In his 1983 acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion,
[Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn] recalled the words he heard as a child, when his elders sought to
explain the ruinous upheavals in Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this
has happened." He added, "If I were called upon to identify briefly the
principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find
anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: 'men have forgotten God.'"
John Wilson, reviewing "Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World, in Christianity
7, 1994, p. 57.
Editorials and Excerpts
What is culture? It is the ways of thinking, living, and behaving that define a people
and underlie its achievements. It is a nation's collective mind, its sense of right and
wrong, the way it perceives reality, and its definition of self. Culture is the morals and
habits a mother strives to instill in her children. It is the obligations we acknowledge
toward our neighbors, our community, and our government. It is the worker's dedication to
craftsmanship and the owner's acceptance of the responsibilities of stewardship. It is the
standards we set and enforce for ourselves and for others: our definitions of duty, honor,
and character. It is our collective conscience.
Dugan, Jr., Winning the New Civil War, p. 169.
Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a powerful editorial on this topic, a portion of which
Sooner or later; most Americans become card-carrying members of the counterculture.
This is not an underground holdout of Hippies. No beads are required. All you need to join
is a child. At some point between Lamaze and PTA, it becomes clear that one of your main
jobs as a parent is to counter the culture. What the media deliver to children by the
masses, you are expected to rebut one at a time. But it occurs to me now that the call for
"parental responsibility" is increasing in direct proportion to the
irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from
an increasingly hostile environment. Are the kids being sold junk food? Just say no. Is TV
bad? Turn it off. Are there messages about sex, drugs, violence all around? Counter the
culture. Mothers and fathers are expected to screen virtually every aspect of their
children's lives. To check the ratings on the movies, to read the labels on the CDs, to
find out if there's MTV in the house next door. All the while keeping in touch with school
and in their free time, earning a living.
Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a research associate at the Institute for American Values,
found this out in interviews with middle-class parents. "A common complaint I heard
from parents was their sense of being overwhelmed by the culture. They felt relatively
more helpless than their parents." "Parents," she notes, "see
themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children." It isn't
that they can't say no. It's that there's so much more to say no to. Without wallowing in
false nostalgia, there has been a fundamental shift. Americans once expected parents to
raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are
expected to raise their children in opposition.
Once the chorus of cultural values was full of ministers, teachers, neighbors, leaders.
They demanded more conformity, but offered more support. Now the messengers are Ninja
Turtles, Madonna, rap groups, and celebrities pushing sneakers. Parents are considered
"responsible" only if they are successful in their resistance. It's what makes
child-raising harder. It's why parents feel more isolated. It's not just that American
families have less time with their kids, it's that we have to spend more of this time
doing battle with our own culture. It's rather like trying to get your kids to eat their
green beans after they've been told all day about the wonders of Milky Way. Come to think
of it, it's exactly like that.
"Battling Our Culture Is Parents' Task," Ellen Goodman,
August 18, 1993, Focus on the Family Newsletter, February,
Let's take the year 1960 and compare the value system in that day with America's social
attitudes three decades later. On the other end, let's designate 1990 as the second
marker. What significant changes occurred during that 30 year period?
In 1960, everyone knew that a family meant a husband and wife with or without children.
The law defined it a bit more broadly, as people related by blood, marriage, and adoption.
Most children were cared for by their parents, and most politicians knew that any effort
to strengthen the family was a good idea.
In 1990, politicians can't even agree on what "traditional" families are or
whether they are worthy of special assistance. Indeed, a major movement is underway to
redefine "family" to mean any group of people which merely thinks of itself as
A sizable minority of children is supervised by professional caregivers, while some
children, called "latchkey" kids, are left with no adult care at all during much
of the day. Some opinion leaders point to broken homes, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and
homosexual "couples," not as reasons for alarm, but rather as evidence of
healthy family diversity and pluralism.
In 1960, there was a general consensus that religion was a positive influence in
American life and that it should be encouraged. Our children routinely began the school
day with a simple prayer or moment of silence. It was common at Christmas time to see a
nativity scene near city hall. Public service ads on TV urged families to attend church
together on Sunday. A billboard read, "The family that prays together, stays
Today a militant secularism prevails. Any public display of religion, whether a prayer
at a high school commencement or a cross on top of a firehouse, is immediately attacked by
civil libertarian attorneys.
