‘The terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards’

Christian Piatt quotes from another of the recent statements purportedly from Billy Graham, a fundraising letter that included this paragraph:

Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Piatt notes that the evidence for this “terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards” is quite selective, considering, to pick just one of many examples:

A couple of generations ago, African-Americans and other people of color were oppressed, segregated and violence against them was largely tolerated, if not sanctioned.

The illusion of a “terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards” isn’t easy to sustain unless one is so immensely privileged as not to have benefited from (or participated in the struggle for) the vast improvements in civil rights and material well-being that have come just in my own lifetime.

I think what ventriloquist Franklin Graham is saying there about a downward spiral reflects the anxiety that Dave Policar described here the other day in an insightful response to the Fred Phelps post below:

Increasingly, saying hateful things about queers is becoming socially unacceptable, which is removing our ability to say such things with impunity.

Those of us who want fewer hateful things to be said about queers correctly recognize this as an increase in options that we value. Those who want more hateful things to be said about queers correctly recognize this as the loss of options that they value.

… They want to say (and do) hateful things about (and to) me and people like me, and they want to do so with impunity and social support. Increasingly, their ability to do that is being constrained, and they resent it. Again, that isn’t a constitutional issue, and those who claim it is are mistaken/confused/lying, but there really is a loss of privileges there. They’re not wrong about that.

Whether they are privileges that any decent human being would want to have, is admittedly a whole different issue.

That helps to clarify, I think, why the pampered and privileged spend so much time fretting about their supposedly endangered rights. Their rights are secure, but their privilege is being constrained — or at least they’re losing the aspect of that privilege that has heretofore allowed them to mistreat others who have not enjoyed the same rights.

That helps me understand how it is that someone could look at the immense moral progress of the last half a century and see instead a “terrible downward spiral.”

I’d have understood that sooner if they’d have just been clearer and had explicitly said what it is they’re really upset about — all these uppity women, black folks, gays and infidels walking around as though they were equal citizens.

But then, they can no longer blithely assume social support for such views — and therefore can no longer just openly say such things explicitly. And that — the inability to talk like that with impunity — is a big part of what they mean by a downward spiral.

  • Jessica_R

    And this is pretty much at the root of my “they’re not lost, misinformed fearful lambs, they’re just assholes” position. They’re not pissed because the world is changing too fast and they’re scared, they’re pissed because it’s changing and it’s getting harder to get away with treating Those People like garbage. 

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    The Christian right measures “moral standards” through two things, and two things only: abortion and homosexuality.  The more those two things become “okay,” the more upset the Christian right gets, and the more they think that the U.S. is sinking into a cesspool of depravity.  Literally nothing else matters but these two things, and several studies have shown that this is one of the main reasons why more and more teens and young adults are leaving the church unstead of running to it.  Meanwhile, the church laments the loss of the young.  And yes, they know exactly why people are leaving.  But people leaving is not nearly as important as maintaining their “pro-life,” “pro-traditional-marriage” cred. 

  • VCarlson

    Oh, I think we do have a “terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards,” all right – the fact that we had a national discussion about how much torture is OK, and/or under what circumstances, demonstrates that.

    Obviously, we have differing views on what is a sign of moral decay.

  • JonathanPelikan

    This reminds me of a comment by Liiria some time ago; something to the effect of ‘if you think both sides are equally bad then you’re swimming in your privilege’. And similar remarks about Obamacare and other things which, while deeply flawed, are effecting and will effect real good in this world on people. Thing is, do you want the groups that are benefiting to benefit? Or do you even notice that they are or that they exist as people like you?

  • Ursula L

    They’re not pissed because the world is changing improving  too fast and they’re scared, they’re pissed because it’s changing improving and it’s getting harder to get away with treating Those People like garbage.  

    Fixed that for you.  

