|Politics, Education, Youth and Electronic Media: Dancing in the Dark
(Radical Shift in Morals - Challenge to the Church in the 1990's)
We live in the age of the Eclipse of Principle for both politics and media. We live in an age of moral chaos. Whatever happened to Christian Ethics in our society? As Walt Harrington wrote in the 27th December 1987 Washington Post magazine, "Greed is the universal motive, sincerity is a pose, honesty is for chumps. Altruism is selfishness with a neurotic twist, and morality is for kids and fools." Neither the family or church is armed for battle with contemporary education and media. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry recently declared that:
"We're in trouble as a nation. The pragmatic approach to the problems we have may seem to get things done on an obscure basis, but sooner or later the eclipse of principle will exert its tool. Pragmatism has no enduring assurance in terms of the solution it achieves. Our basic problems are not economic or political. They are moral and spiritual."
Billy Graham remarked that "America is not at the crossroads, as some say. America is a long way down the wrong road. She needs to come back to the crossroads and the right road." (Revival is always a return to crossroads.) How have we produced a generation who is Dancing in The Dark? How has family and education produced such a generation who affirms The Death of Ethics in America? (See Cal Thomas's work on this theme.) We live in an age that affirms a massive dichotomy between personal and social ethics. We live in an age of moral retardation that cries out to be addressed at a time so many trivialize sexual arrogance, which directly confronts marriage, women and the home.
In the 1960s we were told to "do your own thing." No society or civilization has survived which affirms this moral decadence at both the personal and social levels. As long ago as the 1980s, James Reston, the noted liberal New York Times columnist wrote, "There are theaters of violence, rebellions and uprising of all sorts, mass hypocrisy and false sincerity fueled by television and a general decline in courtesy and decency." (August 2, 1987) In the same newspaper, April 5, 1987, an editorial recanted the spy ring run by John Walker sold technical manuals to the navy's cipher machines to the Soviet Union. Ronald Pelton, a fourteen year veteran of the National Security Agency betrayed data to the highest level of the Soviet Government. Edward Howard was trained by the CIA to service agents in Moscow. He was fired and later defected, thus compromising agency operations in Moscow.
The U.S. News and World Report published a 23 February 1987 cover story on "Lying in America" and asked whether we have become a nation of liars. In 1973, at the height of The Watergate scandal, America began a public visible decline in morals. Morals have been going downhill ever since.
I. Self-Seekers and Greed Mongers
It ought to alarm us that violations of ethical standards now seem to be the rule. Political corruption has become increasingly widespread, affecting people at the local, state, and national levels. The 1992 L.A. breakdown was a moral problem, not an economic or political one. Municipal bribes and kickbacks are everywhere—egs. former mayor of Syracuse, NY got a 1.2 million kickback; the mayor of Washington D.C., Marion Barry; Ex-governor Daniel Walker of Illinois pleaded guilty to fraud and perjury. At the end of 1987, more than 110 senior officials had been accused of unethical or illegal conduct since Reagan took office in 1981. This number does not include involvement in the Iran-Contra affair or the Medtech scandal. Administration officials who have been convicted include; (1) Michael Deaver, former White House staff member, of perjury; (2) Lyn Nafziger, former White House staff member, of influence peddling; (3) Rita Lavalle, former head of the toxic waste cleanup at the Environmental Protection Agency, of lying to Congress and obstructing justice; (4) C. McClain Haddow, chief of staff to former health aid human services secretary Margaret M. Heckler, of taking $55,330 from a nonprofit foundation he started while working for the government; (5) Paul Thayes, former deputy secretary of defense of obstructing justice and giving false testimony in an insider trading scheme. Whitney North Seymour, Jr. said that there is "too much loose money" in Washington and until attitudes about ethical standards change "there is little that prosecutors can do except put a thumb in the dike." Seymour charged that the Ethics in Government Act, which governs the contacts that former government officials may make after they leave the federal payroll, is so riddled with loopholes that it is impossible to enforce.
