Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is The World More Evil Than It Used to Be?

Well, let's scale it back a bit. I'll focus on the United States. Most comments on the current moral status of this nation tend toward the negative. There is, especially among conservatives, a longing for a return to a semi-idyllic past, when one didn't have to "lock the front door" and you could trust your neighbors and let your kids walk home from school. And there are among these negative voices a few who are far more joyous, a few who praise our enlightened status and lambaste our "barbaric past".

I actually don't think we can begin to make any sort of accurate assessment of this issue. For one thing, doing comparisons of moral states is probably just not the sort of thing human are equipped to do. It's hard to qualitatively assess a nation on a good/evil scale. On the one hand it's hard to argue with the fact that we have done away with some of our malicious baggage. While racism is by no means dead (and it crops up in the oddest places), the overall legal status and treatment of non-whites has greatly improved in the last century. Likewise sexism has seen a tremendous reduction. Working conditions for laborers are, generally speaking, drastically safer than what one would have seen mid-Industrial Revolution, and child labor is prohibited. In many ways this nation has seen great moral improvement. On the other hand we have fallen behind in many ways. The internet has led to horrific and disgusting instances of child abuse. Abortions of convenience are widespread. Standards of modesty and overall sexual behavior are low. (Please note that I'm not claiming moral superiority to anyone. I'm as wretched and wicked as they come. If I may borrow a quote from Abba Dioscorus: "If I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.")

All of this is to say that neither brooding cynicism nor triumphant joy is an appropriate response to the moral status of our nation. A more guarded and balanced outlook is needed. We must praise the ways that our nation has advanced and work to remedy the ways in which we have fallen behind. This is the most difficult thing to do. Cynicism is fun: it let's us criticize something and feel wise. The opposite course is also fun: we get to feel good about ourselves. But Christians are called to walk the difficult path. Let us do our work with both joy and sorrow.