By David Hegg
As an ethics column writer I find no lack of subjects to discuss. But none is more startling than the fact that too many Americans are willingly, joyfully and proudly casting aside the values that created the success of our American experience.
In the history of the world, there has never been another country that launched out as a new nation with the values our founding fathers and mothers installed into our foundation. And clearly, no nation has, in such a short time, become as solid, as successful, and as free as our beloved United States of America.
In his treatise on “The Fate of Empires,” Sir John Glubb analyzed the 11 great empires of history from Assyria in 859 BC up to the expanse of Great Britain as a world power. All 11 of these empires lasted for at least 200 years, but all collapsed before reaching year 300. It is daunting to realize America is in year 247.
Glubb determined that the history of every empire could be characterized by seven stages: Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, Decadence and Collapse. Writing in 1976, he suggested that the stage of Decadence was marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners and a weakening of religion.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s latest poll, we are sitting solidly in the final stage before collapse, the age of Decadence. When asked how “important” a variety of issues were to their lives as Americans, the findings were both startling and evidence of our nation’s overall decline. The issues of patriotism, religion, having children and community involvement fell dramatically since 1998 while the issue of money rose moderately. And even more concerning, the drastic devaluing of these foundational values was greatest among those ages 18-29.
But what may be the most troubling statistic is that while in 2019 80% of those polled considered “tolerance for others” to be “very important, the recent poll found the new number to be only 58%. As we continue to be a divided nation, swimming in the slew of decadence, apparently it isn’t helping us to tolerate those who oppose us.
As an ethicist and a Christian theologian, it is hard not to suggest that, as the value of religious contemplation and godly behavior has fallen significantly, so have so many other foundational values. And yet, as our politicians struggle to come up with answers to our pressing problems of violence, crime, injustice, poverty, substandard educational systems and the disintegration of the family, we see our money being spent on programs rather than recognizing that the epicenter of the problem is the human heart. Our problem is not that we don’t have privileges and opportunities, but that we largely don’t have character. We don’t prize integrity because we’d rather have power. We don’t prize virtue because we’d rather have immediate gratification. And we can’t engage our opponents with the tolerant respect a fellow human being deserves because to do so would open the door to logical, undeniable arguments that tear away the facade of wokeness that hides the fact that the facts will obliterate our position.
Where once Americans were free to engage in substantive arguments, a renewed Gnosticism has birthed a secret “knowledge” that only the woke folk have, and if you disagree it only proves you’re part of the problem and can’t possibly be part of the solution.
Glubb concluded that the stage of Decadence came about due to a too-long period of wealth and power, selfishness, love of money, and the loss of a sense of duty. The Wall Street Journal’s poll is now telling us we are losing our sense of patriotic duty, preferring self over others, and have become soft and entitled as we’ve enjoyed a long period of wealth and power.
As we look around, we can see the effects. We have become a nation of victims whose power is fueled by all the ways other folks hurt our feelings. We fume and threaten those who are still upholding traditional American values and then have the audacity to paint them as hatemongers. Frankly, it is embarrassing just how hypersensitive too many Americans have become.
However, I think that, while we have by all accounts become an unethical nation, it is still true that we are a nation of good people by and large. The big problem now is not that we are being overrun with an ideology that isn’t true, isn’t beneficial, and can’t deliver the ends to which it professes to be the means.
The problem is that the mass of good people who make America work are cowering in their homes, afraid to speak up. It’s like we’re asleep in the darkness. Well, folks, it’s time to instigate a new “wokeness.” By that I mean, it’s time to actually wake up, step into the light, and announce that virtue and character and all the fruits of the tree of traditional Judeo-Christian values are foundational in our lives, and essential for our country. It’s the “woke” crowd that is asleep to the truth. It’s our turn to wake up, smell the values that have made America great, and make our voices heard.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.