[EDITOR NOTE: The following is a set of personal comments and reflections on our culture today. You may agree with some points and disagree with others. You may have lots of opinions or ideas to share on this issue. Know that the heart behind this article is not to present a definitive treatise, but to invite us to think about the world in which we live and start an intelligent conversation together. Read it and then let me know what you think by leaving comments or shooting me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Time is a funny thing isn’t it? Just this past weekend our clocks “sprang forward” an hour. This move brought sunlight past 7 pm and darkness to 7 am. That is quite a switch! It makes me want to stay up later, and sleep in longer. I have to be intentional to not allow this roll forward to change my schedule and encourage me to “press the snooze button.”
Time is a funny thing isn’t it? Just this past month I realized that our moral agenda has “sprung forward” into a new set of priorities. I read an article by George Will entitled “Prudes at Dinner, Gluttons in Bed” which articulated the position that a great shift has occurred in the moral bearings of our country. Will asserts (along with Stanford Sociologist Mary Eberstadt) that in 1959, a woman would have had very serious convictions about restricting sexual practice outside of marriage, but would have had very little convictions about the food she ate. Will goes on to note that in 2009, this trend has flipped. Today, people have less convictions about the sex they practice than about the food they eat. In 1959, food was something to be enjoyed, and sex was something people had moral convictions about. In 2009, sex is to be enjoyed, while people have moral convictions about food. This article reminds me that there are some interesting shifts occurring on the moral compass of young adults today. Some of the shifts I see:
1. Food vs. Sex. Will’s point is a good one. I find it interesting the depth of moral convictions people have about food today. No red meat. Vegan diet. Fair trade food only. Organic vegetables. Bottled water over soda pop. McDonald’s carrying apples and salads as options over fries and a cherry pie. People have strong feelings about food today. They fight for their convictions. Their food standards are often exported as moral standards for others. This is seen as healthy and smart. This is in great contrast with those who argue for sexual ethics that echo the biblical model. Those that argue that sex is meant to be between a husband and a wife (a male and a female) are seen as bigoted and closed-minded. What a tremendous contrast between one generation and the next!
2. Environment vs. Abortion. No where could this shift be more clearly seen than during the election and in the first 50 days of the new administration. At the same time the U.S. government is making it easier and easier to have an abortion, and harder and harder to drill for oil, build a coal burning power plant, or drive an SUV. This should come as no surprise . . . it was a part of the agenda on which our elected officials ran . . . and won. I think this shows a shift in our moral compass. As a culture, it seems we are more concerned with the theory of global warming than we are with the killing of the unborn.
3. Gay rights vs. Racism. In 1959, African Americans and other minorities in America were discriminated against and not given an equal opportunity. In 2009, many want to equate the situation of practicing homosexuals to that of African-Americans a half century ago. Hate actions should not tolerated in any generation, however, it seems a bit incongruous to equate the plight of an African American in the 60’s with a gay man or lesbian today. However, as we watch television (including the acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards) you see moral equivalencies being made between the Ku Klux Klan’s treatment of minorities in the 60’s and Christian’s treatment of practicing homosexuals today. I may be blind on this issue, but this comparison seems totally out of whack. As someone who has read about the 60’s and lived through the 2000’s, I find this equivalency hard to reconcile, yet the voice of our culture shouts the mantra of gay rights today.
4. Bail out vs. Personal Responsibility. In 1959 people generally believed in personal responsibility. If you wanted to eat, you got a job and made money to provide for your family. If you had children, you stayed married and provided for them. If you wanted to buy something, you had the money to purchase it. This was the era of personal responsibility in what Tom Brokaw famously called “The Greatest Generation.” Today, however, this mentality has flipped. People today believe it is the moral responsibility of the government and large institutions to bail out those who do not work, have abandoned their families, or have mismanaged their funds. What an interesting flip. 50 years ago, the moral thing to do was work hard. Today the moral thing to do is bail out those who do not work. The same God who made provision for the Moabite woman Ruth to glean on Boaz’s field is the same God who said (in the NT), “if you will not work, you will not eat.”
Now, I am not a cultural architect, an economist, or a PhD philosopher. However, I am observing these shifts and getting increasingly uneasy. Now I know some Christians from the generation that is authoring these shifts who will tell me that they are not replacing their convictions on sex, abortion, racism, and personal responsibility with food, environment, gay rights, and bailouts. They believe they are simply adding four new convictions to their old list. I hope they are right. I want to believe the best. However, I think the last election and people’s thoughts have shown that the elevation of four new “moral” stances has at the very least taken priority over the old guard. Further, the biblical footing that the four older stances rest upon is more stable ground than the new agenda. These moral “spring forwards” certainly do not seem like progress to me.
Our culture is springing forward with a new agenda. This new agenda even wants to spring forward in the church. It wants to bring light to four issues while allowing four others to recede into darkness. Certainly, these issues need not be “either/ors” (they could be “both/ands) but my observation tells me they often are. My prayer (and reason for writing this) is that we would be intentional about our moral calendars, allowing God to shape our agenda, instead of allowing our culture to encourage us to hit the snooze button.