Recently several government officials in Washington, D.C., called on citizens to join
in a day of prayer to ask God to lead the city out of its quagmire of drugs, crime, and
suffering. They were immediately attacked by a local ACLU official who told the Washington
Post, "It is always inappropriate for government officials to ask citizens to
Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt, among others, would be surprised to hear such an
absurd statement, but it is the accepted wisdom today. Our federal courts seem committed
to an interpretation of the Constitution that increasingly narrows the ground upon which
religious faith is permitted to tread.
In 1960, out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a matter of shame. When it happened, couples
often did a quaint thing -- they got married, so that the child would have a name and the
influence of a father. Girls who "slept around" were often ostracized by their
fellow students. A pregnant teenage was sent away to have the child rather than risk the
censure of the community.
In 1990, one out of five babies born in America was conceived out of wedlock. In
Washington, D.C., illegitimacy was an alarming 55 percent! In many schools, the virtuous
girl was considered odd, and was subjected to the same scorn and ridicule once reserved
for the "easy" date 30 years earlier. Surveys revealed that many of our sons and
daughters were embarrassed to admit their virginity.
In 1960, a divorce was enough to end a politician's career. Most couples stayed
together for life. Now more than one million children are affected by divorce every year.
Mates are traded in for newer models as if they were cars. For each of the last 15 years,
there have been more than one million divorces compared to less than half that many in the
In 1960, homosexuality was still "in the closet." It was, as it has been for
centuries, "the love that dared not speak its name." The psychiatric profession
treated homosexuality as a metal disorder or dysfunction. No politician could survive the
disclosure of being homosexual. The notion that special civil rights should be granted to
people on the basis of their "sexual orientation" was an absurdity. The word
"gay" meant happy.
Today there are few political and social movements as aggressive, powerful, or
successful as "gay rights" advocates. Homosexuality is no longer considered a
dysfunction but rather an orientation or a "sexual preference." If you oppose
homosexuality or condemn it from a moral perspective, you risk being labeled
"homophobic" -- a "sickness" described as a fear or loathing of
College students who oppose the gay rights agenda on their campuses are expelled for
discrimination. Gay politicians celebrate their homosexuality and are routinely reelected.
Even a homosexual Congressman who allegedly seduced several male pages was returned to
office, and Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who admitted paying for sex with a
male prostitute, merely received a slap on the wrist by his fellow Congressmen.
In 1960, students in every American classroom began their day with the Pledge of
Allegiance to the flag. History books widely used in the schools explained the religious
heritage of the nation and were peppered with stirring illustrations of America's heroes
and heroines. Most universities had a solid core curriculum that taught the classics of
Western civilization. Students were expected to be familiar with the great writers and
philosophers of our culture, as well as our Judeo-Christian heritage.
In 1990, the burning of the American flag was designated by the Supreme Court as a form
of free speech, protected by the Constitution. In many American cities, the Pledge of
Allegiance is not repeated at all or was suspended after the first few years of school.
J. Dobson and Gary Bauer, Children at Risk, Word, 1990,
Last year I compiled the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a statistical portrait
of American behavioral trends of the past three decades. Among the findings: Since 1960,
while the gross domestic product has nearly tripled, violent crime has increased at least
560%. Divorces have more than doubled. The percentage of children in single-parent homes
had tripled. And by the end of the decade 40% of all American births and 80% of minority
births will occur out of wedlock. These are not good things to get used to.
In 1940 teachers identified the top problems in America's schools as: talking out of
turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs,
alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape and assault. These are not good things to get used to,
either. There is a coarseness, a callousness and a cynicism to our era. The worst of it
has to do with our children. Our culture seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the
young. We have become inured to the cultural rot that is setting in. People are losing
their capacity for shock, disgust and outrage...
The ancients called our problem acedia, an aversion to spiritual things and an undue
concern for the external and the worldly. Acedia also is the seventh capital
sin--sloth--but it does not mean mere laziness. The slothful heart is stepped in the
worldly and carnal, hates the spiritual and wants to be free of its demands.
When the novelist Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about America's
future, he answered, "Probably the fear of seeing America, with all its great
strength and beauty and freedom...gradually subside into decay through default and be
defeated, not by the communist movement, but from within, from weariness, boredom,
cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems."
I realize this is a tough indictment. If my diagnosis is wrong, then why, amid our
economic prosperity and military security, do almost 70% of the public say we are off
track? I submit that only when we turn to the right things--enduring, noble, spiritual
things--will life get better.
