Evidence Of Moral Decline In America

Nov 6th, 2021 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

In 1923 German historian and philosopher, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), published his famous two-volume historical analysis in one volume, entitled The Decline of the West.  Spengler analyzed the various civilizations of world history, arguing that each went through a time of flourishing followed by a period of decline.  His central argument was that Western civilization was in a period of decline.  [He wrote in German and the term translated “decline” could actually be translated “downfall.”]  As civilizations decline, they gravitate to dictatorial power that preserves what they cherish (e.g., stability, order, security).  What once marked the core defining elements of the civilization (e.g., religious beliefs, ethical standards) are abandoned as the civilization embraces raw rationalism, skepticism and power.  Arguably, Spengler was controversial and provocative.  But, he wrote during the periods of World War I and the rise of Nazism in Europe, all of which influenced his general pessimism.  Nevertheless, his overall perspective about history influenced, among others, Arnold Toynbee, Henry Kissinger and Samuel P. Huntington.

As we think about American civilization, is it in a period of decline?  Can we apply some of Spengler’s analysis to America?  In a short essay such as this I cannot construct a detailed application of Spengler’s framework to America.  But, I do observe two aspects of our civilization that I find profoundly disturbing.

First is the growing obsession that government must take the risk out of living; that government must use its incredible power to tax and borrow money to remove all the risks of living in this fallen, broken world.  This is not only a Democratic passion; it is also a Republican one.  For example, Americans used to be worried about the borrowing policies of the US government.  No longer!  Under President Trump, the US borrowed $7.8 trillion, adding to the growing national debt, now at a staggering $28.4 trillion in total public debt.  [$6.3 trillion of that total is Treasury debt issued to federal trust funds and other government accounts.  The Federal Reserve actually owns roughly 25% of the federal debt.]  Furthermore, the Democratic administration of President Biden is proposing a “national revival” through the avenue of social welfare spending on an almost unprecedented scale.  [That package is now under serious renegotiation between the “Progressive” and the moderate Party members.  Whether it will actually pass Congressional muster is an open question.]  If it passes Congress, it will expand entitlements broadly and deeply in child care, Medicare additions, community college tuition, etc.  It would produce a cradle-to-grave entitlement state in America.  The model for this breath-taking expansion is of course the European welfare states.  The populations of Europe are older but these welfare states have lower labor participation and much higher structural unemployment.  The Wall Street Journal editorially reports that “European jobless rates tend to be much higher than the US, especially for the young.  In 2019 labor participation was 62.6% in the US versus 49.7% in Italy, 55% in France, 57.7% in Spain, 59.3% in Portugal and 61.3% in Germany.”  Lower labor participation results in slower economic growth.  From 2010-2019, US GDP averaged 2.3%, while Italy was 0.27%, Portugal 0.86%, Spain 1.07%, France 1.42% and Germany 1.97%.

  • One of the linchpins of the proposed entitlement expansion is child care and family leave expansion.  The logic is that this will encourage more women to work and thereby expand the workforce.  “But Italy offers 22 weeks of maternity leave at 80% of previously earnings; France provides 16 weeks at 90%; Spain 16 weeks at 100%.  Higher payroll taxes to finance these generous benefits have instead reduced the incentive to work.”
  • The Biden administration argues that taxing the rich in America can finance this huge entitlement expansion.  But, “Europe’s little-discussed secret is that its cradle-to-grave welfare states are financed by the middle class via value-added and payroll taxes.  The combined employer-employee social security tax rate is 36% in Spain, 40% in Italy and 65% in France.  Value-added taxes in most European economies are around 20%.  There simply aren’t enough rich to finance their entitlements.”
  • Another critical fact associated with entitlement expansion is the effect it will have on other budgetary priorities.  Inflation is increasing in America.  Therefore, the interest the US government must pay on its enormous and growing national debt will increase.  Servicing the US debt is a major part of the US budget.  For 2021 that figure is $378 billion.  Furthermore, vast entitlement spending increases will mean less money for security and for the military.  “Only nine European countries meet their NATO pledge to spend 2% or more of GDP on defense and only Greece spend more than 3% as does the US.  Germany spends a paltry 1.56%.”

