the legacy of the ‘70s. You could get away with anything and no one seemed to care. To be married was to be chained. To be married with children was to be doubly chained. To be single or only casually committed was the desirable state. Marriage and children were virtually foreign to many of the latter day boomers. Pop songs and movies showed the hellish drudgery of mindless marriage while extolling the virtues of being sexually uninhibited.”

People ran to sexual permissiveness. The ‘60s opened the door with a few hippies and their “free love” communes. But the ‘70s was the decade of singles’ bars, coed dorms, pornographic bookstores, skyrocketing divorce rates, the loss of “adultery” from the English language, and homosexuality coming out of the closet.

People ran to “self-help” theology. When one swallows the humanistic lie that man is the ultimate, then in troubled times one can only turn to self. Hence, the ‘70s ushered in ESP, transcendental meditation, scientology, Yoga, Zen Buddhism, Hare Krishna, the Moonies, etc.

People ran to drugs. The ‘60s saw a few pot-heads in the back of a beat-up Volkswagen van. In the ‘70s, cocaine and its lower-class cousin, crack, invaded our society. The young, old, middle-aged, rich, poor, white, black, educated, and uneducated became addicted.

People ran to death. The ultimate sign of disillusionment. The suicide rate was higher in the ‘70s than in any decade prior to that time.

People were disillusioned. The ‘70s closed with Neil Diamond and Barbra Striesand singing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.” How true…rebellion followed by disillusionment.

The ‘80s—The Decade of Personal Sovereignty
The ‘80s began with a different feel. Our national self-image, ravaged by the disillusioning ‘70s, the ‘80s ushered in a smiling, winsome, flag-waving Ronald Reagan, riding in like the cowboy with the white hat. The hostages in Iran were freed the day Reagan became president. In short order, we invaded Grenada and retaliated against Libya. While hardly formidable opponents, our patriotism and dignity had returned.

Personal sovereignty seemed to characterize the ‘80s. John Taylor wrote, “Our society was sick and tired of restraint—sick and tired of being told to lower our speed limits, thermostats, and expectations. We were ripe and ready to shout, ‘Enough glossy ideals and platitudes and sacrifices. We want to talk about ourselves. We no longer want to be denied. We want our part and we want it now!”

Personal sovereignty and independence had their stamps everywhere. A 1967 survey of college freshmen indicated that 83 percent thought the primary reason for going to college was “developing a philosophy of life.” A similar survey in 1987 revealed that 76 percent of the first-year students thought “being well-off financially” was the number-one reason for enrolling. The fastest-growing magazine of the decade was Money magazine. The heroes of the ‘80s were the money people Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, Lee Iacocca. The Hollywood heroes were the fiercely independent and self-sufficient Rambo and The Terminator.

But there were downsides to the personal sovereignty of the 1980s:

First, there was debt. Motivated by the Boeskys, Trumps, and T. Boone Pickens, and words like “creative leveraging,” “pyramid marketing,” “corporate raiders,” and “junk bonds,” we got creative, too. We spent and spent and spent money we didn’t have, using credit cards with 21 percent interest while Bobby McFerrin sang, “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”

Second, there was pseudo-spirituality. With a new conservative administration, the early ‘80s brought hope of noticeable change in the spiritual fabric of our country. Dreams of restating the ban on abortion, returning prayer to public schools, harsher punishment for criminals, more stable families, and government endorsement of Judeo-Christian values were prevalent. But those dreams didn’t come true. Why?

Here’s the main reason: The conservative, patriotic revival of the ‘80s was based on personal sovereignty and selfishness rather than on genuine humility and repentance before God. Religion in the ‘80s manifested the personal sovereignty theme as firmly as any other sphere of the culture. Remember, the ‘80s was the heyday of money-grabbing televangelists. Baby boomers returned to churches to raise their children, but they wanted “church” their way and churches no longer talked much about obedience, commitment, or sacrifice. One Barna poll indicated that the average church-attending baby boomer gave just two percent of his or her income to the local church.

Third, there was polarization. As humanistic thinking about theism, abortion, sexual promiscuity, pornography, creating a genderless society, and erosion of the family began to be more widely accepted in the ‘70s, the ‘80s became a time of polarization of values and ideals in our nation. Patrick Buchanan was right when he observed that we Americans no longer share the same goals, ideals, or values, we only inhabit the same piece of ground.

Where Will We Go?

That’s the $64,000 question! The best thing about looking back is a renewed realization that certain choices led us to where we are now. The value of that realization is understanding that the choices we make today will be the shaping force of tomorrow. So how will we shape America 2000?

Cal Thomas wisely stated, “The flow of the ‘80s was to rely on politics alone, and admittedly seek a quick fix to our nation’s ills was appealing, but the excessive polarization was damaging to us. This is why powerful, transforming movements in society so often move not from the top down, but from the bottom up. As we take stock, I think we will awaken to the profound truth that being precedes doing. What we must do must flow from who we are. We cannot export something we do not have. Before we can bring a holy influence on society, we must first be holy people and the institution by which we are equipped to be holy people is the church—the community whose identity, purpose, and mission transcend political agendas and whose power comes from the Holy Spirit.”

He’s right. If America is to change, it’s because you and I have changed. We must truly make Jesus Christ our Master and Lord. The prime reason America has digressed and deteriorated to its present condition is the decreasing number of men and women who serve Him as Lord.

We must avoid the sirens of humanism lest we be like Lot and have to be grabbed by angels to escape destruction (Genesis 19:16). Too many of us have swallowed “hook, line, and sinker” current myths about “separation of church and state” and our inability to “legislate morality.” We’ve been slowly boiling in the kettle of our television sets, unaware of their power to distort and destroy our minds.

We must be the salt of the earth—distinctive, flavorful, preserving, and sometimes burning. And we must be Christ’s ambassadors. Like Paul, let’s use every legitimate, legal, and honorable method to advance the gospel of Christ and the will of God. We must stand up and speak up, not as some cog in a political action committee, but as a preserving agent in a dying world.

It’s nothing revolutionary, and yet it is. It is returning to the basics that once turned the world upside-down. But now it’s time to do it again!Wineskins Magazine

Steve Flatt

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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