The author – by way of preface – would like to state emphatically (and with melodramatic firmness) that he is neither a scholar, an ethicist, nor a theologian. Furthermore, the author notes that the disproportionate number of times he must use the preceding preface may perhaps be an indication that he should mind his own business and not attempt to pontificate, bloviate, or otherwise armchair philosophize on these matters. Nevertheless, the author – being a stubborn sort of nuisance – is going to lay down some thoughts for the perusal of his parents and his in-laws – since they are likely to be the only ones patient enough with him to actually read the whole of his ramblings.
“Yes, we do” appears to be the only logical and intellectually honest response to the statement, “We have a moral crisis in this country”. An individual responding, “No, we don’t” either has a unique sense of morality that is free from the great big cosmic drag of, well, morals…or so enjoys the current state of popular hedonism that they do not wish to live in a society that actually promotes ethical living.
There is an ever-growing attraction to this idea that American Freedom is akin to “indulgence writ large”. So long as I am not ostensibly hurting anyone else, I should be allowed to do whatever my little heart desires. In the most extreme cases, the small caveat of “as long as it doesn’t hurt others” disappears completely and we are left with a sense that the only moral imperative we should have is to seek our own gratification.
Rather than being truly American, this modern hedonism is anathema to the original Spirit, the current needs, and the future well being of the United States of America.
The Origins of Ethics in America
The story of a National Morality (and of a uniquely American set of ethics) is that of supreme personal liberty set into the context of a Christian worldview. On the surface (and certainly to the non-believer) these two items would seem to be in tension and even mutually exclusive.
In reality, however, these two things came together to create the first, truly Protestant nation state. The concept of “the priesthood of the believer” meant that instead of the institutional structure of any one Church, it was the individuals – the “church-at-large” that would run things.
True, many Founders set the reasoning for the creation of the United States of America in Enlightenment rhetoric and political theory from the Age of Reason. But at it’s heart, the Experiment of America has always rested upon the idea that Man should govern himself. Humanistic tendencies aside, most Founders recognized that Man by himself is not capable of fairly and properly governing himself. So they created systems which mitigated the “human nature” factor and ostensibly allowed Man to govern himself rightly and efficiently.
What is most important to remember is that these systems (checks and balances, our unique form of republican governance, federalism, etc) are predicated on having a moral citizenry. Put another way, America’s government only works when We the People are exercising an ethical standard.
Then the question becomes where does this morality come from? What kind of ethical standard should be in place?
By and large, the Founders assumed that Biblical Christianity was a part of the citizen’s lives. It is not a stretch to then say that the moral glue the Founders intended to keep this country together, was indeed, based on the tenets of Christianity.
So, what is the ethical standard of Christianity?
It’s really quite simple (and beautiful in it’s hidden complexity):
Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, mind and soul and
Love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s it. The summation of Christian morality (from Jesus Christ, Himself).
So, the true Spirit of American ethics is Christianity lived out.
That is not a shocking statement…nor is it a new observation. It is just a fact that has been ignored for many, many years.
American Freedom is not doing whatever you please. American freedom is not even simply having the right and means to do whatever you please. True American Freedom is having the right and means to do whatever you please, but choosing to live an others-centered life.
Hedonism is just slavery in sheep’s clothing. A hedonist is a slave to his own passions and vices. God created us to be much more than slaves to our fallen nature. Understanding that full Freedom only comes from daily living for Christ is the first step towards improving our national situation.