A Defense of Culture WarsPETER KREEFT
If you agree that America isn't working and want to know why and how to fix it, please read this chapter.
The problem is to “fight the good fight”.
Fight? What fight? Are we at war?
Yes, we are at war. And if you aren't aware of that yet, the most important task this chapter can do for you is to alert you to that fact.
The enemy is not people. The enemy is not humans, but dehumanization: the spectacular and unmistakable social, cultural, and above all moral decline and decay that our society has been suffering for decades.
A generation ago, the five most bothersome problems complained about in polled American high schools were:
a. disrespect for propertyDoes this sound like another world? It is. The same poll was retaken a few years ago. The five leading problems in those same high schools now are:
a. fear of violent death; guns and knives in school
The streets are not safe. The schools are not safe. The society is not safe. Not safe physically and not safe morally.
Parents today feel increasingly trapped and helpless. Control over their children's lives and happiness seems to have passed into the hands of an educational elite whose philosophy of life is radically different from that of the parents and is often a moral vacuum.
At stake in this war is the next generation and the future of this country. It is not a war between generations or races or political parties or religions or economic classes. It is a war between good and evil.
If you love your children or your country, you must take sides in this war. Neutrality is not an option in wartime. For “the only thing that is needed for the triumph of evil is that the good do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
There is a wild divergence between the beliefs and values of ordinary people and those of the intellectual elite, or the teaching establishments in our society (journalism, public education, and entertainment). For instance, according to a poll by the secular Wirthlin Agency in Baltimore,
— while nearly all Americans (more than 90 percent) believe it is wrong to cheat sexually on your spouse, only about half of media people agree;
— while about half of all Americans attend religious services regularly, only 9 percent of media people do;
— while 72 percent (80 percent according to other polls) of Americans feel that abortion is somehow a bad thing and should have some restrictions placed on it by law, only 3 percent of media people do.
What is being ignored in our education and degraded in our entertainment are the moral values that every civilized society in history has believed in: things like self-discipline, character, loyalty, family, civility, courtesy, gentlemanliness, womanliness, and the very idea of objective truth and objective values. America was never a society of saints, but moral values were at least honored and taught. Even if they were “honored more in the breach than in the observance”, they were still honored. But they are not honored any more.
What can we do?
There are answers. But to get from the problem to the answers, we must go through an analysis of the problem. Diagnosis before treatment. The first and most important point is that there is a desperately serious problem and a “culture war” going on.
Next, we will target some of the specific “flash points” or battlefields in this moral war.
Then, we will state some essential principles of a solution: the moral basics without which we cannot survive, the principles now being abandoned that we must recover.
Finally, we will define a few concrete, practical steps we can take.
If you agree that America isn't working and want to know why and how to help fix it, please read on.WHAT ARE THE BATTLEFIELDS?
This is not a good time for the family, the fundamental foundation and building block of all civilization.
In the United States, half of all marriages break up, leaving permanent, devastating, and clearly documented scars on children's lives and behavior.
Fundamental attitudes toward children are changing. In all previous stable societies, children were regarded as a blessing, and childlessness was regarded as a curse. Today, the attitude is often exactly the opposite.
Child abuse, neglect, abandonment, and abortion all have their fundamental origin in this new “philosophy” that gives children rights only if those children are wanted. Family violence, teen violence, child abuse, and suicide are spiraling spectacularly. Streets, schools, and even homes are no longer safe. Killers now come in all ages, as young as ten. The feeling of hopelessness permeates many urban families and, increasingly, suburban ones too.
Family breakdown is the one empirically observable, statistically documented, conclusively proven cause of all other social ills, even economic ills. We need family-friendly laws and government policies that encourage and reward families instead of those that presently often discourage and penalize them.
Societies have survived with very bad political systems and very bad economies, but not without strong families. Families are to society what cells are to a body. The family is the only place most of us learn life's single most important lesson: unselfish love and lifelong commitment.
I strongly recommend reading the most popular article the Atlantic Monthly ever published, “Dan Quayle Was Right”, by Barbara Whitehead (April 1993). The massive media barrage against Quayle's commonsensical remark that families without fathers, like Murphy Brown's, are not as desirable as families with fathers revealed far more about the media's hang-ups than about Quayle's.
