Charles Moore's Mailbag

The Beltway Sniper, Moral Anarchy Letters

Charles Moore - 2002.10.28 - Tip Jar

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My column on postmodern moral anarchy and the Beltway sniper proved to be another prodigious letter generator, like my recent column on civilizations in collision. The piece was not written specifically for Low End Mac, but rather for my syndicated Canadian newspaper column. I sent a copy to Dan Knight, thinking that he might find it interesting. He did, and published it, which is fine with me.

Most of the letter writers disagreed with me on the erosion of Christian cultural purchase in our society being a central factor in the increasing moral anarchy that surrounds us. That is, of course, their prerogative, but I stand my ground.

Consider some terms virtually unknown 50-60 years ago or describing phenomena that, if explained, would have bewildered and horrified most people then or disgusted them with euphemistic dishonesty: school shootings, serial killer, drive by shooting, drug culture, child pornography, child prostitution, home invasion robbery, road rage, etc., ad nauseam.

Civil decay this rapid and radical is no accident. It took concentrated effort on the part of some and passive apathy on the part of others. I don't mean some grand design or organized conspiracy to wreck society. Most of those responsible for this mess theorized and acted with sincere, albeit addled, good intent. As the late Canadian philosopher George Grant liked to point out, "the well-meaning liberal is a very dangerous character." Bad philosophy usually results in unfortunate outcomes. In our post-Christian society, one consequence is moral anarchy.

Please note well that I am not saying that people can't behave morally outside a Christian context, or that other religions and/or ideological systems cannot promote moral behavior. Nor am I asserting that secular humanists are intrinsically immoral or crime-prone as individuals. What I am saying is that ascendant secular humanism has deconstructed our society's erstwhile, Christian-based moral consensus and replaced it with a cultural environment of open-ended, permissive relativism in which it is all too easy for people without strong ethical self-motivation to go morally adrift.

No society or culture can cohere without a dominant moral and ethical consensus - substantial common agreement on what constitutes right and wrong, worthy moral values, and acceptable behavior. This reality implies the need for an objective moral standard. Western civilization was sustained by Christian standards for nearly 2000 years.

Our society's moral consensus, until recently, was essentially a Christian consensus: The idea that there is an objective order to Creation; that things, ideas, and acts should be prized for their intrinsic goodness - or despised for their lack of same. People saw themselves as created by God and ultimately accountable to Him for their life-choices and behavior. Ideals like truth, justice, loyalty, honor, benevolence, chastity, frugality, duty, and self-discipline were near-universally assented to as objective goods, whether or not they were lived up to.

The rot started setting in with the notion that these standards no longer applied comprehensively.

For the modern delusion that we can sustain a decent, orderly, and worthwhile civilization in this culture without Christian standards in a climate of anarchic subjectivity, blame lies squarely on the rise of secular humanism and the social sciences. Fundamental presuppositions of these leftist ideologies - their entire worldview and sense of what it means to be human, moral, responsible, and social - militates against Judeo-Christian belief. It's not for nothing that "Generation-X" guru Douglas Coupland titled his follow-up book "Life After God."

Several of the correspondents dredged up yet again the familiar list of moral failures and atrocities perpetrated by persons and groups self-identified as Christians over the centuries - the excesses of the Crusades, the tortures of the Inquisition; witch-burnings, and so on. These things happened, but they were in contradiction of Christian morality, not a result of it. You cannot legitimately blame Christianity for the failure of its avowed adherents to live up to its principles. Not only can we not be good without God, IMHO, we have the damnedest time being good with God, thanks to our inherently sinful nature.

Christians, at least if they understand the message of the Gospel, do not, despite the pejorative caricaturing of their detractors, hold themselves to be paragons of virtue. The basic Christian self-realization is that one is an unworthy sinner, totally dependent upon unearned grace for one's salvation from eternal damnation. Try listening to the words of the hymn "Amazing Grace" sometime.

Some of the correspondents mentioned Enlightenment values. I'm no fan of the so-called Enlightenment. While I was preparing this follow-up, I happened across an excellent article by Glenn Tinder that appeared in Atlantic Monthly in December 1989, entitled: Can We Be Good Without God? On the political meaning of Christianity. I encourage you to check it out.

Tinder notes that:

"Enlightenment rationalism is not nearly so constructive as is often supposed. Granted, it has sometimes played a constructive role. It has translated certain Christian values into secular terms and, in an age becoming increasingly secular, has given them political force. It is doubtful, however, that it could have created those values or that it can provide them with adequate metaphysical foundations. Hence if Christianity declines and dies in coming decades, our moral universe and also the relatively humane political universe that it supports will be in peril...."

I profess to be a Christian. However, in the current state of theological anarchy, people calling themselves "Christian" can be found affirming almost any religious notion under the sun. The core principles of the Christian Faith I affirm can be found in:

Real Christianity, as defined in those documents, incites hostility because it contradicts the Enlightenment-derived tenets of liberal-humanism, which are incompatible with genuine Christian confession. The philosophical "Enlightenment" of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe was an intellectual movement that asserted the sufficiency of human reason and skepticism with regard to the validity of the traditional authority of the past - including Christian teaching. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the Enlightenment (die Aufklärung or "clearing") as follows:

"The Aufklärung combines opposition to all supernatural religion and belief in the all-sufficiency of human reason with an ardent desire to promote the happiness of men in this life. . . . Most of its representatives . . . rejected the Christian dogma and were hostile to Catholicism as well as Protestant orthodoxy, which they regarded as powers of spiritual darkness depriving humanity of the use of its rational faculties.

"Their fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature, which blinded them to the fact of sin, produced an easy optimism and absolute faith of human society once the principles of enlightened reason had been recognized...."

The Enlightenment led unambiguously to 19th and 20th century liberalism, which it must be clearly understood stands in antithesis to Christianity: denying the supernatural, affirming the all-sufficiency of human reason, rejecting the fall from grace and original sin, denying Christ's divinity and His resurrection from the dead, believing in the perfectibility of Man, deconstructing the Bible. All of these Enlightenment/liberal beliefs are aggressively anti-Christian.

Liberal-humanism affirms moral relativism and denies the concept of absolute truth. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Truth that would set believers free.

Liberal humanism affirms that no point of view can legitimately impose its principles on society. Christians believe that all just law is based on God's law, which applies universally.

Liberal-humanism asserts that all religions may lead to God and that personal sincerity of belief (in whatever) is what really matters. Jesus Christ taught that the one and only way to God is through Him.

Liberal-humanism affirms the sufficiency of individual values and asserts that one must make one's own truth. Christianity demands conformity to the principles and standards defined by God's revelation in Christ and the Bible.

Liberal humanists want a God whose fondest wish is for them to feel good and a "morality" that reduces human purpose to achieving painless personal happiness and fulfillment. They cannot accept a God who does not share these cherished objectives. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, taught the paradoxical truth that whoever clings too tightly to this life will lose it, and that the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy.

Christianity's truth claims have never been politically correct. The essential Christian assertion that non-Christian religions and philosophies are true only to the degree that they are in accord with Christian principles, and false where they deviate from them, scandalizes liberal, multicultural ideology, and broad-mindedness.

However, if Christ was God incarnate, as the Christian Church has maintained for nearly two millennia, then there is no possibility that evolution will ever produce a greater human being than Him, and no moral or philosophical progress beyond His teachings will be possible either.

