Saturday, February 21, 2004

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments to the ancient Israelites, he encountered a people having a party and worshipping a golden calf. Clearly, the people were not interested in what God had to say to them.

Fast-forward several thousand years. Today, many people worship the “golden calf” of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages. In Dow we trust. Materialism has dulled our senses to anything that does not produce pleasure.

And so we get “gay marriage,” cloning, partial-birth and every other kind of abortion, a high divorce rate, cohabitation, promiscuity, nudity, profanity, indecency — all part of what some have called the coarsening of culture.

Two twentysomething women were conversing in front of me at Reagan National Airport. Their language would have shocked my grandmother, who once admonished me for speaking words in her presence she deemed inappropriate. “Nice young men don’t talk like that,” she said. The offending words were “toilet paper.” Nice young men? Who, or what, defines “nice” today?

Everywhere one looks, one sees a rejection of what previous generations called social norms, decency, virtue, values, propriety, modesty, integrity and standards that no longer exist outside of some individuals and families who have embraced them.

Various groups, “alliances,” “majorities” and “coalitions” have tried to prevent or retard what they see as social decay through the political system. It should be obvious after repeated failures that this tactic does not and cannot work. That’s because — like those ancient Israelites — too many prefer to worship things and are slaves to feelings, thus dulling their senses to the wisdom of the ages.

While the raw power demonstrated by four members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court mandating same-sex “marriage” is a form of tyranny because it prevents citizens from deciding the matter, the courts are made up of men and women who increasingly reflect societal indifference to the higher and moral things. (Remember morals? Ask your grandparents.) Who has the political will and moral courage today to tell someone his or her behavior is wrong?

For the apparently declining numbers who care about such things, it should be obvious to all but the fund-raisers and self-appointed moral crusaders that trying to impose a moral code from above on a people who are having a party and living by other standards — or no standards — results in futility. If people were not tone-deaf to ancient truths, they would embrace wisdom instead of rejecting it. The bottom may not yet have been reached. “They invent ways of doing evil,” said one ancient writer about the immoral times in which he lived and the future he foresaw.

The same-sex marriage debate appears to be over. Once homosexuals start “marrying” in Massachusetts (as thousands are doing in San Francisco in violation of state law), what man has joined together is not likely to be put asunder by those who claim to speak for God or tradition.

Culture mirrors our collective souls. Too many heterosexuals divorce. Others have too little time for their children — many of whom they deposit in “day care” while hurrying to jobs that consume 10-hour days. Increasing numbers spoil and indulge their children to assuage guilt from working too much. They place their kids in government schools in which they learn things that are untrue and behavior that is unhealthy. They are allowed to have TV in their rooms and Internet connections through which they explore the darker and seamier side of life.

Teen magazines and peers further undermine what remains of modesty and self-control. The virtue of hard work, sacrifice and living within one’s means is replaced by the supposed value of big homes, high debt, nonstop work, expensive cars, fashionable clothes and ever-younger sexual activity.

The lessons learned by a previous generation that experienced a Great Depression and a world war have been replaced by self-indulgence and pleasure. Spouses are traded in when they fail to meet “expectations.”

If culture is to change for the better (is that a relative word?), millions of individuals must embrace a different creed. Even if culture doesn’t change, people who adopt that ancient moral code — which has worked for all who try it — will find their lives much improved, though the rest of the world goes to “hell in a hand basket.”

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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