Which is the “Christian Nation” Now?

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() - Emblems of belief available for placement...

() – Emblems of belief available for placement on USVA headstones and markers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the great ironies of recent history is that Russia, the quintessential atheistic society when it was the largest part of the Soviet Union, is returning to Eastern Orthodoxy. While much of its population retains its atheism, the government of Vladamir Putin strongly supports the Orthodox Church and has increasingly supported a traditionally Christian society. Like the African churches (outside of South Africa), the Russian Orthodox Church is theologically and morally conservative, much more so than mainline American churches.

Although the United States was originally more deist and agnostic than religious, after the Second Great Awakening in the late 1700s it, in effect, became a Protestant Christian nation. There was a general understanding held by the vast majority of Americans, including Roman Catholics and Jews, that a fairly conservative traditional morality was to be followed. This morality included opposition to abortion (abortion, over time, was made illegal in most states during the nineteenth century), opposition to premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual activity, and support of a traditional conception of male and female roles in the family. Going to church (or synagogue) was considered a commendable thing to do. Prayer and Bible lessons took place in both private–and public–schools. Although many people violated the common morality, even the violators, for the most part, believed they were committing morally wrong acts. Church attendance remained high. The last religious revival in the United States continued through 1965.

There were precursors to the destruction of the Protestant consensus before the 1960s, but it was after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, that social change rapidly occurred. The intellectual classes, already quite liberal, did not have the intellectual nor the cultural resources to halt the tide of radical activism. David Horowitz, who participated in much of the activism, was a red diaper baby, a crusading Communist, and he points out that despite the claims of those reacting against the late Senator McCarthy, the radicals behind the 1960s revolution were openly Communist. As such, they were atheists who also opposed the Protestant consensus that included a common morality. The advent of artificial contraception was used as an excuse to defend “free love,” a movement that began as early as the Kennedy years. The late 1960s saw the apex of the debate over the morality of abortion that led to the January 1973 “Roe v. Wade” Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. With marriage effectively separated for childbirth combined with easy divorce (which had been a staple of some states since the late nineteenth century), marriage was seen as a way for someone to become happy rather than as a sacrament and a permanent commitment. Once marriage became separated from the right to have sexual intercourse, it became more and more a civil arrangement–and it was a small step to support same-sex marriage. Given that climate, one wonders how long it will take before American society supports incestuous marriage or pedophilic marriage. Once the foundations of a social order are destroyed, the house quickly follows.

Many of the Christian Churches, especially the mainline Protestant denominations, have more or less yielded completely to the new social norms. The Evangelicals, tied up for years in gimmicks rather than in Biblical teaching, development of Christian character, and the beauty of traditional worship, are rapidly given ground on traditional moral positions regarding sexual ethics. American Roman Catholics remain deeply divided after radical priests and bishops fundamentally changed many churches during the late 1960s and 1970s. The Fundamentalists remain faithful to traditional theology and morals, but too often focus on minutia rather than on the cultural war that they have, in effect, already lost. Stating traditional Christian positions, already a crime in the UK and in much of Western Europe, is becoming socially unacceptable in many American circles. Eventually, stating traditional positions on sexual morality or defending the exclusive nature of Christian claims will become hate crimes in the United States if current trends continue.

The United States is no longer a Christian nation. To claim that is is denies the obvious transvaluation of values that has taken place during the last 50 years. Russia is the last major superpower that can claim, at least at the level of government policy, to be a Christian nation. If the common people of Russian embrace the Orthodox faith again, it will be Russia that will be a shining light to the world, with the United States a decadent shell of its former self.

The World Turned Upside Down

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World upside down

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Imagine that aliens invade the United States (space aliens, not illegal aliens). Suppose that instead of attacking the American people with weapons, they plant ideas into the minds of the people. Enough ideas take root that the old order of society is uprooted, and the individuals who resisted the alien attack feel as if the world has been turned upside down. Unfortunately, the aliens go through to most educators, journalists, and other cultural elites. Ordinary people who lived prior to the invasion feel ostracized and out-of-place. The fear that the old order on which they have based their lives has been completely destroyed.

