“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”–Arnold J. Toynbee
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals.”–Marie Curie
Moral character cannot be legislated. This is not understood by those who believe that politics is the answer to every social problem. For them, it is a lesson in perpetual disappointment. History repeats the lesson for those who refuse to learn from previous ones. Today, America is making many of the same mistakes which other civilizations have made before. Will we experience the same results or are we different? Are we exceptional, as then-President Obama declared in his inaugural address in 2013? Will America survive and prosper in the manner we have become accustomed to or will drastic changes be the order of the day?
The quote below is from a documentary by Mystic Films, Intl. on ancient Persia–Iran: The Forgotten Glory. This is an excellent film and well worth the time spent watching it. The conditions described happened during the reign of Xerxes. He was the last king of Persia, just before Alexander the Great toppled the empire. If you believe that history repeats itself, let this be a warning.
“Prolonged wars with Greece and increased taxes imposed on the subject nations created debilitating corruption in the empire, weakening the central government. Satraps, rulers of the provinces, became careless of the needs of the people, opting instead to amass wealth and luxury for themselves.”
Allow me to paraphrase these words slightly and bring them up to date.
“Prolonged wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and increased taxes imposed on American citizens created debilitating corruption in the government, weakening the nation. Politicians, lobbyists, major corporations, and bureaucrats became careless of the freedoms of the people, opting instead to amass wealth and luxury for themselves.”
Throughout history, societies and civilizations have risen and fallen. Over and over again, they have followed a consistent pattern. In 1994, Jim Nelson Black wrote in When Nations Die, that among the factors leading to the collapse of every major civilization which ever existed were these:
Devaluation of human life
Compromise of religious beliefs
Celebration of sexual immorality
These examples are pervasive throughout America today. There are many others, too many to mention, which exemplify the lack of good moral character in our country.
Societies are not faceless, amorphous organizations which just appear out of nowhere. They are built out of individuals, each one trying to make a better life for himself. Each individual acts out of a moral character according to the way he believes. The society reflects that moral character. Society is what its individual members are. There is no other way to look at it. Society does not create nor determine what its members are. Instead, together the individual members define what that society becomes.
A society’s moral character cannot be dictated or imposed from the top. Electing a specific person to the office of President will not change the moral character of any other person. Putting a Republican into power as opposed to a Democrat (or vice versa) will not make any difference in the moral make-up of society. Enacting regulations and issuing ordinances will not compel any person to change his morality. Passing laws to make people “good” simply will not work.
A very large percentage of America’s citizens have lost sight of what it means to have good moral character. Morality originates from the Word of God and is planted within the heart of each person. When we suppress that moral instinct, ignore it, or actively rebel against it, we create problems. At a personal level, this may be minor and of limited scope. Over the whole of society, however, these are multiplied and the consequences can be devastating and catastrophic. As a nation, we have spent decades, even centuries, gradually uncoupling ourselves from the moral truths of the Word of God. The evidence is plain to see for anyone who wants to.
There is hope for the future. This not the end of the world, but let’s not pull any punches. We have work to do. There are painful times ahead. America is going to go through the wringer. As a nation, we are going to experience substantial course corrections which will cause extreme hardships in much of the country. It is not going to be easy. It will be ugly. It will hurt. In the end, it will be worth it.
“No discipline seems to be joyful for the present, but painful. Nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness (godly, moral character) to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands which hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet…” (Hebrews 12:11-13a)
As Christians, we must lose the belief that our problems can be solved by politics. It is no good to put our faith in the system, hoping and believing that those we elect or the laws they enact will make everything (anything?) right. Thinking that America can be “restored” by reverting back to a more conservative or Constitutional approach to government is foolish, naïve, and willfully blind. America has gone too far, there is no going back. (See Geezer Conservatism for another view on the same subject.)
Instead, we must put our faith in Jesus Christ the King. He rules the United States. We must acknowledge His Word as sovereign in every area of our lives. We must work to bring ourselves and our sphere of influence (including politics) into alignment with His Law. We must work to bring every part of our world into His Kingdom. Individual believers who surrender and submit to His Authority improve the moral character of the country–one person at a time, one day at a time.
“What you dislike in another, take care to correct in yourself.” — Thomas Sprat
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” — Jesus Christ, from the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 7:5)
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” –- Mahatma Gandhi
If you don’t like the moral character of America, change yourself. To improve America’s moral character, improve your own. It is that simple.
Arnold J. Toynbee began this conversation. He will have the last word.
“We are not doomed to make history repeat itself; it is open to us, through our own efforts, to give history, in our case, some new and unprecedented turn. As human beings, we are endowed with this freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is up to us, it is up to us to respond creatively to the challenges of our time.”