Most important, we must return religion to its proper place. Religion provides us with
moral bearings, and the solution to our chief problem of spiritual impoverishment depends
on spiritual renewal. The surrendering of strong beliefs, in our private and public lives,
has demoralized society.
Today, much of society ridicules and mocks those who are serious about their faith.
America's only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry against religious people. And the
only reason for hatred of religion is that it forces us to confront matters many would
prefer to ignore.
Today we must carry on a new struggle for the country we love. We must push hard
against an age that is pushing hard against us. If we have full employment and greater
economic growth--if we have cities of gold and alabaster--but our children have not
learned how to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then the American experiment, no
matter how gilded, will have failed.
Do not surrender. Get mad. Get in the fight.
Excerpts from "What Really Ails
condensed from a speech by William J. Bennett, delivered Dec. 7, 1993 at the Heritage
Foundation, Washington, D.C., reprinted in Reader's Digest, April, 1994.
Americans are so shaped and stamped by their legacy of individualism that the concepts
of community virtue and moral obligation have been discredited In our popular culture,
adulthood is too often defined as doing what you want to do, not what you are supposed to
do. Making a baby is a sign of status, while caring for one is not. Right and wrong are
old-fashioned, politically incorrect concepts. And sin? Forget it. The problem doesn't end
with ghetto kids getting pregnant and going on welfare. Half of all Americans who marry
and have children eventually divorce. For many, marriage is more like a hobby than a
commitment, a phase instead of a trust. We are becoming a country of deadbeat dads who
don't pay their bills and dead-tired moms who work two jobs to pick up the slack. Even
many parents who pay for their children don't pay attention to their children. In so
doing, they miss out on some of life's greatest joys: hearing a small giggle or holding a
small hand. As Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders notes, it is easier for many children to
find drugs "than it is for them to find hugs." Probably the best thing that
society can do for its toddlers is to make "parent" an honorable title again. No
job is more important, yet no job is more often taken for granted. We teach work skills
but not life skills, how to change a carburetor but not a diaper, how to treat a customer
but not a kid. Becoming a parent should be the result of love, not just sex; a sign of a
lasting relationship, not just a passing infatuation; a source of pride, and not remorse.
Only then will our children be safe.
Steven V. Roberts, in U.S. News and World Report,
April 25, 1994, p. 11.
Statistics and Stuff
Dr. William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education and also "drug
czar," issued an important report entitled "The Index of Leading Cultural
Indicators." He described the mess we have created for ourselves and how we can get
out of it. These are a few of the statistics presented, comparing our welfare today with
- Violent crime has increased over 500 percent.
- Illegitimate births have increased 400 percent.
- Divorces have increased 400 percent.
- Children living in single-parent homes have increased 300 percent.
- Child abuse has increased 340 percent since 1976.
- Teenage suicide has increased 200 percent.
-S.A.T. scores have dropped almost 80 points, despite huge increases in support for
Focus on the Family Newsletter, May, 1993.
In New York City in 1943 3% of all births were illegitimate. There were 44 homicides by
gunshot. In 1992 1499 died of gunshot. 45% of births in 1993 were illegitimate.
Nationwide, nearly 30% of all babies today come home fatherless, 68% in Washington D.C. It
is as if we have been pushed through a time warp, dropped down a black hole. One woman who
confronted the change starkly is a Los Angeles school teacher who left the system many
years ago to raise her own children. On her first day back this fall, she began class with
the traditional, "Good morning, students!" only to be greeted by a shout of
"Shut up, b----" and laughter.
Gary L. Bauer, President, Family Research
Council, Nov 4, 1993 letter.
There was a time when most Americans respected the Bible, and you could quote it with
authority. In 1963, according to Gallup, 65% believed the Bible literally; today the
number is only 32%. There was a time when most Americans were familiar with biblical
doctrine. You could say, "Believe in Jesus," and at least they knew what you
meant. But today most would be mystified. Newsweek tells of a child who saw a
asked, "Mommy, what's that man doing?" There was a time when most Americans
accepted absolute standards. They might disagree on what those absolutes were, but they
knew that some things are really right or wrong. Today 70% reject moral absolutes.
Colson, Christianity Today, November 9, 1992, p. 112.