Vast sums of money are on call to representatives of major corporations, defense contractors and foreign governments to buy influence and favors. Washington money men will continue to undermine public confidence in government until lawmakers, business and community leaders and individual citizens decide to cry "enough." Though the number has increased in the 1990s, The Justice Department's Public Integrity Section claims that is investigations lead to indictments in 1986 of 496 federal officials, 88 state officials, 232 local officials, and 277 other people allegedly involved in crimes. No wonder our children are confused! (cf. in 30 April 1863 Abraham Lincoln said that "Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redemption and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us." When receiving the Templeton Prize in Religion in 1981, Alexander Solzhenitsyn echoed Lincoln when he said ". . .men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."
II. Politics and Sin
The framers of the Constitution had a view of sin. Madison writes, "If men were angels no government would be necessary (cf. Madison's Federalist Paper No. 51)." Michael Novak, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, wrote a remarkable column entitled "Ethics and Sin." Novak said,
"It is impossible to talk about ethics without talking about sin. Everyone of us has sometimes betrayed the moral principles we hold … Still, our human weakness does not weaken our moral principles. The principles are confirmed in judging where we fall short." ". . . In an age closer to biblical realism of Judaism and Christianity, American leaders knew that ethics and sin are not opposites, but together. . . Contemporary American discourse suffers mainly from a loss of the concept of sin." (Washington Times, 20 Sept. 1987).
There can be no ground for "Public Virtues" and sin without a proper understanding of the Nature of God. The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to slander, libel and lie. Rights under freedom in Christ will be controlled (see my essays First Amendment and Changing Legal Paradigms). All the high-sounding language in the world will not suffice if a nation disintegrates. Our forefathers were committed to God, virtue, and common good; where did the idea come from that men and nations could conduct themselves in the private and public affairs without reference to any religious values and moral principles? The move can be traced from the Medieval nature/grace dualism to the contemporary naturalistic secularism of Aquinas who "cut reality in two" and located the state in the natural sphere which finds fruition in modern naturalistic secularism developed during the 19th and 20th centuries.
III. Loose Ends: The Coming of Secularism
Where has the secularization of America led us? (Secularism dominates the entire Western world, not merely America. It stems from the assumption that scientific explanation is exhaustive and ultimate. Richard C. Halverson says that "Abandoning an absolute ethical/moral standard leads irresistibly to the absence of ethics and morality. Each person determines his own ethical/moral code. That's anarchy. Humans become their own gods and decide each in his own way what is good and what is evil. Evil becomes good, good becomes evil. Upside-down morality! Good is ridiculed! Evil is dignified! In Perspective, 39, No. 15, in Les Miserables, Victor Hugo's classic work about the French Revolution, it begins with a song, "Where are the leaders of the lands?"
IV. Media Ministers, Ethics and Integrity
A. Religious Financing
B. TV Religion and Integrity
C. Singular Unaccountability
D. Pride and Arrogance of Media Ministry
E. Double Standards (Lying, Hypocrisy, Greed)
F. Often media ministers have deceived themselves, corrupted their followers and disgusted unbelievers. ("Elmer Gantry Lives")
V. Living Once More in the Jazz Age
Like the Jazz Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s, the years combined the romance of wealth and youth with the slightly sinister aura of secret understanding. Closer to home, "When the closing bell rang on Oct. 19, 1987, at the end of the worst day in the history of the New York Stock Exchange, characteristically American discourse came to an end." Eight weeks after the collapse, people were beginning to see that the five-year bull market of the eighties was a new Gatsby age, complete with materialism and euphoric excesses of all speculative eras (cf. Like the Jazz Age of The Great Gatsby in the 1920s). It was anything but coincidental when five weeks before the Stock Market crisis the Wall Street Journal carried a story in its 8 September 1987 edition with the headline, "ETHICS ARE NICE, BUT THEY CAN BE A HANDICAP, SOME EXECUTIVES DECLARE."
