Today you could write your own Cultural Commentary on any of the following headlines: “Alleged $6 billion money-laundering network busted”; “Disgraced former NYPD head Kerik out of prison”; “How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marijuana”; “Man shoots daughters with 3 grandkids in home”; “Oregon School Bombing Suspect to Be Charged as Adult”; NFL star Adrian Peterson faces backlash because he says, “gay marriage is ‘not something I believe in.'”
Are you happy about the moral direction of our nation? Why are we going the way we are?
David Brooks in The New York Times (one of my favorite columnists) did a story recently on the rise and fall of words in our culture. Research indicates that these words have fallen in use over the last 50 years: faith, wisdom, virtue, decency, honesty, patience, modesty, humbleness, compassion, community, thankfulness, appreciation. These words and phrases have been used much more frequently: self, personalized, I come first, I can do it myself, standout, unique.
Brooks concludes: “Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.”
“Atomization” and “demoralization”—two words that unfortunately describe us, perhaps to a greater degree than ever before. Here’s the problem: Morality is developed in community, as a society works out those standards that will govern its members. And community depends on morality, as members choose to live by these standards to the betterment of all.
That’s why every image of the church in the New Testament is collective—a vine with many branches (John 15:5), a body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12:27). There are no solos in the book of Revelation. I cannot love God without also loving my neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). When I serve you, I serve my Father, his family, and myself.
Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, noted that “love not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. It has only one good, that of the beloved, which is, at the same time, my own. Love shares the good with another not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his good becomes my own.”
Whose good will become your own today?