The traditional idea of the family — father, mother, and children, faithful and committed to each other for life — did not come from Dan Quayle or from fifties' TV sitcoms but from human nature and the God who designed it. We cannot arbitrarily redefine the family as any voluntary association, including that between two homosexuals. That definition reduces the family to the same kind of thing as a club or a political action committee or an affair.
The present school-age population is the first generation in American history that is less well educated than their parents (even though the amount of education keeps increasing). Quantity is displacing quality.
The educational establishment consistently opposes tried-and-true recipes for educational success, like basics (the three Rs) or phonics or Great Books, and pushes experiments that fail, like the “look-say” reading method, condoms to reduce teenage pregnancy (they almost always have done exactly the opposite), and now “outcome-based education”, which systematically penalizes excellence and grades students on “politically correct” feelings!
The history textbooks have been rewritten to censor out nearly all mention of God and religion. In this revisionist history, the Pilgrims no longer came to America for religious freedom or gave thanks to God at Thanksgiving. Wherever the founding fathers are quoted, their frequent references to God and religion are clipped out. (See Paul Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in our Children's Textbooks.)
Even long-standing texts have been sharply revised to appeal to the left-of-center educational establishment. The Wall Street Journal describes the new revision of the “American Nation” civics texts (first published in 1950) as “a big step backward, a case of 'dumbing down' and revisionist folly in search of a larger audience”. In these textbooks, we meet Murphy Brown having a baby and learn that “many Americans were abandoning the idea that marriage was necessarily a lifelong commitment.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to display the Ten Commandments in public schools. (For children might be religiously influenced; they might even obey them!) Yet the Ten Commandments are chiseled into the facade of the Supreme Court building where this ruling was made!
It is not legal for a school to invoke God at school convocations. But blasphemy — taking God's name in vain — is protected. So it is legal to disobey the Second Commandment, but illegal to obey it.
Bibles may not be used in any public school activity. But condoms are given out freely. The message is very obvious to all the kids; only the “experts” could miss that one.
(By the way, Planned Parenthood itself estimates that among one hundred couples who use condoms, there will be fourteen pregnancies each year. With a nearly 15 percent failure rate against pregnancy and a much higher failure rate against AIDS [whose virus is much smaller and has no “safe” period], condoms are about as effective against AIDS as a twenty-four-chamber gun instead of a six-chamber gun when playing Russian roulette. Yet condoms are touted as “safe sex”. That is how highly some educators think of your child's life.)
John Stuart Mill wrote, “Education is too important to be left to the state.” Public education is disappearing; state education is replacing it. A truly public school would be in the hands of the public, that is, the parents, first of all. But our public schools today are becoming more and more the ideological instruments of an educational elite who simply do not respect parents or their values. If you doubt this, just try getting some parents together to investigate and question your children's new sex-education program and note the reaction of the educational and media establishments.
The bottom line is: Whose schools are they?
America is an elitist society, a society of two cultures: ordinary people and “the experts”. The vast majority of people still believe in:
But our media establishment incessantly propagandizes against these four things, which they hate and fear. Even polls by the far-left Los Angeles Times in 1992 proved the existence of a massive media bias against traditional values, especially families, fidelity, morality, and religion.
Journalists simply do not report publicity contrary to “their side”. Any challenge to the Left is labeled “right-wing extremist” or “Religious Right”, including positions always labeled moderate in the past. Major newspapers routinely falsify statistics. The number of deaths annually by illegal abortions was arbitrarily set at one hundred thousand, when the actual figure was more like two thousand. Numbers at pro-choice marches are doubled; numbers at pro-life marches are halved or ignored. Homosexuals were declared to constitute 10 percent of the population (that figure was constantly quoted), when the actual figure is 2 or 3 percent. Once exposed, the false figures are simply abandoned. Political candidates who are not “politically correct” are ignored until they say something compromising. Language is deliberately slanted as a matter of policy. Any idea at odds with media orthodoxy is labeled “right-wing extremist”. (How often have you read the phrase “left-wing extremist”?)
Personal and Economic Freedom and Self-Determination
One of the pervasive complaints of citizens today is that of helplessness. Life is not as good as it used to be, and there seems to be nothing anyone can do about it.