A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe confirms what this brief
scenario illustrates: we are in danger of becoming a nation of relativists. The Barna
survey asked, "Is there absolute truth?" Amazingly, 66 percent of American
adults responded that they believe that "there is no such thing as absolute truth;
different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct." The
figure rises to 72 percent when it comes to those between the ages of 18 and 25.
Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30.
A March (1994) poll for U.S. News and World Report's April 11 issue found that 93% of
Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Of those polled, 65% say religion
is losing its influence on American life, although 62% say religion is increasing its
influence in their personal lives.
Other findings: The Bible is the actual word of God to be taken literally, word for
The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it can be taken literally:
The Bible is an ancient book of legends, history and moral precepts, recorded by man: 16%
God is a heavenly father who can be reached by prayers: 76%
God is an idea, not a being: 11%
God is an impersonal creator: 8%
We have to keep church and state Agree Disagree completely separate 53% 42%
There is no one set of values that is right 48% 44%
Each individual must determine what is right or wrong 70% 25%
The president should be a moral and spiritual leader 78% 17%
Our government would be better if policies were more directed by moral values 84% 9%
Individual freedom is critical to democracy in this country 91% 4%
God is the moral guiding force of American democracy 55% 35%
Nearly 60% of Americans say they hold their current religious beliefs because of their
parents' example. More than 8 of every 10 Americans today believe that it's possible to be
a good Christian or Jew even without attending a church or synagogue.
U.S. News &
World Report, April 4, 1994, p. 48 - 59.
In 1979, a study was done among teenagers in Sweden, who were asked to respond to the
statement, "I think the following could give my life more meaning..." Of those
surveyed, eighty-seven percent thought that meaning could be found in a good job,
eighty-five percent thought it could be found in a marriage partner, and eighty-four
percent thought it could be found in sports and recreation. Only fifteen percent thought
that reading the Bible and prayer could help, and another fifteen percent indicated that
they thought alcohol could help.
About eight percent considered the question of the meaning of life important, yet
eighty percent considered it unimportant whether Jesus existed as a man on earth or not.
Also, eighty-five percent considered it unimportant whether Jesus is the Son of God or
not. A full seventy-five percent concluded that the question of God's existence is
Jim Peterson, Living Proof , NavPress, 1989,
In "One Nation Under God," a statistical map of American religion, summarized
in the November 29 issue of Newsweek, Barry Kosmin and Seymour Lachman of the City University
of New York have assembled data from 113,000 respondents, by far the most comprehensive
random sample of detailed religious preference ever collected. The survey determined that
nearly 1/3 of the adult U.S. population (18 and over) is now "totally secular"
in its spiritual outlook! It also found that only 19 percent of adult Americans--about 36
million people--regularly practice their faith. The rest are described as "moderately
religious" (22 percent), "barely" or nominally religious (29 percent) and
agnostics and atheists (7.5 percent). The survey has an important message for the
religiously and politically conservative who are interested in reversing the downward
cultural spiral. It is unlikely that the 19 percent whose faith affects their lives and
world view can change the moral and social conditions of our country through political
Cal Thomas, Copyright 1993, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, quoting
Nov. 29, 1993, p. 82.
Jesus was speaking about this danger in His comments on leaven (yeast). He warned His
disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew
16:6, RSV) "and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15 , RSV). Leaven symbolizes human
imperfection (see Exodus 12:15-20, 13:3-8; Leviticus 2:11; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Jesus was
warning against mixing imperfect human ideas with God's truth. The Pharisees had mixed
their own religious traditions with the teaching of the Scriptures; the Sadducees were the
philosophers of Jewish society; and Herod represented the world system. These three
influences -- tradition, philosophy, and society -- seem inevitably to work their way into
and become part of the value system of any Christian community to such an extent that it
is possible to be a Christian, but live almost entirely within a pagan value system, and
not even perceive it.
This possibility began to dawn on me when we moved to Brazil and changed cultures.
Culture is hardly perceived as long as we do not leave the only one we really know. A fish
doesn't perceive the water in which it swims, and neither are we aware of our culture, or
the influence it exerts on our thoughts and actions. Often we must step outside of it to
understand it -- and to understand ourselves!
Jim Peterson, Living Proof, NavPress, 1989,
Modern thinkers have rejected the very idea of objective morality: Darwin reduced
morals to an extension of animal instincts; Freud regarded repression of impulses as the
source of neurosis; and, Marx disdained morality as an expression of self-interest.
Charles Colson, Christianity Today, March 7, 1994, p. 80.