The Moral Slide of Western Culture Illustrated (Guinness)

 In chapter one of Time for Truth, Os Guinness tells a story that very clearly describes our culture’s moral downhill slide.  It also illustrates the turn from modernity to postmodernity.  Guinness mentions “The Lottery,” a fictional story that the New Yorker published in 1948.  When it did come out in print, there was plenty of moral outrage since the story was about human sacrifice in rural America.  Guinness notes, that the “story’s moral – the dangers of ‘going along’ in blind social conformity – found a passionate response in the generation that had stood up to Hilter.”

Fast forward to the 1970s to 1990s.  A professor in an American college used this story often during her 20+ years of teaching.  She noticed a shift in the way people responded to the story.  For the most part, with a few exceptions, the responses during the 70s and 80s were what you’d expect: moral disagreement with the idea of going along blindly and submitting to human sacrifice.

In the 1990s things changed.  The professor continued to assign the story and discuss it with the class.  However, her students of various ages no longer consistently showed moral outrage at the idea of human sacrifice.  The responses included, “The end was neat,” or “It’s their ritual.”  The professor was stunned after talking to a woman who was passionate about saving whales, had concern for the rainforests, and recently rescued a stray dog.  The woman, however, was unconcerned and unmoved about the idea of a human sacrifice ritual.  The professor later said,

“At one point I gave up.  …No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand  against human sacrifice.”

Guinness does a fine job of explaining how this story is an example of the culture in which we now live.  He noted that the 11th commandment of today is “thou shalt not judge.”

In such a world, what follows is simple: When nothing can be judged except judgment itself – “judgementalism” – the barriers between the unthinkable, acceptable, and doable collapse entirely.  And then, since life goes on and the sky doesn’t fall, people draw the conclusion that the original concern was unfounded.  Lighten up, the newly amoral say as they skip forward blithely, complicit in their own corruption.

You can find this entire excellent discussion in chapter 1 of Time for Truth by Os Guinness.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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