Thursday, February 06, 2014

Are the moral standards of America declining?

A popular complaint of Christians (and thus a standard dig at atheists) is that the moral standards of the US are declining.  Some blame it on gays, some on women's "libido", others use various other specific complaints, but since all of them are essentially Progressive Faults, many just lump it all together by blaming it all on us atheists.

The problem is, when the specific items are examined closely, often the worst places in the US end up being States and localities with heavily Christian influence.

Divorce, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, murder, assault, theft, all have a generally higher level of incidence in very religious areas of the country.

Internationally, countries (especially in Europe) with very low rates of religiosity also have very low rates of these same social problems.

Of course, without specific studies showing causality, one does need to be a bit careful about pointing fingers, so lets look at this from another viewpoint.

I think that the whole morality issue is a matter of definition.  It isn't that morals are "declining", but that the population of the US is simply changing the way we look at morality and ethics.

Cultures, as a general rule, go by sets of rules.  Those rules may be legal, they may be cultural, they may be religious.  Many of those differing categories probably meld back and forth - a religious rule may be enshrined in law, or a cultural taboo may be absorbed by religious leaders, or vice versa.  It is often hard to separate the different kinds of rules.

There is little doubt, however, that those rules often change over time.  Examples abound - here in the US, it used to be a hidebound rule that blacks were inferior to whites, and that status was exhibited in myriads of ways - riding in the back of the bus, separate drinking fountains or public restrooms, etc.

Today, such discriminatory measures are not only illegal, but are actively frowned on in much of the country as anachronisms.  Used to be, inter-racial marriages of any kind were illegal.  No more.  At one time, divorce was not only frowned upon, but was impossible to obtain in most parts of the country.  As recently as the late fifties or early sixties, an unmarried couple could not stay in the same hotel room except in certain "low rent"parts of town.  Large chain hotels/motels would not allow it.

All of those things now are not only legal, but are looked at as quaint reminders of the way things used to be, and most people don't even miss them at all.

An important recent example of this is the rapidly changing national attitude about gays and marriage.  As recently as just ten years ago, in many parts of the country (and even a few today), one could not reveal oneself as gay without severe repercussions.  The attitude of most Americans has reversed itself, and now a minority feel being gay is wrong and support the old negative stereotype.

Today, over 13 States have legalized gay marriage, standardizing what is rapidly becoming known as marriage equality.  There are numerous legal challenges to many States' bans on gays marrying, and there are indications that others may be following the early lead of that first thirteen.

Interesting how that number 13 crops up occasionally, isn't it?

It is clear that societies change over time.  Ours is no exception.  We no longer allow slavery, or indentured servitude.  We no longer throw people into prison for indebtedness (or at least not in a widespread way - a couple of States have re-instituted it in a weird modern way, but not like it used to be)

To many Americans, the new moralities are better.

Women are no longer forced to stay in violent, unwanted marriages, and can today actually be the party filing for divorce.  They can own property under their own names, hold jobs, start a company and be the boss, they can vote.

Minorities are no longer relegated to second class status, at least not legally, except in the way the justice system operates.  Yeah, we still need to work on that.

There may be a lot of Evangelical Christians who feel strongly that American morals have "slipped". That's fine, I have no problem with folks who have the ability to maintain their beliefs in the face of immense public pressure.  There is much about that to admire.

Until those old beliefs become harmful, especially to the innocent.  Or until they begin to try to make the rest of us adhere to their old belief system.  Then, there's a problem.

Message to the Conservatives that are trying to make this country stand still:

Go home.  Go to Church.  But leave the rest of us alone.  We don't buy into your bullshit.  We don't want your belief system enshrined in law, or taught in our schools, or enforced at work.  We have our own morals, our own ethics.  If you promise to keep your moral/religious practices to yourself, we promise to do the same.  Keep your religious crap outta our schools, and we promise not to teach Secular Humanism in school either.

This country has survived for over 238 years by being tolerant of others' belief systems, I think it is perfectly capable of doing that many more by maintaining that tolerant posture.


No comments: