Editorial: The “supposition that morality can be managed without religion” has failed


Christmas has come to be about many things — among them, of course, gifts, family and friends, travel home, faster retail sales and a slower pace of life, at least for a few days.


But the original, most important meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus, God’s only Son, born to die for our sins.

Likewise, this year has been about many things — among them, of course, the bareknuckle politics of our new president, the spy-novel intrigue in Washington, a vastly improving economy and the continued fight against evil across the world.

But perhaps the year’s most seismic shift, shaking up the worlds of politics, media, entertainment and more, has been the revelation — call it “Revelation 20:17” — of just how salacious, prurient, crude, tawdry and immoral is the unseemly underbelly of American life.

From Hollywood to the nation’s capital to the network anchor desk, we’ve been forced by some belated news reporting and some courageous and completely fed-up women to confront a culture in which untold and unimagined numbers of women have been beset by lascivious, power-mad men with few scruples and even fewer morals.

What initially appeared to be but an isolated, albeit mushrooming, scandal involving movie producer Harvey Weinstein exploded into a “#MeToo” cascade of career-ending or career-crippling sexual harassment accusations and admissions touching nearly every walk of life.

We’ll never be the same. And thank God for that.

But what have we learned?

With any luck, and a lot of prayer, we will have ascertained that in 2017, there is a greater need than ever for the forgiveness of God and the rectitude of man.

Ask yourself: How was this scandalous behavior so widespread over professions and decades, unless indicative of a pervasive pathogen in man’s soul — and a crumbling of our moral foundation?

When morality doesn’t matter — and in secular American society, it not only doesn’t matter, but it’s scoffed at — then what else could?

Is it enough, in the end, to simply purge from our workplaces and TV and movie screens and halls of power those who have been caught in the act of dishonoring their female colleagues so? Or must we do more than that?

Several of The Chronicle’s nationally syndicated columnists have been wondering the same thing in recent weeks.

“Rarely has the idiom ‘virtue is its own reward’ looked better than it does in light of the sex scandals sweeping the nation,” writes Cal Thomas.

“Who decided traditional virtues were no longer viable and should not be taught to schoolchildren? Was a study conducted that found young people were being damaged from learning how to live and respect one another? Were they expected to catch these virtues on their own without guidance from elders?”

The chapter titles alone in William J. Bennett’s The Book of Virtues, Thomas writes, “reveal a list of ancient truths that seem increasingly scarce in modern society. They include … Self-discipline, Responsibility, Courage, Honesty, Loyalty and Faith. …

“It turns out that living by one’s own moral code, or none at all, has been a disaster for individuals and for the nation.”

It’s not just the abuse of women that torments society; the crudeness around you is equal-opportunity. Foul language and boorish behavior abounds. And just recently, notes columnist Walter Williams, 45 Pennsylvania teachers resigned due to violence from students who know reciprocal discipline against them has been outlawed.

“Many in today’s generation,” Williams writes, “have been counseled to believe that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what’s moral or immoral, right or wrong, is a matter of convenience, personal opinion or what is or is not criminal.”

When there are no moral absolutes, there are fewer lines to step over. If you’ve the power to extract favors from a comely colleague, what’s to stop you? Anti-harassment laws and company regulations clearly have not done the job.

“Society’s first line of defense is not the law but customs, traditions and moral values,” Williams points out. “Customs, traditions and moral values are those important thou-shalt-nots, such as thou shalt not murder, shalt not steal, shalt not lie and shalt not cheat.”

There are historical maps for the fork in the road we face as we walk into 2018. Columnist Star Parker cites but one: George Washington’s.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,” Washington said in his farewell address, “religion and morality are indispensable supports. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be managed without religion.”

“Religion,” Parker adds, “and the morality that emerges from it, provides the rules by which free men and women govern their own behavior.”

Pray tell us: What set of mores and standards has risen up in religion and morality’s stead to guide an upright people?

And after this year of moral reckoning, how’s the canon of “anything goes” working out for us? How’s it working out for women in the workplace?

If we learned nothing else this year, it should be that Washington’s warning has been realized: We truly have tested “the supposition that morality can be managed without religion.” And that supposition has been found sorely wanting.

Christmas is about many things. Healing is one of them.



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