The sentimental notion that Christ was merely a charismatic teacher of nice ideas about love and human brotherhood simply doesn't stand up to critical scrutiny. On the basis of Jesus's own sayings recorded in the Bible we are faced with a clear-cut set of alternatives: Jesus was either a madman with paranoiac delusions, or He was indeed Who He said He was. I believe the latter.

Christ claimed to save the world because He Himself was God, and that He had personally defeated sin and death. No room exists in true Christian belief for the notion that other religions can be "just as true as Christianity." If Jesus was not God and there was no literal Resurrection, then all of Christianity is a fraud and a charade and not worth anyone's bothering with.

Dostoevsky wrote that a person "cannot live without worshiping something." Anyone who denies God must worship an idol - which is not necessarily a wooden or metal figure. In our time we have seen ideologies, groups, and leaders receive divine honors. People proud of their critical and discerning spirit have rejected Christ and bowed down before Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or some other secular savior.

I worship Jesus Christ.

On to the letters.

LEM Sniper Article

From Clifford Pratt:

Couldn't agree with you more. Thanks.

Clifford Pratt

Thanks Clifford,

We seem to be in the minority on this one. Read on.

Charles

Moral Relativism, Anarchy, and Snipers

From Grayson Williams:

Hi Charles,

I read your article with interest, as I did your "Islam vs. the West" series. In many ways, your points are valid and quite understandable. However, I feel that, in some ways, your arguments might be flawed (obligatory disclaimer: I am an atheist).

For instance, you note that there is currently a sniper at large who picks off random people in the Washington, DC area. You also state that morality is on the decline, and has been, and then claim the two events are causally related. I think you may be equating causation with correlation here, due to several factors:

  1. No definitive study (that I am aware of) has demonstrated any relation between "crime" (what exactly constitutes a crime changes over time, making this rather hard to quantify) and the religious tendencies of a population. Rather, many other factors, most notably economic prosperity and education/literacy rates, have been shown to influence crime rates far more than other factors, including (probably) religion.
  2. The United States is one of the most Christian (if one examines church-going rates, churches per capita, and the results of various polls) large societies in the Western world and also has one of the highest violent crime rates. Certainly, crime here is more prevalent than the more secular Western Europe, and far more so than Japan, where the population is 90% Shinto. Crime is also quite high in Russia, a nation in which the Orthodox Church plays a rather large role. However, crime was almost nonexistent during the Soviet era, when the practice of religion was discouraged and the state was officially atheist.

Western civilization and the rule of law also developed well before Christianity, with the advent of (quasi-)democracy, philosophy and science in ancient Greece. Furthermore, throughout a large portion of Western history, Christianity was either not present or not really important in day-to-day lives. For instance, the Roman empire was not officially Christian until the proclamation of Constantine as emperor in 306 AD, and it was gone by 476 AD. Religion did not really play a major role in the lives of the rural poor (e.g., most of Europe) until the Reformation and the subsequent abolition of feudalism and rise of mercantilism, and then it started dwindling with the advent of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Thus, I think that one might conclude that equating the decline of the influence of Christianity with anarchy, the destruction of civilization and rampant, wanton violence could be an oversimplification of the situation.

Thanks for your time,
Grayson

Hi Grayson,

Thanks for your thoughtful musings.

I did not mean to suggest that ordered, safe society is not possible without Christianity, which would be an idiotic assertion.

It is said that during the Mussolini regime in Italy, one could leave their wallet in the middle of a town square and no one would touch it. I expect that was attributable more to fear of the fascist police than Italian Catholicism. The application of ruthless authoritarianism has a dampening effect on crime.

My point was that our North American culture was essentially Christian in structure and principle, which provided a consensual moral ethos that permitted a fairly safe and ordered society without the threat of authoritarian ruthlessness. Community standards, if you will, were essentially Christian standards.

While America is still arguably the most Christian country in the developed West, there is an increasing disconnect between the Christian faith of the grassroots and both public policy and popular entertainment culture, both of which are dominated by self-styled cultural elites that are predominantly post-Christian. These folks are mostly sincerely well-intended in their own understanding, but something they don't understand is that you cannot dispense with the moral anchor that this society was based on and not go drifting onto the rocks.

As for the "economic" theory of crime, the Great Depression was the worst economic period of the past couple hundred years, but there was no massive breakdown in social morality. Even in the 1950s, inner city ghetto neighborhoods, while poor, were still relatively safe. I believe that in both cases, the Christian based social ethos that the majority subscribed to was the key element.

Shintoism, Islam, communism, or fascism work at keeping crime at bay, but I prefer the Christian solution. What demonstrably doesn't work is moral relativism and the permissive society.

Charles

McMurtry's Morality

From J. P. Medina:

Mr. Moore:

As a cultural critic, you know it is slippery to accuse an author of the transgressions of his characters. McMurtry's Lonesome Dove stands above all his other writings in conveying a sense of the West that has been referred to delicately but rarely openly. Lonesome Dove contains murder, rape, native American and white psychopathology, swift justice, and terrible strokes of fate. Streets of Laredo broadens that panorama to include Mexican American psychopathology. Both novels suggest that in a complete moral vacuum, the West of that period, that only those with strong moral values, former Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, and a means of enforcing the laws, weapons, can civility survive.

Augustus McCrae reads "the good book" while baking muffins in a Dutch oven, and Call lives a celibate life over his guilt and remorse at renouncing the woman who bore him a son, Newt. These characters are not without morals. Many of the second[ary] characters are guileless and innocent and either live or die, according to fate. Clara, a strong character, is a moral center of the story, taking care of sick husband and living a good life, though without reference to Christianity.

Jake Spoon and Blue Duck are the two characters who die because of their moral flaws, Christian or simply "human." Jake Spoon dies because he steals as easily as he breathes. He dies at the hands of Call and McCrae, his former Ranger friends. Blue Duck, like Joey Garza, is completely amoral and psychopathic. Without any moral code, personal or religious, these two inflict chaos and death in a vengeful manner. However, they die. They die because in the course of McMurtry's narrative, this lack of moral code, this psychopathology, had to be quashed then as now in order for civility, Christian or Judaic, to flourish. Additionally, McMurtry treads the area of ethnic criminals that liberal cultural critics pounce on to call "racist."

Not using the word "Christian" in a text does not exclude those values from character or narrative. The tendency for narratives to exclude moral references seems to come from a reaction to the rigid moralists who use the word "Christian" when they are promoting their own perspectives. There are some writers who have strong aversions to religious institutions, but they may believe in a Higher Power of their understanding.

Understanding your concerns, I suggest Larry McMurtry's narratives have much subtlety and moral values to them.

Best wishes; I hope, like you, the Washington area sniper is captured quickly,

J. P. Medina
English Department
Mt San Antonio College

Hi Prof. Medina,

I wasn't accusing McMurtry of anything personally; only observing the historical inaccuracy of his obliviousness to the significance of Christianity in frontier America and old Mexico in the Lonesome Dove novels.

I certainly wasn't suggesting that morality is absent from those writings, but the concept of everyone working out their own moral values subjectively is postmodern, and unhistorical in terms of the set period. Gus reads the Bible, but his morality is more humanist than Christian. Call is a stern moralist, but of his own moral formulae.