Fewer families feel they can survive on a single income today. For many individuals, the work ethic no longer works: the willingness to work hard no longer guarantees a job or security. For many, America is no longer “the land of opportunity”. The middle class feels crushed from both sides. Numbers and percentages on welfare keep increasing. There are more and more single mothers — who are finding it harder and harder to survive. Small independent businesses are going broke, leaving the state or the country, or giving up their independence. We have less and less control over our income.
The problem is not that we're not rich enough but that we're not free enough. Not free to walk our own streets or trust our institutions. People feel caught in some vague net called “the system” or “the way things are” or “modern society”. The feeling is one of a loss of control. America is no longer felt to be our country.
Our time with our children is continuously shrinking. Our sense of community is becoming more tenuous, based more on ideology and less on backyards. Parents feel impotence and loss of control over their own families. Ordinary people no longer seem to be controlling the life of this “democracy”, which is moving in the direction of an arrogant oligarchy of the “experts” who are not elected by or accountable to the people at large.
Drugs and Violence
Nothing can so quickly and tragically weaken and destroy a family as drugs. Yet only strong families can keep children from drugs. The same is true of violence: violence weakens families, yet only strong families can deal with it.
No one defends drugs or violence. But how can we win the war against them? Many “experts” are saying that the “war on drugs” is definitively lost. Some (on the Right as well as on the Left) are calling for the legalization of drugs, so your teenager can go to the corner store and buy drugs as easily as buying ice cream.
This capitulation is connected to the pervasive feeling of helplessness mentioned earlier, especially in our cities. Helplessness is both a cause and an effect of drug use. When you feel you have nothing to lose, why not do anything?
Violent criminals are turned out on the street to continue their violence. Criminals are commonly defended more conscientiously than their victims. Rape victims are made to suffer more than rapists. The criminal is seen as a victim, a patient rather than an agent. In other words, the prevailing legal philosophy is a simple, shocking denial of individual moral responsibility.
Removing guns is a poor substitute for removing violent motivation. It changes physical circumstances but does not change minds.
Our society's ability to tolerate violence is a symptom of a deep, underlying moral disease: moral insensitivity. We have become desensitized. Much of the violence and crime begins as early as cartoons, video games, and kids' toys, which teach force as the way to deal with conflict. We are not surprised when a teenager, who has typically seen fifteen thousand murders, rapes, and brutal beatings on TV and MTV and has heard this type of behavior encouraged and idealized on rap “music”, turns to violence.
We need to recapture moral outrage. Outrage is the only appropriate response to the outrageous. Mild disgust and disapproval are not enough.
It's time to take back our cities, our streets, our schools, and our children. It's time to draw a line in the sand and say “Enough!”
Even people who identify themselves as “pro-choice”, like President Clinton, say they want to reduce the number of abortions. This means they, too, assume abortion is bad, for no one wants to reduce the number of something good. Surely the deliberate killing of unborn children is not something good!
Most Americans will not deny that abortion is at least a moral tragedy. But it is more than that. It is a barbaric act that degrades a civilization.
Polls repeatedly show that the majority of Americans are ignorant of the basic facts about abortion:
Abortion splits the family in a literal and lethal way. It literally rips mother and child apart. And it desensitizes us in a gruesome way. We are starting to see the next stage in our “culture of death” — legalized suicide and euthanasia. The same principle that justifies killing at one end of life justifies it at the other: we will dispose of unwanted people.
The Sexuality of Children
In some cities, half of the ten-year-olds are sexually active. Meanwhile, sex education programs that promote abstinence are banned by federal judges for being “religious” (even if they never mention God or religion)! Almost no one dares to talk about “sexual purity” any more. Yet it is a medical fact that the only really safe-sex guarantee against AIDS (that is, death) is abstinence before marriage and fidelity afterward. Have we come to the point where teaching virtue is illegal and only deadly vice is legally protected?
We have come to the point where sexual virtue is no longer merely a matter of propriety or social acceptability; it is today a matter of physical and psychological survival, especially for the vastly increasing numbers of children who are sexually abused and for women who are abandoned, beaten, or raped by men living the “sexual revolution”. We need a counterrevolution.
We do not need a return to “Victorianism”. Nor do we need to be opposed to sex education in principle, but we do need to oppose the idea that sex be exempt from the moral rules we admit in all other areas of life — rules about not harming other people, keeping promises, and controlling our instincts. (What other instinct is ever given an absolute right to self-expression?)