“America escaped from its 1970s decline by returning to its historic model of liberating private initiative and enterprise.  Mr. Biden’s plan would empower the government, pile burdens on the private economy, and erode upward mobility by encouraging people not to work.  That’s the real recipe for decline.”  Sound stewardship of material resources is no longer apparently relevant at the national level—and that is indeed evidence of moral decline.

Second is the language revolution unfolding in America.  For example, a growing number of officials and organizations are finding themselves reluctant to use the term “woman,” one of the signs of a new gender ideology that aims to liberate humanity from biology.  Most dictionaries define woman as an “adult human female.”  But, for the gender ideological activists, this is a gross provocation, for it denies that males can be women too.  How pervasive is this trend?  The ACLU now uses “person” instead of woman.  Democratic progressives, in a bill to protect abortion as a right, qualify that the term “woman” reflects “the identity of the majority of people” who might seek an abortion:  “This Act is intended to protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy—cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others.”  The CDC says that COVID vaccines are safe for “pregnant people.”  The White House budget’s neutered term for mothers is “birthing people.”  Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez talks of “menstruating people.”

The point of language is to communicate.  The new gender ideology is insisting on unfamiliar or even “alien-sounding” words that make it far more difficult to discuss reasonably issues and  policies without such rigid ideological overtones.  And there are important questions that need discussion:  Should women’s sports be reserved for biological females or should any athlete who identifies as a woman is allowed to join a female sport’s team?  “Should male prisoners, even violent ones, who identify as women be housed in women’s prisons, as may happen in America . . .?”    Indeed, I would argue that the new gender ideology that demands such changes in language is actually thereby dehumanizing and dangerous.  What are the boundaries to this effort?  The obvious result is utter confusion and disorder.  Its impact on our children and grandchildren is potentially devastating.

In our Postmodern, post-Christian culture, there is no foundation for our civilization, no agreed-upon set of ethical standards, and no transcendent authority to which to appeal.  Human autonomy is a given and the boundaries to that autonomy appear limitless. The total confusion produced by the new gender ideology is devastating. We give the appearance of a civilization in a downward spiral of perversion and decadence as detailed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:24-32.  Paul’s delineation of this spiral does not apply only to ancient Egypt or the Greco-Roman civilization in which he lived; it is a startling description of America in 2021.  The solution can only be found in Scripture and I believe what follows accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches:

  1. Gender identity is a critical part of God’s Creation Ordinance.  In Genesis 1:26ff, God declares that He will create humanity in His “image and likeness;” so, “male and female He created them” in His image and likeness.  Gender specificity is the first dimension of God’s creative act when it comes to the human race.
  2. Maleness and femaleness are God’s choice, determined at conception.  But growing into one’s masculinity or femininity and embracing it can be thwarted by cultural and family developments.  It seems reasonable to conclude that gender identity is a developmental issue.
  3. It is certainly true that God desires that every male grow to masculinity and every female to femininity.  But our culture has developed labels such as transgendered and transsexual.  Regardless of the labels, God sees each individual as of worth and value because they bear His image—but as broken individuals.  As with every human being, the salvation offered in Jesus Christ heals the brokenness.
  4. It is certainly true that God intends for males to manifest masculine characteristics and females to manifest female characteristics.  The fact that some people are born with evidence of mutations in sex-determining genes does not impact their value and worth to God.    But the Bible is clear that men are to appear as men and women as women—see Deuteronomy 22:5.
  5. As with every individual human being, our fundamental identity can only be found in Jesus Christ.  Much of the Postmodern world has focused on sex or gender as the primary aspect of personal identity.  But the Bible calls on us to identity with Jesus—He is our core identity, regardless of whether we are male, female, transgender, etc.  Identity in Christ is a profound, transformative concept that results from placing our faith in Christ.

 

For all human beings, only in Christ is there healing, wholeness and the promise of a resurrected body after which the struggle with brokenness and sin will end.  In eternity there will be no struggle with identity or life’s meaning: both will be realized sufficiently and completely in Christ.

See Wall Street Journal editorial (7 October 2021); Judy Shelton in the Wall Street Journal (14 October 2021);  The Economist (2 October 2021), pp. 11-12; and Nicole Ault in the Wall Street Journal (4 October 2021).

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