Jake Spoon was morally "flexible," but not evil like Blue Duck or Dan Suggs. He does get one of the best lines in the book - the one about rather being hung by his friends than strangers.

I love Lonesome Dove - one of the all time great American novels, IMHO, and well deserving of the Pulitzer, and the best Western novel ever I think (ditto for the TV movie). Streets of Laredo was a letdown, and the other two were major disappointments.

Charles

DC Sniper Article on LEM

From Stuart Bell:

Dear Charles,

While sharing the horror of every right-thinking citizen of the USA about the recent shootings in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and while concurring with your concern at the demise of a commonly accepted ethical consensus in western societies, until your country puts the right not to be shot above the right to bear arms and stops pretending that it is still in the era of the taming of the great wild west, then the level of gun ownership will always make more likely such tragic events.

And yes, I have heard all the pro-gun rhetoric of the NRA, and no, I am not convinced.

If only 0.1% of guns are misused, then 0.1% of 50m is far more dangerous than 0.1% of 500,000.

With best wishes from the UK,
Stuart Bell.

Hi Stuart,

I actually live in Canada, where we have what I consider to be draconian gun control legislation.

However, even here, high powered hunting rifles with scopes are legally available to anyone with no criminal record who jumps through the regulatory hoops to acquire a license (I am a licensed gun owner).

Unless you ban private ownership of guns entirely, firepower will be available, and determined criminals will always be able to get guns anyway.

Charles

Lost Again

From Johannes Stripple:

Hi,

Have been a faithful reader over the years. I most enjoy the Mac stuff though, and I appreciate that the Mac stuff is not as dogmatic as the rest, although your returning plea for "legacy ports" feels rather pre-modern.

Your latest column about the sniper is vastly flawed. Before you enter into the relatively un-useful dichotomy modern/postmodern just think two seconds on what has happened during the 20th century; in particular think of the modernist underpinnings of the totalizing ideologies that have created by far the most brutal century ever.

As one living in DC I also find it quite intriguing that 30% of the city (where the sniper is not) is far more dangerous than near the sniper-beltway where I live.

best regards
Johannes

Hi Johannes,

I'm certainly no cheerleader for modernism. Perish the thought. I'm unabashedly premodern by inclination.

Premodern thinkers understood that without God there is no objective authority on which to ground knowledge. Bona fide moral truths rest on an ordered creation in which things have intrinsic meaning and purpose. Without a concept of absolute truth, there can be no moral structure - no definitive right and wrong. When anything anyone says could be the truth, truth becomes inscrutable, and you get disorder, confusion, and ultimately despair.

The rise of modernism 300 years ago ushered in the notion that a base for knowledge could be established solely on human reason. Simple facts were substituted for truth as the basis of knowledge. God became optional (at best) where knowledge was concerned - or so the moderns thought. Facts were considered self-sufficient, without reference to any creative purpose behind them.

For a while this system seemed to work well enough in a social sense. Factual knowledge grew rapidly through application of Francis Bacon's scientific method, and democracy appeared to flourish and thrive in tandem with increased productivity and prosperity. However, by dispensing with divine authority and purpose, the moderns removed the foundation for real knowledge. Social order now depended to an ever greater extent upon momentum - accumulated moral capital from the premodern age. By mid-20th Century that momentum had run down and the capital was pretty well spent.

Consequently, we have new generations of postmodern nihilists, who, like the pre-moderns, correctly believe that without God there can be no knowledge. But postmoderns also suppose that the moderns long since killed God, leaving no possibility of knowledge, purpose, values, objective good, right or wrong. All that's left for postmoderns is a chaotic world drained of meaning and purpose. Herein hangs alienation and despair. With no God to rebel against, postmoderns have turned, with poetic irony, against the modernist, humanist rationalism that created their dilemma. They instinctively recognize the spiritual and philosophical bankruptcy of modernism, but have been brainwashed into believing there is no other alternative.

Charles

Serial Sniper

Magne Lindholm:

You write:

"Secular humanists suppose you can maintain civilization without objective moral or religious standards. I disbelieve this, and there's more evidence all the time confirming my skepticism. Without moral order there can be no political or social order - or genuine freedom.

"Civilizations end this way."

What is this?

I am a secular humanist, and I agree that the sniper is terrible, that he should be arrested and punished.

Secular humanists are not against moral order. Many of us are against all the weapons lying around in the US, too, because we think that lunatics get more dangerous with guns in their hands. And there will always be some lunatics or weird, angry persons.

The problem with your argument

"Civilization did not derive from 'the goodness of individual human spirits' working in harmony for the common good, as humanist dogma would have us believe. It is dependent upon honouring the objective moral laws of the created order and in acknowledgment of the sovereignty and authority of God."

is that there is so many different gods.

And the gods do not agree upon it all, although they agree upon this case.

The humanists agree, too.

Or do you think that Hindus or Buddhists will be killers?

Or secular humanists?

Humanists (at least the organized ones) are not against moral or social orders. They are very concerned about it. Check it out yourself. Visit their websites.

And how can a moral law be objective?

It can be agreed upon, that's it.

"There's nothing free or civilized about being afraid to go to the supermarket because some depraved lunatic might take you out in the parking lot with a random shot. "

Agreed. But why blame the humanists for this?

Why not the National Rifle Association?

They carry most of the guns.

Yours
Magne Lindholm

Hi Magne,

I did not say that secular humanists or adherents of non-Christian religions cannot behave in a moral manner.

However, our culture was a Christian culture, and that was the anchor of our particular moral order. Secular humanism, which is inherently relativistic, cannot be an adequate replacement.

I believe that there is one God, and His revealed law is the universally-applicable objective moral standard. It is certainly the formative basis of our culture's moral consensus (what's left of it) and our system of civil and criminal laws.

It's no coincidence that the countries of the world where more people would prefer to live are all ones that are or were Christian by tradition and law.

Charles

Re: Serial Sniper a Product of Postmodern Moral Anarchy

From John Christie:

Charles,

I don't disagree with much of what you say in this article. There are moral absolutes, and they must be respected. However, the primary conclusion, that the sniper is a product of the moral decay, is just such a load of crap. I am willing to bet money that when this guy is found he believes he is the most moral person on the planet and is likely able to quote chapter and verse from the Bible. The odds are probably about 1:1 for and against that. There have been a large number of serial killers and mass murderers who have acted in the name of God and seriously believed very strong dogma. Vonnegut writes that if Jesus Christ were to come back today, he likely would not be able to stop throwing up upon seeing all the things done in his name. I think he touches on something there (40 years ago BTW) that is very similar to what you are talking about.

Of course, there are also completely anarchistic evil individuals who believe there is no absolute good. But your conclusion that this one killer is a product of such thinking is absurd until the guy is caught - even afterwards, as I state below. Furthermore, moral decay, if there really is any, over the past few decades (upon reading historical documents one might conclude this has been a steady decline over the last 1000 years) hasn't really resulted in a greater proportion of monsters. The population doubles every so often and continues to skyrocket upward. Yet upon looking at a list of the greatest serial killers and mass murderers in history, we don't seem to see much of an increase in frequency over the last 100 years or so when proportionate increases should predict about a 10 fold magnification. Why is this? Are they just smarter, or are the police dumber?

