One of the great ironies in life relates to moral authority.
As children, moral authority is easy; it comes from our parents. They reward us when we do something good and punish us when we do something bad.
Some things that are ‘good’ may have immediate consequences and long term benefits whereas many things that are ‘bad’ may have short term benefits and long term consequences. Children see only the short term, so it is up to parents to ensure that good behaviors always bring tangible short term benefits, and that bad behaviors always bring tangible short term consequences. You do not need to punish a child who does something ‘bad’ if the short term consequences hurt them in some way, because children see the consequences and learn from them, but if the short term consequences are good, parenting must provide a tangible negative consequence. Conversely if a child does something ‘good’ that provides a negative short term consequences, parenting must provide a tangible positive benefit that reinforces the positive behavior, lest the child learn not to repeat it.
An example is telling the truth vs lying. If a child breaks something, they might lie to avoid punishment. Doing so provides the short term benefit of not getting in trouble, but in the long term a child who learns to lie will build a reputation where nobody trusts them. It is up to parents to use punishment to provide a tangible reason not to lie.
If a child breaks something and tells the truth, the short term consequence could be an angry parent. Being known as loyal and trustworthy is a long term thing that the child cannot see unless the parent commends the child’s honesty to teach them that value.
This concept of ‘managing by expectations’ was the primary methodology I used to raise my children.
At some point as we begin to approach adulthood, we realize that our parents do not know everything. Of course we always know that on an intellectual level, but somewhere during puberty we emotionally connect to that fact, and we rebel against our parents. Rebelling is a normal part of growing up.
We eventually realize that while our parents do not know everything, we don’t either. At that point, we realize that as imperfect as our parents might be, they know more than we do. This happens somewhere between the ages of 20 and 24, with most children reverting back to morality very similar to that of their parents.
Unless they go to college.
Children who go to college are told by professors, many of whom may be the age of their parents, about ‘moral relativism,’ which is the belief that all cultures and all moral codes are equal (except Western Culture and the moral code around it – which they are taught to revile), and that we are free to choose whatever moral code we wish. Morals, we are told, are a construct of mankind, and nothing more. One set is just as good as another.
If an adult does not snap back to the moral teachings of their parents, and does not believe in God, then they have no higher authority than themselves to draw morality from, and it is their own wants and desires that will drive their moral compass. Moral relativism becomes the morality of the least common denominator, which is the same as not having any sense of morality at all.
A society based on moral relativism cannot long survive.
Many people do not believe they need God in their lives. In a secular society, this is and must be a personal choice, but consider that the need for a shared moral authority within a society has been understood for millennium, and in a society quickly slipping into the decay of moral relativism – where social norms no longer provide a sense of higher moral purpose – the less God is believed to exist, the more we need Him. That is the great irony of moral authority.
The 20th Century’s greatest historian, Will Durant, wrote in ‘The History of Civilization, Volume One: Our Oriental Heritage’ that a society needs two of three things to survive: a shared language, a shared culture, and a shared religion. You do not need all three of those things, but if you do not have two then you have no sense of a shared identity for people to rally behind, and your society will fracture into warring groups, each of which have at least two of those things.
70% of Americans still consider themselves Christian, and over 95% were raised in Judeo-Christian households. English is still largely a shared language. We still have a society, but our society is rapidly changing, with our youth being taught to reject religion, to reject Western Culture, and to reject English as a national language. All three of the things necessary to hold our society together are under attack.
And should we lose those things, our nation will collapse.