    They don’t get to claim that the world is merely changing and they’re scared. The world is improving and they’re scared of the world being a better place.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Part of it is that they are losing their monopoly on being a moral authority.  Increasingly people are not seeing the church as a source of authority on morality, and they either find another authority or forge their own morals.  Even if the morality that such people have is not substantially different than when the church could dictate it to them, the fact that such morality is not answerable to the church scares them.  

    How many people here who are not part of the Evangelical culture have surprised someone who has grown up in the bubble by not being a sociopath murder?  The idea that morals could come from anywhere else is an idea that they are not well-equipped to process.  

  • Loki100

    This reminds me off all that complaining about political correctness. All political correctness is, is not insulting people. That’s it.

    And yet somehow the completely uncontroversial notion that that we should not insult others has become incredibly controversial thanks to people who never have been insulted complaining that they can’t insult others.

  • Worthless Beast

    This is sort of off-topic, but I got an email today from the “Terry Schaivo Foundation.”  I thought I’d put them on my Spam filter a long time ago, but apparently, they’re persistent with their email-spam, like those penis-enlargement pill advertises who do not know that I’m female and proud or like the average Nigerian prince.
     
    Instead of just deleting the email as usual, I actually clicked it this time and read an article that was linked in it about the evil conspiracy of people who want to come for your organs while you’re still alive.  Curiosity kills the cat – the title was crazy enough for me to give it a look.  Starting off with anti-intellectualism (apparently, philosophers are pure evil), the reader is presented with the idea of hypothetical “death-philosophers” arguing people on their deathbeds into being put to sleep and having their organs harvested while they’re still fresh… I thought two things: The first is that I imagine that I’d be totally okay with that if I were in that kind of situation. I’d see it as “Hey, I’m dying anyway, why not do something noble to save other people?”  The second was “If you’re lucid enough when dying to have one of these conversations, you’re probably dying of something that keeps your organs from being wanted, anyway.”     Seeing as it’s a bit of right-wing fear-mongering just like the “gays are coming for your children!” stuff seen so often, I come to the idea  of “Wow, a lot of people are absolutely ruled by fear, aren’t they?” 
     
    It makes nostalgia for a world that never really existed for anyone but the few really appealing, I guess… if someone tells you there’s lots of imaginary enemies out there…  More than enough people are telling those whose memories have become mythology of the horrible dystopia we all live in or is just on the horizon.  Where is the line drawn between bigotry and fear? Aren’t they the same thing a lot of the time?
    I don’t have a handy link, sadly… I deleted/spam-filtered the email and didn’t think to save the link. Sure you can find it if you’re brave enough to go to the Terry Schaivo Foundation sites.  (Anyone else get annoying emails like this)?
        

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    (blink)
    OK, can I be forgiven a brief moment of it all being about me?
    Cuz, I mean, I just got quoted by Fred!
    Whoa.
    (fans self)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    “The terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards”?

    Now that you mention it, yes, the apparently dominant view that regular civilian massacres are an acceptable price to pay for the ability to buy killing toys at will does suggest a downward spiral in the nation’s moral standards.

    That’s what they’re all talking about, right?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Downward spiral? Moral standards?

    You mean like how it’s now perfectly legitimate to imply that the sitting US president is addicted to cocaine and heroin?

    Like how it’s perfectly legitimate to make absurd false equivalencies between advocating for animal welfare and pedophilia?

    Like how it’s perfectly legitimate to make inappropriate personal comments about the daughter of a sitting President? Or make the sitting President’s sex life the subject of a thin-lipped moralizing crusade and a Congressional circus?

    Like how it’s perfectly legitimate to tell outright lies and falsehoods about QUILTBAG people and what they want to accomplish in terms of their civil rights?

  • Ursula L

    The illusion of a “terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards” isn’t easy to sustain unless one is so immensely privileged as not to have benefited from (or participated in the struggle for) the vast improvements in civil rights and material well-being that have come just in my own lifetime. 

    You don’t need to have benefited from, or even participated in, the struggle for improved civil rights to see it as an improvement in society and public morality.  You don’t even need to have been born at the time when the struggle was at its most prominent.  

