It is almost impossible to solve a problem when starting from the wrong basic assumption. When the church insisted that the earth was the center of the universe, astronomers could make no sense of the movement of the stars because of the error in the basic assumption.
Likewise, it will be impossible to make any sense from the tragedy of the Oregon, or Sandy Hook, or Aurora, or Blacksburg, or Columbine — a seeming endless list of terrible tragedies — if we begin the search for answers from the wrong basic assumption.
Nevertheless, on cue, within hours of the tragic campus shooting in Oregon, the chorus from the left began to sing the wonders of new gun controls
If we begin with the assumption that mankind is basically good and that these tragedies are mere aberrations, as if we believe that somehow the people visiting such carnage on their families, neighbors or communities are exceptions to an otherwise good and kind human race, then perhaps they could be minimized or eliminated by establishing more rules and laws to regulate human behavior.
Perhaps some combination of more security guards, more bars on windows, more metal detectors or removing guns from our communities, censoring our entertainment and video game content and giving government officials more authority to force the mentally ill to take prescribed medications or even to lock up those diagnosed with significant mental illness will reduce the heartache each of these tragedies produces.
But if the assumption that we are all basically good and generous people is wrong, and what the Scripture teaches is right — that we are all basically evil and self-centered — then all the man-made laws, rules and regulations will have minimal impact on the problems we face. My father often said, “Locks are for honest people.” No matter how many “locks” we establish in the law, people with evil intent will always find a way around them
While common sense security measures are obviously important, the hysterical overreach these incidents generate in the press and in DC will never produce any effective answers to the problems they seek to address.
Before continuing, let it be understood that evil will never be eliminated. Evil will always find volunteers to inflict harm and pain on others. But that begs the questions: How can we minimize the evil? How can we reduce the carnage? How can we have a real impact?
Let’s begin by abandoning our false assumption that the human race is basically good. We must begin to inculcate our culture with common standards of right and wrong.
If we continue to insist that there are no absolute values, that all moral judgments are wrong and attempt to fix what’s broken with more rules and regulations, we have no hope of correcting the moral decay causing the increasing displays of evil around us.
When we remove the Judeo-Christian principles that have been the foundation of Western civilization (principles also fundamental to most religions around the world) from our communities we can never hope to solve the anti-social and increasingly violent problems we face.
Our embrace of relativism and our refusal to make moral judgments about critical issues, our insistence that there is no absolute right or wrong and that what is good and appropriate is a matter of individual conscience, creates an environment where we will continue to reap the results of our misguided understanding of the human condition. Evil acts and tragic consequences are more the result of a valueless society than they are the product of gun rights or the lack of security guards.
Setting aside the concept of absolute standards for a moment, let’s assume what is good and appropriate is ultimately a matter of individual conscience, what are we as a community doing to educate that conscience?
By restricting the mention of God in our schools and in the public dialog we minimize the idea that there is a higher authority to which we are accountable. If, at the same time we elevate the concept of victimhood, we weaken the idea of individual accountability. When we separate consequences from actions, we further enhance the idea that taking personal responsibility is inconsequential to solving the problem of violence.
By embracing Hollywood’s version of right and wrong, by glorifying violence in the entertainment we pursue and by accepting public language that cheapens us as individuals and negatively impacts the public discourse, we have coarsened our communities.
By passionately protesting violence to polar bears and baby seals while embracing the violence inflicted on unborn humans, we create a dichotomy of values that undermines our humanity and threatens the very core of our argument against the kind of violence we seek to address. If violence against defenseless animals is wrong, but violence against unborn humans is acceptable, then where do we draw the line? More importantly, why try to draw it at all if it is a matter of individual conscience?
When appropriate sexual behavior is a matter of individual conscience we implicitly endorse promiscuity and reduce sexuality to a basic animal instinct. When we fail to establish and emphasize the moral aspect of human sexuality, we create a culture where single motherhood is the norm, where children grow up without the nurture of a father and where poverty breeds poverty.
All the empirical evidence reinforces the value of marriage and traditional two parent homes to a child’s well-being and to cultural stability. The breakdown of marriage — which can be directly linked to our cultural embrace of sex without boundaries — creates dysfunctional children living in poverty without hope and who increasingly turn to drugs and violence simply perpetuating the cycle of dysfunction and violence. And this just scratches the surface of the list of negative values we are reinforcing in the collective conscience of our citizens.
This kind of culture inevitably produces more savages and fewer angels.
How do we turn around this epidemic of anti-social and often violent behavior that threatens to engulf us? Bill Bennett in his “Book of Virtues” suggests that positive virtues are taught and are not inherent in the human race. If he is right, it becomes imperative that one generation pass on virtue to the next.
In America this generational transfer of values was disrupted in the 1960’s and we have never recovered. Consequently, we are reaping what we have sown.
Ultimately, a generational transfer of values must go beyond the transfer of fungible community values to the acceptance of the deeper truth that there exists absolute standards of right and wrong. Values that cannot be compromised without consequences. It can be said that tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society. When tolerance is elevated to the highest virtue, it simply means we have lost our ability to know right from wrong. There are three stages to the death of a society:
The first generation casts off well established norms of societal behavior as overly restrictive.
The second generation experiences a growing awareness that we must find ways to avoid the consequences of these new “virtues.”
The third generation faces the choice of either changing their behavior or accepting the consequences.
I fear we may have chosen, rather than changing our behavior to say, “Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.”
If that is so, then we should expect more tragedies and more national mourning, regardless of what our feckless politicians do in their attempt to avoid the
consequences of our 50-year-old pursuit of freedom from old-fashioned cultural and moral constraints.
The way to arrest our descent into darkness is not with the creation of more rules and regulation, but with an acceptance of universal values taught to our children and embraced by our culture.
• Jim Kinney is a retired U.S. Navy captain.