Beginning in the 1960s America set out to redefine itself. It started with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1962 that sponsored prayer in public school was now unconstitutional (Engel v. Vitale). The next year it ruled similarly for Bible reading (Abington School District v. Schempp).Together the decisions marked the crossing of a worldview Rubicon, a symbolic agreement by American society to toss its Judeo-Christian roots. Next came the 1970s, what writer Tom Wolfe coined the “Me” generation” and what Christopher Lasch called the beginning of “cultural narcissism.” By the late 1980s the University of Chicago professor Allan Bloom could remark in his bestseller, “The Closing of the American Mind:”
“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”
That was thirty-five years ago! What’s happened since is the story of a disintegrating culture. From fractured families and societal tribalism to lawlessness and endemic hopelessness, it’s a tragic tale. The nuclear family has gone from 40% in 1970 to less than 18% today. Daily lootings are causing businesses to close in our major cities while we debate defunding the police. Martin Luther King’s dream of a color-blind society has been turned on its head. It’s now de rigueur for colleges across the country to offer what they call “Affinity Housing,” meaning segregated dormitories according to identity politics. Ibram X. Kendi’s woke aphorism, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” is becoming official policy. In 2019, 42% of the 173 colleges surveyed hosted race segregated orientation and graduation ceremonies.
None of these trends, however, appears to have produced the human flourishing promised by yesterday’s secularists, particularly for younger Americans. According the National Institute of Health, suicide is their second leading cause of death.
In Paul’s epistle to the Galatians he warned, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” As collections of individuals, this applies also to nations and we are far down the reaping path. Some recent anecdotes:
- Students at Hastings Law School shouted obscenities and threatened constitutional-law professor Ilja Shapiro simply because he’d questioned President Biden’s insistence that the next Supreme Court Justice be a black woman. Across the country, Yale law students shouted down Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom and Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association. Ironically, the two ideological opponents had been invited there to discuss their agreement of the need to preserve civil discourse and freedom of speech. All the disrupters knew was Waggoner represented Jack Phillips – a Christian who had politely declined to design a cake celebrating a homosexual wedding – in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018). That was all they needed.
- In California’s Santa Ana Unified School District grade schoolers are being encouraged to read books like “It Feels Good to Be Yourself – A Book About Gender Identity,” which tells kids how silly it is to think biology and gender are connected. The book features “Alex” who “is BOTH A BOY AND A GIRL.” The book tells kids that parents can only guess about their children’s gender. In another book, “What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns,” targeted to preschoolers through 3rd grade, kids are instructed to think hard about their preferred pronouns lest they falsely assume they might have something to do with body parts.
- Then there’s Lia Thomas, a biological man, gleefully depriving young women much of any chance of winning “women’s” swimming competitions. Not to be outdone, USA Today recently named Dr. Rachel Levine, another biological man, as one of its “Women of the Year.”
- Finally, there’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who claimed in her confirmation hearing that she doesn’t know what a woman is.
It’s hard not to see a theme here. The British philosopher G.K. Chesterson warned: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” And there is a growing, indeed frightening, insistence by increasingly powerful sectors of society that we repudiate empirical truth, that we reject the evidence of our eyes, that we deny the natural order. We’re being instructed, under pain of cultural banishment, to liberate ourselves from the old restraints of objectivity and embrace a kind of metaphysical lawlessness. You see it everywhere: on university campuses, in corporate boardrooms and HR departments, in medical practices, federal agencies, the Pentagon, and the entire K-12 public education system.
Hannah Arendt in her book “Origins of Totalitarianism” tied that condition to the absence of law. Some three centuries earlier John Locke warned in his Two Treatises of Government, “Whenever law ends, tyranny begins.” Earlier still the Apostle Paul observed, “[W]hen Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves….”
But what happens when enough people decide to stop being a law unto themselves, as multiplied millions seem to be uncritically doing? It’s fun while it lasts. It’s what happens next that’s not so fun.