    You merely need to observe the results to see that this is a great improvement in social norms and public morality. 

    It comes down (as I suppose it always does) to empathy.  When you see someone else doing better in the world, do you see it as a good thing, because it means that people (like you) are better off?  Or do you see it as a threat, because if someone else is doing better, then you are less better-off in, comparison to them, than you were before?  

    Whether or not one acts to make things better in the world is an important issue.  And there are a lot of factors that go into the decision to act or not act.  Practical things, such as job security and one’s own place in the social hierarchy.  

    But whether or not one chooses to act, there is still the matter of what you think about what society ought to be.  

    And it makes a difference (admittedly a small one) whether you consider changes in society brought about by the actions of others to be good or bad.  

    Because that consideration points you towards a particular road, whether you decide to walk down that road, choose the alternative, or stay still. Getting people who aren’t moving to decide which of the roads ahead they want to walk down is the first step in getting them to taking the action that walks them down that road.  And their walking down that path makes it more worn and clear for the next person who follows.  

  • DiscreteComponent

    In one of my collage classes (it could have been philosophy or Constitutional law, I for get which)  we got talking about how people tend to think of their privileges and rights.  First thing we came across is that people tend to think of a privilege being a right but rarely a right being a privilege.  In fact we thought it was the rare person who even acknowledged that a privilege was a privilege. Another thing we came across was that when a they did think a right was a privilege it was always in the third person never ever was it in the first person.  Finally someone popped up this this observation “Counting your privileges must be just as hard as counting your blessings.  Maybe that is why self avowed Christens have such a hard time doing it.”

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

    “Their rights are secure, but their privilege is being constrained — or at least they’re losing the aspect of that privilege that has heretofore allowed them to mistreat others who have not enjoyed the same rights.”

    This! And it should be printed out on cards that can be handed to anyone who complains that American Christians are being persecuted and deprived of their liberties.

  • GDwarf

    “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders,
    they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the
    streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is
    to become of them?” ~Plato

    “When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of
    elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and
    impatient of restraint.” ~Hesiod (8th Century BCE)

    “The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no
    reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all
    restraint… As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike
    in speech, behavior and dress.” ~Peter the Hermit (CE 1274)

    I am increasingly convinced that every school should spend at least one semester teaching things that every generation believes about the ones that came before it, or come after it, that are almost never true.

  • ReverendRef

     The Christian right measures “moral standards” through two things, and two things only: abortion and homosexuality.

    Don’t forget about Patriotism.  Because, you know, if you can’t attack them for being baby-killing gays, attack them for not wearing enough stars and stripes at the Olympics.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/fox-news-team-usa-uniforms-patriotic_n_1746519.html?ir=Media&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=653543,b=facebook

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am increasingly convinced that every school should spend at least one semester teaching things that every generation believes about the ones that came before it, or come after it, that are almost never true. 

    Mine did in our American History class.  They had us read an essay entitled “Defending My Generation”, written by a young person claiming that they might seem rebellious, listening to “barbaric” music, but the older generation has no better claim to moral authority of culture than they do.  

    Only after we have read the essay were we told that it was written in the 1930s.  

  • dvict

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

    http://www.ottawaskeptics.org/forum?func=view&id=4560&catid=3

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    With respect, how is this relevant to the post?  

    I hope you will forgive me for thinking you may be a spambot.  

  • AnonymousSam

    What if you grew up in the culture, but became a sociopath anyway? :P

  • Nirrti

    It is so “interesting” that of all the injustices being perpetrated, these clowns want to focus on the poor embryos(not even fetuses yet), the uppity womenz, and teh gey.

    Never mind that children are dying unnecessarily from untreated conditions because they lack health insurance. We must save the precious clump of cells!

    Don’t think about families going homeless while numerous houses sit empty from foreclosure. The gays are going to gay all over the place with impunity!!!11 

    Oh, and don’t worry about the almost double digit unemployment rate. The ladies are getting birth control and we can’t punish them for being sluts anymore! Oh noes!!!