A research firm, McFeely, Wackerle, and Jett, asked 671 managers their views on the subject of ethics and business. The managers contended that ethics can impede a successful career and more than half the executive they know would bend the rules to get ahead. One executive said, “I know of unethical acts at all levels of management. ... I have to do it in order to survive." When such thinking becomes dominant in a culture, that culture is doomed.
A fifty-nine year old vice-president at a Midwest company said, "Young MBA and lawyers are taught opportunism, cleverness and cunning. Fairness and equity aren't given equal time or importance." Institutions aren't evil; institutions are made up of people. Capitalism itself is not evil. Wall Street alone is not corrupt. The financial community, like any other community, is only as good or bad as the people who compose it. The people who compose it are as good or bad as the educational and cultural affirmation they have received. A radical ethical paradigm shift has taken place in our culture and it affects every feature of our culture. The great society of the 1980s turned into the not-so-great-society of the 1990s. The generation of the 1980s/1990s are "designer-label kids." They only want the best, whatever it takes to get it.
Writing as long ago as September, 1987, Wm. A Schreyer, chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill, Lynch & Co., Inc., and vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, said this about solutions to the ethical crisis on Wall Street. "In seeking solution, we've got to look at three separate elements:
(1) The human element. It's not only Wall Street that suffers from ethical lapses. We've seen a sustained assault on traditional values for a long time now, and this has produced a widespread sense of anything goes.
(2) We've got to examine the rules we operate by. If they need to be changed, how and by whom?
(3) We need to consider the rapidly changing nature of the financial service industry itself. Are we developing some new practice and techniques that invite abuse? And what new temptations are we creating that we need new protection against? "Do business schools need to introduce ethical consideration more consistently into case studies and into the cost-benefit calculations they teach students to make?"
VI. From Sin to Avarice
Avarice is defined as "excessive or insatiable desire fro wealth or gain." Avaricious persons are completely inner directed. That is they are egocentric and as misguided as the flower children, the hippies, and the rest of the left wing where they had a social agenda. They were going to change the world. Because it was impossibly idealistic, it failed. Because the cause of avarice is sin and sin can only be overcome by Christ, not by sincere, education, law, economic industry, etc. In the last 25 years we have attempted to move into a service society - "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" and the "Peace Corp", etc had to be directed to a selfish "me-first" generation of the 70s and 80s. The failure of this emphasis by the 90’s challenges is once more to seek a grounding for ethics in the Christian gospel. The moral malaise of the securities industry broke when Dennis Levine pleaded guilty in May, 1986 to insider trading. The reaction was that "we are not crooks."
All the evidence reveals building scandals from municipal corruption in New York and Chicago to lax ethical standards on Wall Street. Though the Levine case was dismissed as an aberration, Ivan Boesky, the most infamous to plead guilty or to be convicted of insider trading, agreed to pay a 100 million dollar penalty and accept a life-time banishment from the American securities industry; he was also sentenced to prison. Greed leads to pride. It always does. There is no support in our culture for making a career of self-denial. In fact, self-denial is for fools or for Mother Theresa. True self-denial is not denial at all. It is the actualization of the true self, only faith in Christ can focus our attention on Him rather than the self. See especially Allan Bloom, The Closing of The American Mind (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987); G. M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (NY: Oxford University Press, 1980); A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, The Crisis of The Old Order, 1919-1933 (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1957; and my essays: The Social Sciences and The Christian Faith; Trends and Triage: The Self-Centered Self. See also C. S. Lewis', The Voyage of The Dawn Treader.
Like the 1990s, the 1920s in America was a period of ethical decline. Although it was not until 1929 that the stock market crashed, many were hammering away at the moral foundations of America even during World War I, and this would affect political, religious, and business life. When the U.S. entered the "war to end all wars" in 1914, Europe had been at peace since 1815. Classical liberal scholars had viewed the absence of a general war in the continent as a triumph for the humanistic view that people were perfectable (cf. based on Darwinian Evolution and the inevitability of progress thesis) and the development of the social sciences, esp. Psychology.
