(‘76 Contributor) We have been privileged. We have lived in the most abundant and powerful country in the history of mankind. But we are also experiencing developing conditions that imperil our nation. In the span of 50 years, many still living have seen our country at the peak of its ascent among nations. But now we are witnessing the accelerating descent of the United States. Although America still enjoys the greatest material prosperity and has the most powerful military on earth, our society has been on unsustainable cultural and economic paths for decades that threaten our future. Most Americans have not lived as adults over the past 50 years and therefore many do not perceive the descent from where we once were as a society.
Our nation has been on an experimental journey for about the past half century. The experiment involved an abrupt departure from the cultural standards that had evolved and sustained not only the United States but also other advanced human societies of the world since ancient times. These standards developed from the accumulated wisdom of mankind over thousands of years concerning the moral environment and human obligations that past societies regarded as essential to pass on the to the following generations of youth. But a perception has arisen and become dominant in modern society that each generation should discover its own “truths” with little regard for the accumulation of knowledge over millennia and which has advanced human affairs over hundreds of generations.
Among these emerging “truths” perceived by modern societies have been those that resulted in the trivialization of marriage and historical cultural norms of the past to protect families along with values that were once highly honored. For example, a PEW Research Center survey published in 2010 revealed that 39% of Americans said marriage is obsolete and 34% said the growing variety of family living arrangements is good for our society. However, for the sake of survival virtually all of the past great societies have deemed it necessary to establish customs and laws to guard against such perceptions that undermine the past norms to protect the permanence of families based on one man, one woman marriages. Most societies throughout history and worldwide that thrived and endured have fostered such standards, regardless of the philosophical or religious roots of their cultures. The fall of great nations has usually been accompanied by the previous weakening of the family structure or a general failure of families to pass on the morality and customs that made the nation great.
Many who have fostered this experiment have envisioned a utopian future for humanity based on an assumption of the goodness of mankind that has been corrupted by the standards of the past. Thus they regard that the breaking of the bonds of past cultural norms to be important to achieve their expectations for the future. The success in American society of those who hold these views has been profound. In a period of a few decades following the 1950’s, the general consensus of moral standards changed from those that had evolved over thousands of years and prevailed to the highest degree in the United States for nearly two hundred years. Human moral attitudes and behaviors that previously had been considered extremely harmful to society initially became accepted and now are being fostered as human rights to be honored and defended. Moral attitudes and standards that had developed over thousands of years from the past were first suppressed as intolerant and now are being reviled as harmful to society. We seem to have embraced change for the sake of change without recognizing that for every path of change that brings benefits there are innumerable paths of harmful change, especially for a society which past culture has brought it to becoming the most prominent among nations.
The chasm between the past American cultural standards and the wide spread perceptions of the recent experiment is so wide that both cannot likely be simultaneously sustained indefinitely in our society. The experiment is coming to prevail in the allegiance of the citizens of our nation. Even the influence of Christianity that fostered the ascent of the United States as the most successful and enduring democracy since ancient times is being condemned by many influential persons in our society. Although not commonly perceived as such, this transition in our society is indeed a cultural experiment embarked upon without empirical data to provide reasonable confidence of success. Other societal experiments, such as those of Nazism and Communism based on utopian concepts to free man from perceived corruption by past standards have failed and brought extreme misery to societies that embraced them.
The timing of the abrupt transition to the new American experiment occurred in the decade of the 1960’s and coincided with transitions to abrupt increases in crime, drug usage, dishonesty, breakup of families, pornography, child abuse, and other harmful degradations in society. The changes in the moral, religious, and legal culture in the US that started then have increased to our day. Among the numerous signs of cultural and economic decline since the early 1960’s are the deterioration of American family life and the welfare of children. A child now conceived in the US has about a 22% chance of being terminated before birth by decision of his mother. If born, the child has more than a 40% prospect of having an unwed mother. If his parents are married at birth, there is nearly a 40% probability that his birth parents will not be married throughout his adolescence. Now in the 21st century the welfare of American children has declined compared to most advanced nations. A 2007 UNICEF study ranked the US next to the bottom of 21 developed nations in the overall well-being of children. The overall ranking involved five categories, and in not even one of these categories did the US place above 12th place among the 21 nations. In three categories (health and safety, family and peer relationships, behavior and risks), the US ranked either lowest or next to lowest. Our families are losing the ability to pass on to posterity their Christian beliefs, heritage, and morality that sustained America for nearly two centuries. In more recent years, as the youth who were raised under these conditions have become the majority of adults, we have seen major crises that threaten the future of our economy and which have been attributed to greed.
Are our major national problems merely an unrelated coincidence to our cultural experiment or is America headed for oblivion at our own hands because we have embraced this experiment? How did our society come to embrace this experiment which exhibits many beliefs and moral behaviors contrary to historical Christian morality of nearly 2000 years and virtues that prevailed for nearly two centuries in our nation? Even currently, approximately 80% of our population regards themselves as Christians. A US News and World Report article of May, 2002 concerning religious faith in America stated that there were more houses of worship per capita in the US than in any other country on Earth. The article indicated that 69% of Christian adults surveyed in a poll taken in that year said their religion was very important in their life and 52 % of them claimed they attend religious services at least once a week. But compared to all the other developed nations, the United States has the highest, or near highest, per capita rates of family breakup, abortions, unwed births, crime, prison population, use of illicit drugs, and other life choice related problems.
The human misery behind the sad statistics of America’s cultural and economic decline is not caused by invasion by foreign armies, catastrophes of nature, or plagues. The decline mostly results from the beliefs, decisions, and actions of the American people, most of whom identify themselves as Christians. These conditions and behaviors permeate to such a degree into our society that they cannot likely be attributed mainly to the one in five people who do not identify themselves as Christians. We cannot blame the decline of American society solely, or perhaps even predominantly, on non-Christians. Scientific polls by the George Barna organization have revealed that many cultural beliefs and behaviors counter to historical Christian morality are about as prevalent among professed Born Again Christians as those who claim no religion. For example, Barna polls have shown that the breakup of families of Born Again Christians to be slightly higher than the family breakup of those who profess no religion. Barna has commented that, “We rarely find substantial differences” between the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians. The new American experiment prevails in the attitudes and ways of life of most Americans, whether churched or not. Except in matters of charity, the Bible has nearly lost its societal significance in the United States, even though a substantial majority of Americans consider themselves to be Christians. More importantly, the Bible has nearly lost it societal significance in matters of morality, even among churched and Born Again Christians as a whole.
A paradox underlies the new American experiment and the resulting changes in our society over the past half century. America has about the highest proportion of professed Christians and churched people compared to the other nations of the world. Why then do the American people as a whole live less according to historical and biblical morality than the people of the other advanced nations? Has some vital portion of the message of the Bible and Christianity that once sustained the welfare of America during most of our history now become lost or ignored in the teachings of the church?
Richard Wenglarz has held positions at two universities (University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) and Clemson University) and several large corporations (AT&T, General Motors, Westinghouse, Rolls-Royce). He has been awarded B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. degree from Stanford University. He has authored or coauthored over 70 publications in areas of advanced technologies. He lives in Seneca, SC. This essay is excerpted from his forthcoming book, “Call to the Falling Eagle,”