This kind of criminal activity is really a form of insanity. Evil people do things to promote their own well being without regard for their fellow man. That is the kind of person that you are opposed to and believe is becoming more frequent. I don't argue with that. However, criminals of the kind the sniper is do so because they are insane. There could have been terrible things that happened to them that drove them to that point, or they may have a genetic predisposition as some sort of mutant, or a likely lots of both. They will justify their behaviour some way and it may very well be the exact principles you claim would have prevented (as has been done in the past). Would the anarchists then be right? No. They would just be latching on to the rantings of a nut to push an agenda. Do you want to be accused of doing the same thing?

Hi John,

I have to disagree. He's not insane; he's evil. I'm no lawyer, but I believe that the threshold of sanity recognized by the law is the ability to form intent and to appreciate the consequences of one's actions. This bozo qualifies on both counts - threatening children and demanding a $10 million extortion payoff.

You appear to subscribe to the view that human beings are essentially rational creatures. I disbelieve this. Some of us can, through considerable effort, maintain a somewhat reasoned perspective, but essentially we are governed by a concatenation of pre-rational and irrational influences.

I also believe that there is an active force of evil at work in the universe, as well as an active force of good, and that from the time we become self-conscious to the time they carry us out, we're engaged in a spiritual tug-of-war between these two forces. The Beltway sniper capitulated to the evil force.

Charles

Sniper

From Metroxing:

While the actions of the sniper are deplorable, there is nothing postmodern about wanton killing of another man/person, unless you count postmodern as any point after a multiple-kill instrument was invented such as the catapult.

You are not wrong about these being amoral times, and amorality in general, and you are certainly not wrong about good/evil not being "opinions," but amoral acts and times are nothing new - not even if you count from the time guns were invented . . . even when people lived in villages where the closeness might have prevented amoral atrocities towards another in the village because they knew you & every relative of yours going back 100 years - that just meant you had to leave the village to fight a war, a crusade, or just general looting/pillaging, etc . . . on land or at sea to commit your amoral act(s).

But outside that village where nobody knew, it was all "okay." To say this amoral idiot's act is more heinous today and is the product of our times is just wrong. As a Christian myself, I know we are slightly less imperfect than we were generations ago, but we are not far from the Christians that butchered their way across all the continents. I am not qualified to judge their acts as moral or immoral by the standards of morality then and by the standards now but facts are facts. But to claim that his acts are more depraved because we live in "more humanist" times is wrong. Without going into too much detail, whatever time you deem as the perfect Christian period (since you seem to be implying we're living in a post-Christian value period) - I think you will find Christians and others repeating the acts of this idiot with different weapons or different methods but doing exactly the same.

Unless this man claims that his acts are because he feels that moral values have decayed and he wants his acts to be an atrocious act of that reasoning, you are putting words and presumptions into his acts. He has made no such claims and I doubt this moron can string toward more than four words together, let alone a coherent thought.

I know that we all want a reason for such an act. I don't think it's for us to presume anything.

KC

Hi KC,

I don't believe there was ever a "perfect" Christian period. People, including Christians, remain sinful beings, and as such will always be subject to moral failure.

However, I believe that the amorality of our present, post-Christian, postmodern culture is unprecedented, and a product of the postmodern notion, which derives from existentialist philosophy, that there is no absolute truth, no objective moral compass, and that nothing can be known.

People, including many nominal Christians, have been spectacularly immoral at times over the centuries. Amorality, and the anomie of people like the sniper suspect who has been arrested, are unprecedentedly rampant in our time.

Charles

My Ramblings About Yours

From Jake Norcross:

Mr Moore,

It was with somewhat lax enthusiasm that I began to read your column, "Serial Sniper a Product of Postmodern Moral Anarchy" on Low End Mac - a product of an intense media saturation for the last three weeks. I have known your commentary to be astute for a good deal of time, and have successfully relied on the information and editorials provided by your regular literary endeavors on the Mac Web and elsewhere. Thank you for excellent work.

However, in this latest column, there are a few points that I feel are a tad, uh, ambiguous. For instance:

"Western civilization bloomed with the Christian religion, was sustained by it for some 1,500 years, and is withering with Christianity's popular decline and loss of cultural purchase."

Now, Mr. Moore, if I remember my PBS right (which I do more often than not), Christian Europe was not the jumpinest' part of the continent, as far as culture was concerned. They called it "The Dark Ages" for a reason. Literacy was at an all-time low, they had the plague (but hey, only killed 1/3 of the population, right?) and thought that flowers killed disease. Also, books were nonexistent. If a monastery had five books, they were the equivalent of the New York Public Library. (I was going to say Barnes and Noble, but the books - sorry, "Illuminated Manuscripts" - were often chained to the shelves.)

No, it seems the most culturally ept people lived in Spain at the time, which was under Muslim influence. You can read all about it http://www.islamset.com/introd.html. At the same time, Spain had hot running water, decent hospitals, book stores, and some idea what was going on in the outside world. I do not wish to paint Christians as unknowledgable, but it was the Moors in Spain who read and understood the works of the Greeks and Romans; the works of Rhazes, the father of modern surgery and medicine; and the texts of other ancient societies, without whom, would all be lost.

"And without Christian morality and its demand for personal accountability, all hell breaks loose."

...which leads me to my next point: Sometime during this period (probably most of it, actually) personal accountability became big business to the Christian world, embodied by one word: Inquisition. And here the Christians produced more in number and variety of a single item than anywhere and anyone else in the world: torture devices.

The Christians had created all manner of elaborate devices to torture and gain a confession of witchcraft: the rack, the French rack, the Iron Maiden, strapido, etc., and then (and this is why we know about it - well, that and the History Channel) wrote what they were doing. Now, I don't recall Muslims ever doing any of this. And I haven't even touched the Crusades.

My point, Mr. Moore, is that before one tries to assign a random ill of culture to a specific cause, one should try to understand the entire historical context that implies. The Christian religion has been twisted and malinturpreted so much over the last 1900+ years that every one of the Commandments has been violated on a large scale at least once. Yet this does not embody the true spirit of a good people. Yet on the same token, "Christian ethics" are not to be confused with basic human morality, or common decency.

I, myself, am not a Muslim; neither am I Christian. (And no, I'm not an atheist, if that's your next question.) And still, I live by a set of 11 Rules of the Earth [these? ed] that find these heinous acts not only unbelievable but also deeply troubling in today's world.

Perhaps what you deem as "Christian ethics" are actually traits of good people of all faiths.

Peace out @ length,
Jake Norcross

Hi Jake,

Certainly Christian principles have been too often honored in the breach by people who identified themselves as Christians over the centuries. The issue is whether they were acting in accord with Christian teaching and Christian morality as revealed in Holy Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church or not.

You won't find any imprimatur for torture devices in the Bible.

I believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is - the very ground of being, and that He has revealed Himself to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, and through the Jewish and Christian Holy Scriptures.

To the extent that other religions and traditions are in accord with that revelation, they are in accord with the ultimate Truth. Where they contradict it, they are mistaken. Only one man has ever lived up to those principles. The rest of us are poor sinners tragically prone to moral failure.

Charles

The Source of Amorality...

From Kevin Ford:

Sir,

I am writing in response to your October 21 edition of "Miscellaneous Ramblings." In the article, it seems that you are presenting the idea that the humanist philosophy is one of amorality. I would contend that true humanism strives to impart a strong sense of morality on all those that subscribe to its' ideals.

At it's core, humanism is an understanding that the human experience, and the interdependence of that experience, is (dare I say) a sacred one. According to humanist philosophy, it is the responsibility of each individual to attempt to live a life based upon the way things should be.

"Humanism is a democratic and ethical lifestance which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities." (The International Humanist and Ethical Union)

To quote the Bristol Humanists Group, "Humanism is an approach to life based on reason and our common humanity, recognizing that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone."

I would also point out that humanists do not disregard the import of religious moral teachings. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find any humanist who took issue with many religious teachings such as the Golden Rule. In actuality, the idea of the Golden Rule is a basic humanist truth. Personally, I welcome any religious teaching that seeks to impart a sense of social and moral responsibility provided that it does not exclude or except based on race, sex, creed, sexuality, etc. Any religious teaching that brings people closer together I, and most likely all humanists, would welcome and embrace. I do, however, believe that the basis for such teachings is the product of the human experience and not divine inspiration.

In closing, sir, I would contend that the amorality that you and I see running rampant in today's society is not the product of any religion or philosophy. I feel it is the lack of any religion or philosophy. No matter what you believe, believe something, and learn from it.

For the most part, all religions and philosophies strive to create a peaceful world. Rather, I would conjecture that the true source of the lack of morality in today's society is the product of a lack of education. Not just the traditional classroom education, but a worldly education about what it truly means to be a person; an understanding of what it means to be "a living member of the great family of all souls."

Peace be with you,
Kevin Ford

(Im)moral Sniper?

From Peter Wall:

Uh-oh. I'm one of those evil secular humanists.

Funny, though, I'm not a fan of "moral relativism," contrary to the popular Christian rhetoric. But neither am I a fan of moral dogmatism. Having a standard moral creed, Christian or otherwise, that's upheld by institutional commitment and not individual rationalization doesn't make a better society. It just makes it easier to control a society through hierarchy.

The problem with Christian morality is not that it's moral, but that it's Christian. And that, I think, is the quibble most secular humanists have with Christian moralists. Morality is great - so long as people are making moral decisions rationally. But when people are making moral decisions according to their ministers and favorite Christian media personalities, they're hardly strong, ethical people. Maybe most Christians know it's a sin to commit adultery, but could they tell me why in rational terms? Or are they simply following along with a dogmatic hierarchy that doesn't expect or desire the common folk to think for themselves?

As for the sniper, I don't think s/he's an immoral person so much as he is an insane person. After all, the decision to kill strangers in cold blood, day after day, is not a normal thing to do. In fact, it's known that many soldiers in war have deliberately missed in order to avoid having enemy deaths on their consciences. Even if the Maybe this person could have been reined in by a staunch Christian morality, but would s/he have been a better person for it? Or simply one with more acceptable behavior?

Ultimately, morality should stem from individuals thinking rigorously about themselves and their environment. That's idealistic, yes, but I prefer idealism to the pessimism of Christianity, whereby people are not expected to think, and are treated as unthinking masses. Maybe if they didn't have the safety net of a clergy telling them what to do and a God who forgives all their sins, they wouldn't have the incentive to cease all moral reflection.

Peter Wall

Hi Peter,

You note: "Maybe this person could have been reined in by a staunch Christian morality, but would s/he have been a better person for it? Or simply one with more acceptable behavior?"

This is pretty much what Karl Jung was getting at in the observation of his I quoted about the "moral mask" and "public hypocritical opinion."

I'm confident that the sniper's victims and their families wouldn't give a shxx whether the SOB was a better person for it or not. Just thankful that staunch Christian morality deterred him from his depraved rampage.

Charles

Products of Postmodern Moral Anarchy

From K. Resche:

Dear Charles:

The products of Postmodern Moral Anarchy are not necessarily the message of the serial sniper. Serial murder by sniping predates "postmodernism." I would think. if anything, the likely "deed as message" would be the rejection of moral relativism, acted by the so-called moral absolutists in positions of power. The deeds of the serial sniper do not seem to be a simple hatred of the people, or culture, but a hatred of authority.

It is interesting how you critique society in a context of "Western Civilization and Christianity" and yet ignore the salient facts of the moral and social texts of these institutions. It is even too generous to say you use only what serves you, for the fact is you ignore the central tenets of these institutions altogether in the name of serving them, perhaps this type of moral relativism may be the reason the serial sniper draws your comment.

A good example would be your past articles where you condone the slaughter and oppression of the indigenous population of Palestine as a furtherance of Western Civilization (sic). Even the Talmudic commentary makes it clear only God can restore Israel to the Hebrews, as it was He who took it away. Scripture says to do otherwise will lead to catastrophic suffering on the earth. As it is doing. Also, among the central tenets of Western Civilization are for a few examples "The Treaty Of Westphalia" and the "American Declaration Of Independence" and the "American Constitution." These documents are designed directly to oppose and prevent actions such as is currently occurring in the middle east between Israel and Palestine, and most likely soon the entire Muslim world. It would seem to ignore this and credit Western Civilization and Christianity as sources of inspiration is abject "moral relativism." I can see no other reason why you could continue to cite these institutions as sources.

"Moral Relativism" and "Post-Modernism" are at any rate strawdogs you lead about and pretend are trained to kill. Your claims that Frederick Nietzsche is the father of "postmodern moral-relativism" is so far from the mark that I can be assured you have never really read nor understood what Nietzsche was saying. You are obviously influenced by the phenomenon of so-called Christians who march about with banners protesting Nietzsche's "God is Dead" concept. I imagine you figured that is all you need to know . . . a comic book Nietzsche you can poke pins into . . . but in fact his message was much more true to Christianity and Western Civilization than anything you have written, understand, or pro-offer as critiques. With Nietzsche, everything had a double meaning; he considered his work as social satire. He called himself an "Anti-Christ" as a cry of the honest man who must deal with fate, as a result of the true antichrists who ascend the pulpit to fill the mind and heart of the church with ignorance and hate, and adorn themselves with the mantle of the "pious."

But the message of his story of the "Market Place" (The "God is Dead" story) is important. Nietzsche's message was not a simple "God Is Dead" . . . get over it. He was acting as a Detective (Conan Doyle was the popular writer of the time) and using forensics to examine the death of the spirituality of Europe. He was acting as a Detective, not a Doctor. The message of the story of the "Market Place" was never that "God is Dead," but that, "You have killed Him."

The genius of that parable was never the text, but the reaction of those who read (or not) and how they responded. It was about identifying the guilty. It was a technique common in Detective novels, and Nietzsche had in fact borrowed it from Conan Doyle. What is amazing is how it still works today.

The symbol and motif of the marketplace story was analogous to the temple of the moneychangers in the New testament. Nietzsche, as an artist, calculated how so-called "pious" would react, much the way the Pharisees and Scribes reacted in Jesus Christ's time (to seek his death). It is interesting how the guilty of Nietzsche's parable still twitch at the charge and seek to twist his words and message, much as the Pharisee's and scribes tried to twist and then obliterate the words of Christ, with slander and charges of "moral relativism" . . . and how they rely on the ignorance of the majority of the public to do their work.

K. Resche

Hi K. Resche,

Once again, your critique is so bizarre and vitriolic, I wonder if it's worthwhile attempting to respond.

The corrosive influence of Neitzschean philosophy on 20th Century Western modernism and postmodernism is difficult to overstate. He was indeed the prophet of postmodern nihilism. But don't take my word for it (not that you would).

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

"Among philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. Penetrating the façades buttressing convictions, the nihilist discovers that all values are baseless and that reason is impotent. 'Every belief, every considering something-true,' Nietzsche writes, 'is necessarily false because there is simply no true world' (Will to Power [notes from 1883-1888]). For him, nihilism requires a radical repudiation of all imposed values and meaning: 'Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one's shoulder to the plough; one destroys' (Will to Power).

"The caustic strength of nihilism is absolute, Nietzsche argues, and under its withering scrutiny 'the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and "Why" finds no answer' (Will to Power). Inevitably, nihilism will expose all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective Western mythos. This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity:

"What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)"

Germane to the sniper issue, this snippet:

"...pity crosses the law of development. It preserves what is ripe for destruction; it defends those who have been condemned by life," - Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, The Antichrist, #7, p. 573

Glenn Tinder, in The Atlantic Monthly article "Can We Be Good Without God?" (referenced in my preamble) says:

"Nietzsche's stature is owing to the courage and profundity that enabled him to make this all unmistakably clear. He delineated with overpowering eloquence the consequences of giving up Christianity and every like view of the universe and humanity. His approval of those consequences and his hatred of Christianity give force to his argument. Many would like to think that there are no consequences-that we can continue treasuring the life and welfare, the civil rights and political authority, of every person without believing in a God who renders such attitudes and conduct compelling. Nietzsche shows that we cannot. We cannot give up the Christian God-and the transcendence given other names in other faiths- and go on as before. We must give up Christian morality too. If the God man is nothing more than an illusion, the same thing is true of the idea that every individual possesses incalculable worth."

And Douglas Groothuis (Ph.D., University of Oregon). associate professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. comments:

"Nietzsche, once hailed as a father of existentialism, has now come a kind of posthumous prophet for postmodernism, which often deems him a pioneering voice for its suspicion of universal rationality, morality, objectivity, and Western Christian sensibilities in general. Postmodernists also find in him an emphasis on the conventionality and contingency of all institutions and moralities, which, when deconstruct (a la Michel Foucault) end up as no more than self justifying arrangements of power. Thinkers such as Richard Rorty look to Nietzsche as an inspiration for their escape from the orbit of modernity, especially from its emphasis on objective truth and meaning that exists apart from evaluating agents.

"Zeitlin and Hoover convincingly argue that irrespective of Nietzsche's intellectual travails, he failed to neutralize the leaven of nihilism laced throughout his outlook. Against the cottage industry of Nietzschean apologists, they rightly indict him as a nihilist whose unfettered philosophy has no resources for either restraining evil or fostering virtue. When Rorty confesses that there is no objective, rational reason not to be cruel, and when other postmodernists dismiss any objective foundation for morality, they betray their fatal embrace of the emptiness of being. If the passion and brilliance of Nietzsche failed to escape the intellectual and ethical consequences of nihilism, the burden of proof is on the postmodernists inspired by him who purports to do otherwise."

Moral relativism is the essence of postmodernism and nihilism, and the antithesis of Christian moral absolutism.

Charles

Re: Serial Sniper Article

From Roy Kilgard:

Dear Charles,

First off, let me say that I enjoy and appreciate your writing, both on the subject of Macs and off. Though I may not always agree with your opinions, they are always well thought out and intelligent.

However, I must take issue with your serial sniper editorial. It is not correct to equate ethics with morality. Ethics are generally derived from some logical basis, whereas morals require the existence of some higher power which dictates right and wrong. Christian morality is a good, strong foundation for a society, whether one believes in God or not. However, an ethical society can also be an ordered one, as can be evidenced by the societies of classical Greece and various Eastern societies over their thousands of years of history (Buddhism and Shinto, for example, are both very close to pure ethicism). There was and is political and social order in these civilizations without religious morality.

I believe that, although Christianity has decreased in popularity in the last couple of generations, you can not necessarily claim that this decrease has led to the decline of morality/ethicality in society. Correlation is not causality, as any good scientist can tell you.

I think that the key is not necessarily religious morality, but further education. People must learn and understand that all their actions have consequences. The Golden Rule is not a lesson from Christianity, but one much older than that derived from classical ethics (e.g., Aristotle). It's not "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because otherwise you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," it's "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for it follows logically that if you have the right to infringe upon the personal freedoms of someone else, then they also have that right towards you." In modern society, that's a very libertarian perspective!

So you may indeed by right that the breakdown of Christianity in modern society is causing moral bankruptcy, and our society may be in trouble unless either Christianity increases in popularity again or something else fills the value vacuum, but history has shown that religious morality is not required for political and social order.

Off the soapbox, I only meant to point out that morality and ethics are not the same thing, and take issue with your use of them as synonymous in your article. The rest of it is my opinion, which I thought I'd share with you. Keep up the good work!

Regards,
Roy Kilgard

Hi Roy,

I certainly didn't meant to imply that morality and ethics are synonymous, but I do believe that Christian ethics derive from Christian morality, and thus are closely linked.

I will be making some follow-up observations with the posting of the avalanche of letters generated by this column.

Charles

Typo in 'Serial Sniper a Product of Postmodern Moral Anarchy'

From Archie:

Charles,

I enjoyed reading this article. I noticed an error in the following paragraph, which I'm sure that you just overlooked:

"In Streets of Laredo, the second of Larry McMurtry's quartet of Lonesome Dove novels, a muy malo dude named Joey Garza stocks South Texas and the Mexican borderlands, picking off people with a high-powered German rifle fitted with a telescopic sight."

In this case, "stocks," should be "stalks."

Thanks,
Archie

Hi Archie,

ViaVoice or iListen (forget which I was using) made its best guess, and I did overlook it in the proofread.

Glad you enjoyed the article.

Charles

Moral Anarchy in England, Too?

From Andrew Prosnik:

http://www.reason.com/0211/fe.jm.gun.shtml

Good fun, that. Though you don't mention the US specifically, most articles like the one you wrote only seem to crop up when there's a US media sensation about something bad happening in the US specifically.

I'm not a philosophy major, I'm not well-read, I'm not anti-religion (though I am anti-religious institutions). I do agree with what I assume your theme is - religious teachings help impose a set of morals and ethics on the masses.

I think Christian-based moral authority is now disdained primarily due to the rise of the information age. Now the church cannot as easily cover up their sexual adventures. Now when research turns up how the church repressed scientists in ages past and had its hands in all kinds of politics, the church can't repress the spread of that information. Did they also muck around with that whole Jewish/Nazi thing as well? Or is it only the Swiss banks who screwed the remaining Jews? I can't recall offhand.

In the end I think that your last sentence weakens your previous writing. Depraved lunatic? Who is to say that postmodern moral anarchy is to blame for this madman? Is insanity linked to morality? Or would this situation happen even if everyone were good little sheep, so to speak?

This smacks of a typical "violence in the media desensitizes people to violence!" debate. Well, isn't anarchy "genuine freedom" at its very heart? No restrictions holding you back?

