Moral Decrepitude

How do we get out of the mess of moral decay of American society generally, and in Marietta specifically? (Note: Marietta, OH, has recently been wracked with a sex & drugs crisis that has cost the jobs of several firemen and policemen:  Ethics counseling, Lack of Character, Idea’s Sought. A friend is looking for new ideas. It’s a good question, but the wrong question. So, what is the right question?

The problem is that we have our brains on backwards. That’s what it means to be a sinner, our thinking is messed up. So, rather than look for ideas or ask the right questions, let me suggest that we “Jeopardize” our approach by providing the right answer, and then look for the right question. The right answer is not an idea, but a Person — Jesus Christ. So, if Jesus is the right answer, then what is the right question?

I’ve been working on this issue since I arrived in Marietta in 1996 (and long before). And what I have found that a lot of people don’t really want the right Answer. Most people prefer an answer of their own devising. People want an easy answer, one that they can apply like a band-aid to a cut. But the problem is more like cancer, and band-aids just don’t help.

After many years of study, I have concluded that the best way to ask the right questions about this issue is to work backwards from the right Answer. Since moving to Marietta in 1996, I have written and published more than a dozen books about this very concern. It’s a big problem that has a long history. The solution to the problem is both easy and hard at the same time. It’s easy to talk about, but hard to do right. People like the easy part, but don’t want to engage the hard part. So, there’s a lot of talk, and not enough walk. I have written in the hope that people might want to discuss some of the questions and issues from this “Jeopardized” perspective. Assuming the right Answer helps clear away the fog of confusion.

I was quite depressed to read a recent letter to the editor that suggested that moral character is a function of genetics — you are either born with it or you aren’t. That kind of hopelessness is hard to understand because the Answer is so clearly accessible. The right Answer provides hope that people can ask the right questions. I certainly wasn’t born with it, and I still don’t have it right — but I’m working on it. Or rather It is working on me.

That’s part of having our brains on backwards. We think that we have to find the right answer so that we can come up with a solution to this problem. But in reality the right Answer has already provided the right solution, but people are tripping over themselves to keep from seeing It. Too many people don’t want the Answer because they have already made up their minds. And the Answer just doesn’t fit into their made up minds.

Unfortunately, the solutions to such problems in Marietta, as in America generally, will not be found by our leaders because the leaders are themselves the problem. They can’t see the Answer and they have clearly demonstrated this inability. They have had their time in the sun, and the problems have only grown worse. I don’t simply mean to impugn our political leaders (right or left), though I include them, I mean our business leaders, our educational leaders, our judicial leaders, our ecclesiastical leaders (pastors)—the whole lot.

Yet, the problem is not actually with those leaders as people. They are for the most part fine, upstanding people. The problem is their worldview, what they believe about the world and about God. Everyone has beliefs about God, even atheists. They believe He doesn’t exist, which is a belief. The way that our world works is that our beliefs about God (explicit and implicit) get expressed in our lives. So, when we get our beliefs wrong, our character (personally and corporately) also goes wrong—not right away, but over time. It is often hard to tell until a poor decision is made that results in some problem. It often becomes more clear then that a person’s whole decision making process is goofed up in one way or another. It’s easier to see in others than in ourselves.

Some of our own made some bad decisions. Okay, fine, we all make our share of bad decisions. Isn’t the real problem only that they got caught? I mean nothing in our culture suggests that they were doing anything fundamentally wrong. They were only doing it in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right? There’s nothing wrong with a little… I mean, you do watch TV, don’t you? Everything is okay, no holds are barred. So, what’s the problem other than having gotten caught. Boys will be boys, so the answer is to be more careful. Right?

Wrong! The fact that there is a scandal suggests a deeper problem, a moral problem, not just a personal problem but a community problem. Morality is concerned with principles of right and wrong or conforming to standards of behavior and character based on those principles. Question: what principles? How do you know? Who is to say? Isn’t that just your opinion? If you answer this by suggesting that the principles are determined by common community practices, we are all in very deep trouble because the common community practices have already done slid into the mud! There are no common community practices because there is no common community and every community practices differently.

We now live in a time of rapid change, a time that is seeing the results of our long held beliefs become manifest more broadly. Belief is like capital: it gets built up over time (or not) and then comes a time when we need to draw on it. Well, we’re there.

But before we get ourselves into a huff, we need to understand that we already have the leaders we deserve. They actually do represent us—and that is an even greater problem. We don’t need leaders who can better represent the people, we need better people from which to draw our leaders. As my friend said, ours is a country “of the people, by the people” and for the people. We’ve been doing the people thing for a couple of centuries now. You’d think we’d have it right by now—and we do! Our leaders are following the morality of the people—and that’s the problem! We need leaders who know the right Answer.

In America, we elect leaders who genuinely represent the people. So in reality, we need more people who know the right Answer, people who have the right Answer to the right question.

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