    As a black female uppity infidel, the day when these people finally die off, get a clue, or shut the hell up, will be my happiest.

  • Matri

    attack them for not wearing enough stars and stripes at the Olympics.

    BWAH?!?

    No, seriously: BWAH?!?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Don’t forget about Patriotism.  Because, you know, if you can’t attack
    them for being baby-killing gays, attack them for not wearing enough
    stars and stripes at the Olympics.

    *flabbergasted look*

    Surely you’re joking.

    *reads link*

    D:

  • reynard61

    “How many people here who are not part of the Evangelical culture have surprised someone who has grown up in the bubble by not being a sociopath murder? (“sociopathic murderer”?) The idea that morals could come from anywhere else is an idea that they are not well equipped to process.”

    Evangelical: “How can you say that you’re a moral person when you didn’t grow up with a belief in God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

    Non-Christian: “Quite easily. My parents taught me how to behave in Society. I learned my morals from them.”

    Evangelical: “Well, quite frankly I’m puzzled as to why you aren’t in prison for murder.”

    Non-Christian: *eyes Evangelical* “The day is still young…”

  • Matri

    Non-Christian: *eyes Evangelical* “The day is still young…”

    Oh, Temptation. How you tempt me…

  • Matri

     All joking aside, that has overwhelmingly been my (and pretty much everybody’s here too, I’ll wager) general experience with these people.

  • Alycidon

    @ FearlessSon: That’s no bot, that’s Dennis M*a*r*k*u*z*e , aka David M*a*b*u*s, whose name I will not type properly for fear of calling up further infestation. They must have let him out.

  • Donalbain

    If it is He Who Shall Not Be Named (which looks VERY likely), then he seems to be breaking the conditions of his court order. 

    http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/guilty+issuing+threats+over+Internet/6715505/story.html

    So, Fred, if you read this, it would be best if you reported whatever information you have on that poster to Montreal Police. The man in question was sentenced for making actual death threats against people, and part of his sentence was that he refrain from using blogs.

  • Matri

    part of his sentence was that he refrain from using blogs.

    I’d rather the condition was he not be allowed near any electronic device more complex than an Etch-A-Sketch.

  • Amaryllis

      “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” -Ruth Graham(?)

    I know it’s been said here before, but some things can’t be said enough:
    “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters
    had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor
    and needy.” – Ezekiel and others

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    NewsHounds had that covered days ago.

  • Mau de Katt

    I followed the link to that Franklin-Graham-puppeteer letter.  It quoted that passage from Ezekiel, and then went on to imply that that passage is actually about America “aborting millions of babies”!!!

     So go ahead and decrease/deny/eliminate aid to poor, children, elderly, unemployed, or  all of the above; God is totally ok with it as long as you force those slutty sluts to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

    Oh, and that exclamation of  “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” was going around in the early 80′s, if not even the late 70′s.

  • Mau de Katt

     

    “We’re a very nationalistic nation,” [David] Webb said of America. “But we’ve also lost over time that jingoistic feeling.”

    And that’s a bad thing?!?!?!?  “Jingoism” is a pejorative not a compliment!!!

  • fraser

     The same way that according to Ralph Reed, passages on slavery really tell employees to shut up and do as they’re told by their divinely appointed boss.

  • Lukea

    The things Billy Graham are talking about are the same things that keep conservative evangelicals from watching R-rated movies: sex, drugs, sort-of-violence, and gay sex…also abortion. That’s it. Systemic issues never enter into the equation.

  • AnonymousSam

     Better: “Lord, lead me not into temptation.”

  • http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/friday-fictioneers-lunacy/ esmerelda_ogg

    “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters
    had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor
    and needy.” – quoted by Amaryllis

     And here we are in a world where the Self Righteous Right wants to cut food stamps. Which are barely adequate, if that; a few months ago I was one of the people who tried living on a food stamp budget for a while, and it’s an anxious and hungry experience.