I guess I'm just confused as to what your article is trying to say. You lament the loss of moral order and yet equate order with freedom. You lament the loss of Christian-based moral authority and yet don't look into the reasons WHY people might have decided to stop looking to Christian-based organizations for moral guidance.

From your other writings, I recall a theme of hypocrisy. Mainly, the moral hypocrisy of current US society in that people publicly disdain Christian values and yet strive for those very same values - sans any church reference.

I tend to agree with you and personally think that getting people back into churches would probably help stamp in some set of morals. However, with information so freely given in its own anarchy of sorts, can you really control the content that the young ones see and absorb? For every hour reading scripture they may be spending two reading [online porn - link deleted. ed] as well.

I have a hard time accepting lessons from a moral authority that represents an organization with its own set of nastiness. I agree with the teachings but not the method of getting the teachings -i.e., going to church to have someone tell them to me and my children.

Humph. I guess I think that it's up to the parents to be role models to the children and inspire and teach a good set of morals and ethics. Always with the parents, it seems. The alternatives seem either unviable in this information age or to make them practical, smack of oppression. I don't think there's any other practical way to imprint good ol' Christian morals on a society that has no real reason to be brainwashed. The difference between imprinting and inspiring, eh?

Did you have any suggested resolution to our (the US only?) current moral decline? Or was the article just a lament on the current state of affairs? I must apologize, but I get irate at media jumping on the bandwagon. Though your article was well-written it didn't seem to make any point besides a general, "we're going to hell because we're shunning the church" feel to it. Heck, if I wanted to have another load of that shoveled onto me (along with "violent video games are the cause of school shootings" and "guns should be banned because then no one will be shot and killed") I could just turn on the TV or read the newspaper.

Or is this supposed to be postmodern moral guilt? :)

Andrew.

p.s. in the first paragraph I think someone mistyped: "named Joey Garza stocks South Texas"

Hi Andrew,

Re: "stocks" see my reply to Archie above.

Of course in England, too.

The article was largely a lament, but my point was, in brief, that when Christian standards were the consensually affirmed benchmark of good and evil, virtue and vice, right and wrong; we didn't have serial killers stalking the highways shooting people at random; kids shooting up their schools; disgruntled employees dispatching their coworkers, and so on, or at worst, such occurrences were highly extraordinary.

Of course, those are still extreme examples of what I regard to be a general moral erosion in our culture. In terms of social order and public safety, other moral codes (or authoritarianism) could theoretically be substituted for Christian standards in a functional role, but you can't just dump Christianity and replace it with moral relativism/anarchy and expect civilization to survive.

There is a difference between freedom and license. Real freedom requires responsibility.

Charles

Please Expound

From Al Shep:

Good piece.

Do you reject the notion that "Hollywood" is simply rebelling against their Christian heritage. Like a teenager who rebels against the principles they were raised to follow.

I think "Hollywood" rebelling is far more harmful, as eventually the teenager will grow up, wise up, and recognize the wisdom of their upbringing. I am not so sure "Hollywood" has more influence than our neighborhood churches.

Just my small opinion, I think that we as a people will eventually reject many of the current foolishness in our media as a fad. Nietzsche, Jung, and others come and go, but Christianity stays the course.

Please ramble on.
~al

Hi Al,

Will do.

Yes, I do think that the animus against Christianity by Hollywood in particular, and postmodern popular culture in general, is very much adolescent level rebellion. Of course, rebellion against God is nothing new. It is what got Lucifer booted out of Heaven and our ancestral progenitors ejected from Eden, initiating our original sin dilemma.

The liberal notion contends that there should be no external moral strictures on the free agency of individuals, so long as consequences of their behavior "does not harm anyone else." The permissive liberal worldview is blindered by its extreme subjectivity to the fact that very seldom is any behavior without consequences extending beyond the first person.

As P.J. O'Rourke has astutely observed:

"Liberals aren't very interested in . . . real and material freedoms. They have a more innocent - not to say toddlerlike - idea of freedom. Liberals want the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums... Liberals have invented whole college majors - psychology, sociology, women's studies - to prove that nothing is anybody's fault. . . . Consider how much you'd have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favour abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal point of view."

I'm not in total accord with P.J. here. I consider myself a devout Christian, but I unenthusiastically support the death penalty in certain instances - the Beltway sniper being a prima facie example.

Charles

I Must Refute You

From flawed jai:

I get your overall lament of the circumstances of the present, but I must point out the glaring misstatements you made. maybe you will reconsider your thesis.

You claimed that there was no civilization until Christianity. I hate to underscore your error, but you're terribly wrong.

Ancient Greece had world-class civilization - and no Christianity, and no One God. Ancient Rome had world class civilization - and no Christianity - even in Christ's own time! - and no One God.

The millennia of dynasties that ruled, governed, and order[ed] China were highly civilized, world class - and had no Christianity and no One God

The ancient Egyptians had great civilization, world-class - and no Christianity, and no One God.

I am tempted to include the Persian (pre-Islam, pre-Mohammed) empire, and the Mayan, Aztec, Inca, and Native American as well.

All of these had law, art, math, money, trade, exquisite handiwork, philosophy, ethics, calendars, medicine, and diplomacy. And religion. And, yes, morality. A profound sense of right and wrong.

And all before the existence of Christianity, Christ. or his Word of the One God. And please Remember - there was no Church for at least 400 years after Christ walked the earth.

You claim that "civilization didn't bloom until Christianity spread." I would say the record of history differs sharply.

The Middle Ages in Europe were arguably the most Christian-dominated time and place in World History. Everything, but everything, was bound to the Church, to the Bible, to the saints, to the pope. God was invoked for literally everything. And even with this, you cannot dispute the truth that it was a time of brutality, illiteracy, filth, ignorance, infant death, plague, barbaric wars, bloody crusades, wanton peril on the roads, superstition, anything but what one thinks to, when one thinks of "civilized" or "civilization"!! The venality of it reached right up to the pope, selling indulgences, allowing the mighty and rich to buy [bribe] their ways out of damnation by donating vast chunks of their wealth to the Church so that they might be pardoned. Which the church greedily, hungrily sought, and by which the immoral sinned repeatedly and with impunity and security.

You decry the loss of morality and claim that Christianity is a moral compass - as if any amount of wealth could make a sin right. You and I both know it can't. An act stands on its own. It is what it is, and stands apart from any other act one might attempt to commingle it with, in hopes of blurring the lines and mitigating the truth.

I am sorry. I see the decline, as you do, but I firmly separate "morality" and "civilization" out from all confusing, obfuscating ties, and hold them quite apart from "Christianity" or "God" or any other agent you might wish to believe they come from. A natural person does not have to know thing 1 about the existence of Christ or The One God in order to be good, to do good, to know what good is, and to choose good, in the face of other options.

Good is universal and recognizable to humanity, anywhere, any time, without knowing of Christ, Christianity or The One God. Christ only appeared in the human race 2002 years ago. Man has been extant for thousands of years before that, and good, and civilization, and knowing what is morally right, have existed for millennia before the appearance of Christ.