Today many Americans find themselves in a world turned upside down. A comparison of the American of 1963 compared with the America of today reveals seismic shifts have occurred which have altered the very fabric that holds society together. Some would say they have ripped the fabric into shreds, and any hope for patching has long passed.

There are many causes for the cultural shift, which had already taken place in Europe by the end of the 1930s and which was accelerated by the end of the Second World War. Supreme Court rulings in 1948 and 1962 limited religion’s public expression and banned required organized prayer in public schools. The Supreme Court claimed to have discovered a “right to privacy” in 1965, a “right” that the Court used to justify legalization of abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The last year of the great post-World War II religious revival was 1965; after that year, weekly church attendance began a decline which continues today. The development of effective, cheap contraception with the birth control pill helped to revolutionize sexual mores to the point that only very conservative religious people believe that sexual intercourse should wait until marriage. The problem of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s grew from problems with street thugs and motorcycle ganges to problems with the use and sale of hard drugs and cold-blooded murder. The traditional family structure of a man and woman married with children has been replaced in many circles with the notion of the “family” as a fluid structure that can be modified to suit individual needs. Many young people today reject initiative, thrift, and hard work. College and university professors complain about the poor quality of their students, but supervisors also complain about workers failing to report for work and multiple firings. To their surprise, many workers don’t care if they’re fired–yet they have a sense of entitlement to material things even if they are too lazy to work for the money to buy these things. People have more to do than ever, but are lonlier than ever. The government plays a greater and greater role in individuals’ lives, and mediating institutions between the state and the individual, such as family and church, move more and more to cultural irrelevancy.

I believe this seismic shift to be a disaster that threatens the very structure of American society. When individuals decided to find meaning in their own subjective desires, mainly involving pleasure, and were unrestrained by permissive parents, they became contemporary barbarians–or even worse–at least the barbarians hunted and farmed for their food. With the search for transcendent meaning finding effortless New Age “spirituality” or a vapid Evangelical Christianity that caters to the lowest elements of popular culture, especially in music, it is no surprise that American society has been turned upside down. It is not just the trendy leftist followers of Herbert Marcuse in the 1960s who have fomented a disasterous cultural revolution; it has also been many Americans. When a society aborts its most vulnerable citizens, allows others (in two states) to off themselves legally, is promiscuous in both sex and in mind-altering substances, and which puts vapid “self-help” above all, that society is dying. Those Americans who hold traditional values stemming from orthodox Christianity feel out of place, for the university and the media ridicule their theological and moral positions. A sense of anomie pervades what is left of traditional Americana.

What should traditional Americans do? Some have emigrated to more traditional countries such as Poland. A more realistic option is to begin to develop  an island of normalcy and civilization in one’s own home. Parents in such an environment would try to guide their children toward tradtional cultural and moral values; they will not practice permissive parenting. At the very least, if parents can instill in their children a sense of reponsiblity and a sense of avoiding the urge for entitlement, this will do a great deal toward righting the world. The toughest task, which seems almost impossible, is to change people’s hearts. But despair is the unpardonable sin–those of us who are traditionalists should not despair but fight the good fight and finish the course as people of virtue and honor.

Abortion

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The Supreme Court of the United States. Washin...

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As a precocious child, I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite from the fourth grade onward. One winter evening when I was in the fifth grade Mr. Cronkite’s lead story was one I did not understand: “The U. S. Supreme Court today in a seven to two vote legalized abortion.” I ran and asked my mother what “abortion” was. She was hesitant to say, as if the term I had used were an obscenity. Finally she said, “It’s killing babies before they’re born.” My mouth dropped and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. To this day that sinking feeling returns when I consider the great evil Justice Harry Blackmun and his court majority inflicted (via Roe v. Wade) on the American people that day, January 20, 1973.

