Is It As Bad As It Was?
Could it be that one of the reasons we focus on character in our culture today is the belief that we are headed for disaster because of the epidemic immorality and shameful character displayed in our generation and the generations coming up behind us? Have we fallen for the lie that says we are worse off now than we've ever been? Are we witnessing a kind of backlash and hysteria that this kind of thinking creates - in education, in politics, and in evangelical Christianity? I would answer yes.
I am certainly not an expert in this area, but I look around and see that there is a strong commitment in our culture to moral and character education because our society believes morality and character is sorely lacking these days. I am not convinced however, that it is any worse than history reflects. Again, I'm not an expert or a historian, but it wouldn't take long to look back over time and see the truth about our moral climate.
However, we don't typically consider the past. We rush to demonize today and romanticize yesterday. The truth is that moral decay and cultural and human atrocities have been around since the beginning of mankind. It doesn't take long after the fall in the garden of Eden to see anger and murder played out. Cain, Adam's son no less, killed his own brother. It doesn't get any better from there, only worse. The bible is full of immorality and questionable character on the part of God's people. Fast forward several centuries and we read about wicked roman emperors beheading innocent victims.
Nero (ruled from A.D. 54-68) ordered the slaughter of Christians. Among them, according to tradition, were the apostles Peter and Paul. Christians, wrote Tacitus, "were nailed on crosses...sewn up in the skins of wild beasts, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the night.
Caligula (born A.D. 12, ruled A.D. 37-41) had a great passion for women, gladiator games, chariot racing, theatrical performances and ships. He liked to watch people be tortured and executed and murdered his brother along with countless others. He lasted only four years in power before he was assassinated. According to Suetonius in Lives of Twelve Caesars Caligula invited a crowd to the dedication of a bridge and then had them all pushed in the water so he could watch them drown.
Tiberus (ruled from A.D. 14-37) was known for hedonism, decadence and cruelty.An accounting of more recent moral failure was compiled by author Matthew White. One hundred of the worst human atrocities (by death toll) includes these top ten:
1. World War II (Worldwide 1939-45)I could go on, but if you took some time to read the history you would find that throughout the centuries we see example after example of character and moral deficiencies in the culture. When we forget that truth, we look around and surmise that the culture is currently as bad as it's ever been. That is just not true.
2. Genghis Khan (Asia 1206-27)
3. Mao Zedong (China 1949-75)
4. British India Famines (1769, 1876, 1896, 1943)
5. Fall of the Ming Dynasty (China 1635-62)
6. Taiping Rebellion (China 1850-64)
7. Stalin (Soviet Union 1928-53)
8. Mideast Slave Trade (ca. 700-1900)
9. Tamerlane (Central Asia 1370-1405)
10. Atlantic Slave Trade (1452-1807)
Why is all this significant in a discussion about parenting and teaching our children character traits? One reason is that it drives our often times frantic and frenzied approach to producing children that will be strong in character and grow up to be morally upstanding citizens. We believe that we bear the heavy responsibility of changing the cultural tide of immorality by training our children according to a certain set of character standards. We also wrongly assume that character training alone will produce "good" children and guarantee "success" in adulthood. In effect, we have high hopes that the character of our children will in essence save them. As Christians raising children, this self salvation project is dangerous. I'll discuss why in my final post of this series tomorrow.
Finally, consider all of the character education emphasis in our culture today and then consider the violence in schools, malls and theaters across the country. At some point we have to ask the question - is it working?
Have we succeeded in producing conformity yet overlooked true heart change? Have we accomplished a consensus on the "rightness" of good character, and yet neglected to acknowledge the truth that " no one is righteous"?
Is there something that counts more than character?
My final post tomorrow will provide a simple illustration of pointing to Christ vs. training in character, and a brief discussion on the danger of placing our hopes in character development.