What is going on in America?
We live in a nation that kills the unborn without remorse, yet are outraged when a dentist shoots a lion. We are shocked by school shootings but refuse to allow moral or religious values be taught in those same schools. We are afraid of terrorism but deny the military the very tactics they need to defeat terrorism once and for all. We claim to be upset about homelessness, but then tear down their tent cities in our neighborhood and demand panhandlers go somewhere else—when they’re just doing what they need to survive. We protest about gangs, drugs, and violence in schools but tie the teacher’s hands when it comes to disciplining our kids. We say we hate racism but rarely have friends of another race or culture. We talk to our children about hard work and sacrifice, but run up big debts for big trucks, big houses, big TV’s and expensive toys and vacations.
Why do we live like this? Why are we like this? I’d like to suggest one possible answer tightly tied to our culture.
The most important thing in our lives is our pleasure. Thus, we continue in hypocrisy and our sin. In this perspective, our sin is the acquisition and experiencing of pleasure without constraint. Constraint is an attribute of maturity and nobility. Unbridled pleasure is an attribute of selfishness.
Cecil the lion was killed and people became outraged. Why? Because he was something people enjoy. Babies are chopped for parts and America is sickened, but not outraged at the greater evil of abortion. Why? Because abortion helps us keep our pleasure.
This is true even within the American church.
Why is the prosperity gospel so popular? Because it makes pleasure our greatest virtue and it makes God the chief agent of our pleasure. But how quickly we forget that when we break God’s covenant, as America has done, his pleasure will be in our undoing. “As the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you” (Deuteronomy 28:63).
Anthropologists have a variety of ways of defining a culture’s values. For instance,
Shame-honor is the primary value spectrum of the Arab world
Power-distance is the primary value spectrum of Mongolian society
Guilt-Righteousness was America’s value spectrum prior to the 1960s
Now things have changed. Technology and affluence have skewed American society into a new paradigm. We are no longer concerned with right and wrong. Instead, our primary value spectrum is what I call
Americans value freedom, but to an extreme. Anything which we perceive as blocking our impeding our freedom, we protest against—even if it takes away the freedom of another. How else could abortion be so widely embraced?
Pleasure is our greatest pursuit. Feeling good, being entertained, everything we do is geared toward our personal pleasure. We are a nation of narcissists, more so than any other. And while pleasure is our greatest endeavor, it also erodes our society more than any other value. That thing which has become our greatest desire is also the ever tightening noose around our collective neck. It’s like a boat going down in an ocean whirlpool. We are sailing toward our doom, but look how pretty and blue the water is.
Ancient Israel was a society steeped in its own pleasure. “They abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God…and they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger” (II Kings 17:16-17).
The Apostle Paul spoke of our day. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:1-5).
When will we get ahold of ourselves and realize what we have done?
In the book of Judges a man’s concubine was raped and abused all night. In the morning she was left for dead. He husband took her body, cut it into twelve pieces and sent her to Israel’s tribal leaders. How did they respond? “And all who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak'” (Judges 19:30).
Israel judged itself and began a painful process of purging the evil from among them. In doing so, they saved their nation.
Many of us ask God to save our nation. But the reality is that just like ancient Israel, we have the ability and responsibility to do it ourselves.