In considering the morality of abortion, the key philosophical question is when does human personhood begin. Even supporters of abortion would say that the human being begins at conception—the issue is, at what stage does the human being become a human person? Is every human being a human person? Or does a human being become a human person at a particular stage of development. Parents with teenagers may believe that a human being does not become a human person until around age twenty, if even then. Seriously, though, philosophers Michael Tooley and Peter Singer have both argued that a human being does not become a human person until several years after birth. Singer believes that a baby should not be declared a human person until he is a week old; during that time, it is, Singer believes, morally permissible to kill the baby, for example, if it has an incurable disease that would cause it endless suffering. Tooley holds similar views. Bonnie Steinbock believes that sentience, the ability to feel pleasure or pain, is the point at which personhood begins to develop; she argues that this ability is not present until the third trimester. Before then, the human being present does not have the moral rights that a person does.

The separation of human personhood from human being finds its roots in the mind-body dualism of René Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes argued that the mind, defined as consciousness, is the self, and that the body, though closely connected to the mind in this life, is not essential to one’s identity. Although not as dualistic as Descartes, John Locke (1634-1704) explicitly argued that the human being is not the same thing as a human person. For Locke, the human being is the living human body; the human person is the individual consciousness. The continuation of the same person is guaranteed by the continuation of consciousness, and this is revealed by having a stream of memories stretching back through time. Thus, if my consciousness were transferred into Hugh Laurie’s body, the body would remain that of Hugh Laurie, but the personal identity would be that of Michael Potts.

An alternative position holds that the human being and human person cannot be separated; as long as the human being is alive, the human person remains. This view is associated with some followers of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Philosophers J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae are representatives of this position. They argue that what constitutes personal identity is the soul, defined as the “form of the body,” the informational pattern, encoded in DNA, that makes the person the kind of entity he is. This informational pattern is specific to a particular body, and as long as that body lives, the pattern is present. This is true even if the body does not have all its powers, for example, in a zygote , embryo, or on the other end of the scale, in an elderly person suffering from severe Alzheimer’s Disease. This view, I believe, makes better sense of the embodied nature of human existence than the radical Cartesian separation of mind and body. It recognizes that humans can BE persons without FUNCTIONING as persons, as when a person is in a dreamless sleep or under anesthesia. Thus, as soon as the new information pattern encoded in the genetic code after conception is present in the zygote, a human person is present. Thus, abortion kills a living human person and not just a living human being.

I am aware of arguments regarding twinning and the lack of implantation of around 40-50% of embryos. As far as twinning or other multiple births, the informational pattern for all the births are present in the case of identical twins, triplets, etc., and it would be wrong to destroy the zygote(s) at whatever stage of development it is in. As far as lack of implantation—in the past the child mortality rate was as high or higher than 50%, yet no one questioned the personhood of children.

Even if conception is not when human personhood begins, one could argue we cannot know for sure—would you risk shooting a person if you heard a rustle in the bushes and thought it was a deer? In a similar way, would you risk killing a human person by killing an embryo you are SURE is not a human person. Some confidence can kill.

Men often pressure women into abortions; I have known at least two cases among family and friends in which this occurred. It is ironic that most feminists support abortion when it empowers men to be sexually irresponsible—if the woman gets pregnant, a man can pressure her to kill the evidence.

Morality is not necessarily the same as legality, but if abortion is murder, it should be prohibited. Although abortion due to rape or incest is still murder, most Americans support it being legal—even with that exception, almost all abortions would be illegal. Now I do not think that a constitutional amendment is the answer; overturning Roe v. Wade and putting abortion back into the hands of the states is most consistent with federalism. Then it is up to those on both sides of the issue to make their best cases—and the representatives of the people would decide instead of dictatorial judges.

Although abortion is objectively a grave moral evil, one of the worst mistakes a person can make, the subjective guilt of the woman may be lessened by circumstances such as rape, incest, or threats from a boyfriend. But abortion doctors are, to use a Southern expression, “lower than a snake’s belly” in using medicine to kill instead of to heal. I hope and pray that people will wake up and work to stop the great evil of abortion in American society.