When the soldiers came home from the "War to end all wars" they found a different world. The home of The Reformation had spent its theological and ethical foundation by science and Biblical criticism. Germans employed chemical weapons, genocidal tactics of stealing food and unlimited submarine warfare against any floating craft, even a hospital or civilian vessel. As a consequence, American soldiers saw the tenets of naturalistic humanism explode on the battlefield, even as the politicians at home saw President Woodrow Wilson's international peace committee, the League of Nations, unravel in the reality of a world war. There is nothing like a war to test Christian ethics.
Following the War, Warren Harding was elected as President in 1920 symbolizing America's disenchantment with idealism and a new desire to follow political Isolationism. This attitude is what largely fueled the-"roar" that became the Roaring Twenties" (cf. Frederick Lewis, Only Yesterday, 1931). The generation that came home from the war could not accept the living standards of a Pollyanna land of rosy ideals which the war had killed for them (ibid., p. 94-5). The war produced a natural breakdown of traditional restraints and returnees and ethical taboos. The soldiers returned with a new ethical code.
In the decade that followed, America saw traditional values discarded, the Judeo-Christian base discredited in the minds of millions, and the end of the old economic order in the coming of The Great Depression. Secularization was helped along not only by the forces hostile to these values but also by the hypocrisy and discrediting of those who embraced traditional values. The parallel between the 1920s and 1990s cannot be overlooked, both periods were in ethical decline. In politics, this erosion found its worst expression in the lifestyle and policies of President Warren Harding (1921-23); in organized religion, the Scopes evolution trial of 1925, and in the Aimee Semple McPherson "kidnap" hoax and trial in 1926; and in business in the Great Depression that began in 1929. Al Capone represented the great revolt about Christian ethics. The tension between law and ethics was devastating.
As Alien wrote, "Each of these influences, the postwar disillusion, the new status of women, the Freudian gospel, the automobile, prohibition, the sex and "true confession" magazines, and the movies had its part in bringing about the revolution. Each of them as an influence, was played upon by all the others; none of them could alone have changed to any great degree the folkways of America; together their force was irresistible." (F. L. Alien, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of The 1920s (NY: Blue Ribbon Books, 1931. p. 103.)
In recent culture, the invention of the birth control pill, the so-called liberation of men from traditional roles, the effect of this liberation on men who were no longer culture-bound to serve as providers and protectors and the rejection by many rock stars of traditional values, and their embracing of nihilism represent the contemporary triumph of irrationalism. We certainly have been roaring back to the future for over 70 years.
By the early 1920s the "new women" movement entered the job market at all levels. The traditional home structure was not only in decline - it was headed for destruction. Harding emphasized the home and traditional values but to no avail. In his final words, delivered on the day he died, August 2, 1923, by his secretary, George B. Christian, Jr., at Hollywood, California, Harding wrote: "We need less of sectarianism, less of denominationalism, less of fanatical zeal and its exactions, and more of the Christian spirit, more of the Christian practice and a new and abiding consecration to reverence to God." (W. G. Harding, Last Speeches (Washington, D.C., U.S. Senate, 1923, P. 110.) Harding's flowery language obscured a virtually nonexistent private moral code. Perhaps the most famous were the Teapot Dome, the German Metal Bank scandal, the Prohibition Enforcement scandal, and the Veterans Bureau scandal. In every instance, Harding's failure to develop and live by a personal moral code led to his selection of cabinet and sub-cabinet officials of similar low quality who in turn, betrayed the public trust.
Harding's personal lifestyle became the butt of ridicule and derision. One of Harding's most moral decisions was the appointment of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to office. Whatever else Harding achieved he failed as a husband, a father, and a man (Mark 8.36).