We need once again to agree with Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, and all stable and successful societies in history that sex belongs with marriage, monogamy, and fidelity; that sex is for life, not just for fun; that the taming of the sex drive and harnessing it to the family are a necessary condition for social stability and long-term human happiness. The alternative is the chaos we see around us, nearly all directly traceable to family breakdown and the “sexual revolution”, that is, sex for exploitation and the “liberal” hypocrisy that forces all who can't afford private schools to send their children to state schools to be systematically seduced into losing their morals.
Too many modern educators see the sexuality of children as a right and parents as impediments to children enjoying that right. Moreover, they zealously believe that the state must supersede parents in sensitizing children to sexual practices and behaviors. Parents don't realize the extent to which this has become an ideological battle.
Parents don't know how bad things have gotten in the schools because school officials don't allow them to find out. And the media will not print the pornography that is often taught under the heading of “sex education” even when discovered and documented by parents.Moral principles and society
Solomon said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov 29:18). What is most lacking today is a good vision of the good life. If we had a morally sane philosophy of life, we could see how all our social ills are linked together by the fundamental flaw of a skeptical, cynical, selfish, and materialistic world-and-life-view.
For instance, the common principle behind child abuse, violent crime, and abortion is the principle of responding to problems by violence. Whether in the home, on the streets, or in the womb, violence is violence.
The common principle behind absentee fathers, the breakdown of families, the 50-percent divorce rate, the spread of AIDS, teenage abortions, and giving kids condoms as a cure-all is the principle that unrestricted sex is our one absolute right, regardless of human consequences. The philosophy that sees sex as a commodity to be spent at will really confuses sex with money.
The common principle behind abortion, the distribution of condoms, and the release of rapists is a denial of individual moral responsibility. Abortion means refusing to be responsible for your unborn children. Distributing condoms means young people are not expected to be responsible for their sexual behavior — they can say No to smoking or drugs but not to sex. And releasing rapists means seeing “society”, not criminals, as responsible for crime.
It is wrong to be judgmental as regards persons, but it is equally wrong to refuse to judge actions. Otherwise, such a moral relativism is an infallible prescription for social chaos. We must stand for all human beings, but we must stand against dehumanizing deeds.
To make a better society, we need better policies and plans, but these in turn must be based on better principles. Here is a set of very old principles that has worked in the past. Here is a set of ten statements that summarize what Jews, Christians, and Muslims — and rational pagans like Socrates, Aristotle, and Cicero — have always believed about morality.
They are not a Ten Commandments, a specific set of laws. They are about the status of moral laws. The specific content of moral law is a matter of wide agreement between nearly all cultures and all religions. Justice, charity, self-control, wisdom, courage, loyalty, honesty, and responsibility are universally praised; and injustice, hatred, violence, foolishness, cowardice, betrayal, lying, lust, greed, and irresponsibility are universally blamed — at least they have been until recently. (After all, lust, greed, and irresponsibility sell products very effectively. An addict has little sales resistance.)
The following statements about morality would be enthusiastically embraced by Moses, Solomon, Jesus, Muhammad, Socrates, Confucius, Ghandi, and Buddha, as well as by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
What can we do to win this war?
We can take back our country and our families. We are the majority. There is no reason we must sit back and be cowed by the minority of establishment “experts”. We can turn the tide of decadence in America.
Two things are needed: attitudes and actions. Actions alone are not enough; attitudes come first. Doing all the right things with the wrong attitude is self-destructive. So the first thing is to take stock of our attitudes. For the spirit in which we act will stamp itself on all our actions and their results.
We must love our country, which is hurting. We must love our friends and families, who are hurting. That must be our motive for action. If it is, we will win; if it is not, we will lose.
Individuals and families should pick one specific area they care about most, then get concretely involved in it. Here are some basic ways to do it:
It's up to us.
Kreeft, Peter. “A Defense of “Culture Wars”: A Call for Counterrevolution.” Chapter four in Ecumenical Jihad. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 61-78.
Reprinted by permission of Ignatius Press. All rights reserved. Ecumenical Jihad — ISBN 0-89870-579-7.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
Copyright © 1996 Ignatius Press
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