It is escapist and wishful thinking to hope to attribute all the good, the moral, and the appearance of civilization, to the appearance of Christ. It is equally dishonest to attribute the present decline to a disinterest in the same. Choosing good over bad is a human choice, innate in the being. It's up to the individual, not some faraway figure that they get told lived once upon a time. The choice is always in front of the person right now. It must come from inside, because they want to. Not because some authority told them that they'd better, or put fear into them what would happen if they didn't , or schemed to control them thru mythical storytelling and arcane pronouncements, or reciting ancient books purported to be holy or sacred.

If it doesn't come from within, spontaneously and genuinely, it isn't real. It's an act, it's a hypocrisy, it's a sham, it's put on for public show. Or it's a hoodwink, a brainwashing, a cult, or peer pressure.

Or cultural pressure to receive acceptance.

A child who has never been told of Christ of God can do good, recognize good, choose good. Even an atheist can be morally right, be good and do good. Can do so even more genuinely, more authentically, more sincerely than a Christian. I have seen it myself.

Christianity was not the source of civilization, and is not by any imagination the source of morality and good in the world. I know you want it to be true. I know your lament makes it feel like a good explanation to you. but it just isn't.

Take a step back and bestow the responsibility and the credit where it belongs - upon the individual. In any age. Be very, very chary - and wary - of attribution.

Hi flawed,

I did not say that there was no civilization until Christianity. I said that "Western civilization bloomed with the Christian religion," and that it "is dependent upon honouring the objective moral laws of the created order." I believe these statements to be true.

Obviously there have been many forms of civilization throughout human history, and there are many forms of moral order. However, I believe that God's revelation of Himself and His Law in the Jewish/Christian Scriptures, and in the person of Jesus Christ is the ground of objective, absolute Truth - what IS. To the extent that other civilizations and moral codes are in accord with that divine Revelation, they reflect the truth as well. Where they contradict it, they are mistaken, and unhappy consequences will ensue.

You blithely dredge up all the shortcomings of the ancient Christian world and the Middle Ages, filtered through selective presentism, while ignoring the civilizing effects Christendom had on Western culture. Not to mention the great art, sculpture, architecture, and music inspired by Christian belief.

Before Christianity, Northern Europe was populated by mainly barbarians. They had civilizations of sorts, but it took Christianity to build the greatest civilization history has ever seen.

You are correct that we have free will to choose between good and evil. That point is part of essential Christian doctrine. However, without the moral compass provided by religion, our inherent sinful nature inclines us to choose evil over good. As St. Paul lamented: "Oh wretched man that I am; who will deliver me from this body of sin and death?" The answer was and is Christ.

Charles

Re: Serial Sniper a Product of Postmodern Moral Anarchy

From Jay Austin:

Hi Charles,

Offhand, I'm thinking that there was a whole lotta "moral absolutism or definitive truth-claims" goin' on during the Spanish Inquisition. The Crusades. The Salem witch trials. For that matter, in both Hitler's all-too-Christian Germany and (I'll gladly grant you) Stalin's all-too-secular Russia.

Against those pitfalls, I guess I'm willing to risk the emergence of the occasional lone nut against whom we can all band together as a society - secular or otherwise. Yet I (like plenty of others) have no problem recognizing such an individual as problematic, to the point of being "evil," without any sacred text or priest to tell me so. What am I missing?

Regards,
Jay

Hi Jay,

How about what cultural compost produced this kind of a moral imbecile? This sort of evil is a contemporary phenomenon - by which I include schoolchildren shooting up their classmates, disgruntled employees offing their bosses and coworkers, etc. I only wish it were "occasional." It's becoming commonplace.

I believe that all this is not coincidence or happenstance.

Charles

An Atheist on Right and Wrong

From David Jackson:

As an Atheist who has somehow managed to behave in civil fashion, I would like to say that there is a right and a wrong in this world, and it is not very difficult to tell the difference between the two. I do not have a sense of morality that is "relative," thank you. I have managed, along with a large number of people around me, to somehow resist the urge to grab a rifle and murder innocent people and I'm proud to say I did not need the leveling influence of some imaginary deity to pull it off.

Amoral predators have been around as long as human beings and your attempt to pin the blame on modern society for producing them is right about where the article slipped off the deep end. At that point, it pretty much turns in to a poor attempt by a Christian to leverage a tragic current event to sell his religion. Had it continued a few more paragraphs I would certainly have expected an "AIDS is God's punishment" implication in there somewhere.

You are correct in your assertion that Postmodern culture is post-Christian culture, but your characterization of it is grossly biased. You assertion that civilization can apparently thank it's very existence on "honoring the objective moral laws of the created order and in acknowledgment of the sovereignty and authority of God" smoothly ignores the existence of a number of other civilizations that came and went prior to this one and prior to any of these people ever having heard of your particular imaginary friend. This one will pass also. It will not be sudden and it will not be violent. It will be gradual as it morphs from "Western civilization" into a western dominated global civilization, and then on to simply a global civilization.

This particular Secular humanist doesn't pretend that a civilization can be maintained without objective moral standards. He just doesn't think you have to have the supporting superstitious baggage it was once sold with. I place about as much faith in a Christian telling me about our society's peril if it turns away from God as I would in a Greek man talking about Zeus. Same concept, different era. You just haven't figured out that yours is fictional yet.

This article did accomplish one positive thing. It pretty much convinced me that Low End Mac isn't where I need to be going for my Macintosh information.

David Jackson
Systems Support Technician

Postmodern Moral Anarchy

From Bruce Anderson:

What baloney! Your notion that "And without Christian morality and its demand for personal accountability, all hell breaks loose" and your subsequent criticism of Secular Humanism are both out of touch with reality. Religious zealotry of all sorts has probably been the authority behind more evil in this world than any other motivator. Furthermore, what does all of this have to do with Macintosh computers? I find postings of this sort intrusive and inappropriate in a website purportedly established to discuss our favorite computer platform.

And here we capture the nexus of the culture wars. Christianity and secular humanism are in fundamental conflict on principle. Their respective moralities contradict each other,

Christians are stigmatized in postmodern popular culture as the bad guys - self-righteous, hypocritical bigots. And at its essence, Christianity really does contradict the moral orthodoxy of post-Enlightenment ideology. With its condemning laws and scandalously exclusive Gospel, real Christianity outrages moral relativists, who can't stomach its uncompromising claims. Since bona fide Christians cannot affirm or endorse moral relativism, we are the infidels of our time.

Goes with the territory.

Charles

Islam vs. Christianity

From John Gnaegy:

I agree with you that Islam seems to encourage intolerance of other religions and sanctions violence against nonbelievers. This rabid intolerance is a great evil; it's driven their culture to war and its individuals to kill. From a dogmatic standpoint, it protects the religion by insulating it from outside beliefs. From a psychological standpoint, it give its soldiers a rationale to kill in the name of their god. Islamic religious intolerance is a directive written into its dogma to control its followers and to further the spread of the religion at the cost of human life.

Ask yourself if the same directive is written into the dogma of Christianity and if you are immune to its influence.

Hi John,

Christianity is based on the concept of free will. Coerced faith is an oxymoron.

God has revealed His Law and the standard of morality He wants us to aspire to in Scripture and Holy Tradition, but we can willfully go our own way, suffering the consequences at the Judgment.

However, the Church is well within its rights in prescribing minimums standards of affirmation and behavior in those who wish to call themselves Christians.

Charles

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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