  • The_L1985

     Don’t forget the fact that corporate lobbying has helped to neuter or eliminate a lot of laws that prevented corporate corruption, thus turning CEOs into the new aristocracy.

    But on issues of social equality, at least, things are improving.

  • LL

    Oh, for the love of cheese, somebody is still pimping poor Terri Schiavo? 

  • The_L1985

     At my private, Christian elementary school, we were flat-out told that since Judeo-Christian morality comes from Jesus and the Bible (and, to a lesser extent, Western Christian traditions), that non-Judeo-Christians therefore had no source of morality whatsoever, and therefore could not possibly have any morals.  Jews, presumably, had morals based on the Old Testament, but since they weren’t mentioned, I have no idea what the “official” position was on the morality of Jewish people.

    That, or they were possessed by demons that caused them to worship voodoo spirits (which, they said, were also demons).

    You can understand why I was deeply confused in my teens when I went to a much more diverse high school and NONE OF THIS stuff about non-Christians turned out to be true at all.

  • The_L1985

     Is this “Peter the Hermit” the same fellow who became Pope Celestine V?  Because i’m reading about him right now, and that’s a pretty funny coincidence.

  • The_L1985

     My dad once told me not to date atheists, because without a religious-based morality, they had nothing to stop them from killing people left and right.

    My response was revulsion–not at atheists, but at the thought that my own father willingly admits that the only thing keeping him from committing murder is his religion.

  • JenL

    And yet somehow the completely uncontroversial notion that that we
    should not insult others has become incredibly controversial thanks to
    people who never have been insulted complaining that they can’t insult
    others.

    I think it ties into those studies that show that being satisfied with how much you own isn’t about how much (of whatever) you have, but about how much you have compared to the group of people you judge yourself against.  So…  You can own 3 houses and 4 horses, but if you think you “should” be in Mitt Romney’s social circle, you probably think you’re embarrassingly poor.  If, on the other hand, you compare yourself to your step-sister and her family who are struggling to pay the mortgage on their starter mansion, well, you’re doing pretty good and can feel pretty good about yourself. 

    It seems like a certain kind of very petty people can tell themselves they are good, upstanding, moral, successful people by comparing themselves to a stereotyped notion of various groups of “other”.  And as long as they can use their codes and built-in slurs, they can reinforce that notion that *of course* they’re better than those others. 

    Then the “PC Police” come along and politely point out that those slurs and coded insults are harmful stereotypes, and they’re really kinda inappropriate, and using those kind of words makes other people uncomfortable, and there really are better ways to identify a group of people without insulting everyone not like you…  And the reaction of the truly, deeply petty is to lash out at this horrible person who is “trying to make me feel guilty for speaking the truth”.  Never mind that 1) it’s not about you, 2) it’s not about how you feel, it’s about the way you’re making others feel, 3) you’re speaking harmful stereotypes, not “truth”.

    Or, maybe I’m just stereotyping based on my dad, who used to rant about the “PC Police” at the drop of a hat….

  • Worthless Beast

    I’ve always ignored and deleted their emails, I’m pretty sure I put them on Spam at least a year ago, and theeeeey’re baaaaack! 

    The saddest thing I find is that those folks have pretty much killed my sympathy. I hate when that happens.  When the whole media mess was going on, I felt for the family.  The husband struck me as a little “over-eager” to pull the tubes while the parents struck me as “unable to let go” types – grieving ever since the initial accident and just not handling it well, not able to accept that their daughter wasn’t coming back.  But, once the pulse stopped, the political fearmongering began, I guess.

    If it’s out of grief – unable to think straight because they’re still grieving, damn they need help.  Otherwise, my sympathies are gone.

  • christopher_young

    No. Celestine V was a hermit called Peter, but he wasn’t Peter the Hermit, if you see what I mean. Peter the Hermit was an itinerant preacher who played a key role in mobilising the first crusade.

  • The_L1985

     Ah, different hermit.  Thanks. :)


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