The John Scopes evolution trial in 1925 was a watershed because it dramatized the view of secularists that one cannot be both a thinker and a Christian at the same time. Scopes was a public school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee. He had broken the law requiring that only the creation theory of origins be taught. Scopes was a Darwinian evolutionist. The celebrated trial featured two of the nation's best known lawyers, Clarence Darrow for the defense and William J. Bryan for the prosecution. In his memoirs. The Story of My Life, Darrow revealed his real intention for defending Scopes: "My object and my only object, was to focus the attention of the country on the programme of Mr. Bryan and the other fundamentalists in America. I knew that education was in danger from the source that has always hampered it—religious fanaticism." (p. 249; see also Ray Gingen, Six Days or Forever (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958); and also Fundamentalism and American Culture (MY: Oxford, 1980).
More than any other event, the Scopes Trial would cause a nation to question its biblical roots, indeed the very integrity of the Bible as a source of truth. It was to serve as the final break between fundamentalists and modernists, driving the fundamentalists underground and causing them to abandon the culture. Thus, they seceded the ground to the liberals who began remaking popular education and higher learning the law and later the media, into their own image.
Bryan's fatal mistake was his belief that he could defend the faith without any knowledge of geology, biology or other scientific data. Although technically Bryan won the case, Darrow successfully portrayed him as an ignorant buffoon. The mandatory teaching of evolution as fact in public schools is Darrow's legacy. Bryan should have attacked Darrow's world-view, questioning the sanity of anyone who believes that such a complex and intricate yet orderly universe could simply evolve by pure chance from nothing! (See my essays, Christian Faith and Physical Science; Christian Faith and The Social Sciences; Christian Faith and Biological Theories; Christian Faith and Paradigm Shifts in Law).
VII. Ethics, Religion and Scandals
The money and sex scandals of ministers in the 1990s are not unique. Their roots can be found in Biblical times and certainly in the religious life of some in the 1920s. It is hard to understand the hold that Aimee Semple McPherson had on the nation and for that matter, on the world. McPherson was the most prominent charismatic religious leader in America and a pioneer in radio evangelism. She was a pioneer in using publicity long before the T.V. age.
McPherson and her mother, Minnie Kennedy, and a secretary controlled her entire religious empire called The Echo Park Evangelistic Association. Their failure to be accountable to anyone outside their own internal, tightly knit organization sowed the seeds for eventual destruction much as the PTL and related scandals have done in the 80s and 90s.
McPherson was the pastor of the 5000 member Angelus Temple in Los Angeles where she would hold forth every night of the week to a packed house and a radio audience with over one million listeners (see esp. Nancy B. Mayity, Sister Aimee (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1931; also Lately Thomas, The Vanishing Evangelist (NY: Viking, 1959). McPherson disappeared and finally returned. The spirit of Aimee Senple McPherson lives on in Jim and Tammy Baker. They are her direct spiritual descendents. After the end of the McPherson "kidnapping" trial, she went on a national vindication tour in January, 1927. After the trial and schism with the McPherson Church over her dictatorial leadership, she was still a sacred emblem to be treated by editorial offices with careful respect.
VIII. Business As Usual
Business, like government and religion, had sown seeds of moral destruction throughout the decade. These seeds germinated on 29 October, 1929 as the worst financial crisis in American history - the great stock market crash! F. L. Alien correctly noted that the stock market crash was not an event detached from all other events but was the final judgment on a "me first" generation. Prosperity is more than an economic condition; it is a state of mind. The big Bull Market had been more than a climax of a business cycle; it had been the climax of a cycle in American mass thinking and mass emotion. With the Bull Market gone and prosperity going, Americans were soon to find themselves living in an altered world that called for new adjustments, new ideas, new habits of thought and a new order of values (Lewis, Only Yesterday, p. 338; Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression, 1924-1941 (NY: MacMillan, 1959); and A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt: The Crisis of The Old Order, 1919-1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957).