Are We Creating a Culture of Moral Misfits?

Nothing I write or say will do anything to comfort the parents of the children who were murdered by an evil person. I remember the effect the cancer deaths of three of my very young cousins had on my aunts and uncles. They were never the same.

Sending children off to school and then getting word that a madman has entered their school and killed 20 students elevates the anguish to an unbearable level. At least my aunts and uncles had time to prepare. Even so, when death came, they were devastated. Attending the funeral of my 17-year-old cousin when I was in the 9th grade is an engraved memory that will never leave me.

So what’s to be done? Liberals say controlling guns is the answer. Controlling alcohol and drugs haven’t worked. What makes liberals think controlling guns will?

Gun ownership wasn’t a problem 30 years ago. The culture has changed. There are no longer any social or moral taboos. Anything goes. Isn’t that what young people are taught? Governments and the libertine culture create a problem and then promise that given more authority and power they are the ones to fix it.

Our nation has a deep moral problem brought on by a belligerent secular worldview. And it’s not just religious people who have seen its impact. Yale Law Professor Arthur Allen Leff (1935–1981) put it this way:

“We are never going to get anywhere (assuming for the moment that there is somewhere to get) in ethical or legal theory unless we finally face the fact that, in the Psalmist’s words, there is no one like unto the Lord. . . . The so-called death of God turns out not to have been His funeral; it also seems to have affected the total elimination of any coherent, or even more-than-momentarily convincing, ethical or legal system dependent upon final authoritative, extrasystemic premises.”

Put more simply, with God out of the picture, “everything is up for grabs.”1

In another article, Leff wrote, “I will put the current situation as sharply as possible: there is today no way of ‘proving’ that napalming babies is bad except by asserting it (in a louder and louder voice), or by defining it as so, early in one’s game, and then later slipping it through, in a whisper, as a conclusion.”2

Of course, the murderer was responsible despite what is going on in the broader culture. War tears down all sorts of moral barriers, but that does not excuse war crimes. Most wars themselves are crimes against humanity.

The blame-game has begun. It reminds me of a scene from the movie The African Queen (1951). Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) and Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) are traveling down the very dangerous Ulanga River in Africa during World War I in an attempt to avoid capture by the Germans. Rose is a conservative Christian missionary and Charlie makes his living operating a small, dilapidated mail boat hauling supplies.

After passing out after one of his regular bouts with the bottle, Charlie wakes up to see Rose pouring the contents of one of his precious gin bottles into the river. He’s visibly upset as he pleads with her: “Oh, Miss. Oh, have pity, Miss. You don’t know what you’re doing Miss. I’ll perish without a hair of the dog. Oh, Miss, it ain’t your property.”

Seeing that he’s getting nowhere with this line of argument, he tries a kinder more subtle approach:

“Uh, how’s the Book, Miss? [referring to the Bible]. Well, not that I ain’t read it, that is to say, my poor old Mum used to read me stories out of it. How’s about reading it out loud? I could sure do with a little spiritual comfort myself.”

After getting the cold shoulder, Charlie lets his emotions fly and yells at her: “And you call yourself a Christian! Do you hear me? Don’t ya? Don’t ya? Huh?” She shows only a slight reaction but doesn’t say a word.

He backs up and goes about cleaning the relief valve on the boiler that’s shaped like a cross — symbolic of the impact Rose is having on him. He asks for mercy: “What are ya being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once and a while; it’s only human nature.”

Without looking up, Rose says, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

The problem is, our current culture — through the educational system — is telling young people that they are animals, in some cases, less than animals. “So genetically we are no different (really) from a worm, a bug, or a dandelion.”3 Teach this nonsense long enough, and some people will believe and act on it.

  1. Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal (1979), 1229–49. []
  2. Arthur Allen Leff, “Economic Analysis of Law: Some Realism about Nominalism,” 60 Virginia Law Review (1974) 454–455. []
  3. John Naisbitt, High Tech High Touch: Technology and our Accelerated Search for Meaning (London: Nicholas Brealey Limited, 1999), 163. []
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