Old Vices Don't Improve with Age
- Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This article originally appeared at the Washington Post's On Faith page. Click to read the continuing conversation.
The new morality is too often the old immorality tricked out in pseudo-scientific language or backed with force. Many seem to assume there is something new under the moral sun, but there is not.
Some simply wish vice to be labeled virtue. Others, far worse, bully and hate.
Two important truths must be simultaneously upheld: vice cannot be virtue, and we must love our neighbor. Christians must not defy the laws of nature and of Nature's God, but we also will not bully or hate.
Some confidently say, "Applauding behaviors supported by decadents in ancient times of course does not indicate that we are in danger of decadence, because we know so much more than the ancients."
This is true, if you mean we have contact lenses and they did not. We have cars and they did not. Of course, we are destroying environment they did not and have practiced genocide on a wider scale than they dreamed.
After all, progress in one area—technology and economic standards—does not equal progress in every other area. Stalin had better weapons than Joan of Arc, but was a much worse person. North Korea has better technology than nineteenth century Switzerland, but much worse politics and morality.
What exactly is it that we know now that necessitates a change in the hard won wisdom of nearly every ancient culture?
We certainly want nothing ancients did not want and we desire nothing they did not desire. Humanity has not changed. When men desire to abandon wives and children for light reasons, this is not new. When people desire to make babies without making families, this is not new. When people bully and browbeat instead of arguing their point, this is not new. When children mock things that are different and hurl hateful words at others, this is not new.
When the unchaste, the libertine, or the hateful demand we call their wrongs "good," this too is not new. And when cliques in society long to be "cool" and shun those outside their arbitrary categories, this too is not new.
It is all still wrong.
There is nothing new, but every old vice always comes announcing that this time, surely this time, it is different.
Surely we are not so ethnocentric or full of chronological snobbery that we believe every previous civilization that opposed our morality was morally primitive? This is the breathtaking arrogance of the Victorian colonialist, not (supposedly) of modern men and women.
Actual science can never teach us what should be true only what is true at the moment. This was the case when pseudo-scientific pronouncements, such as those of Freud, agreed with traditional morality on some issue, and is still the case when they do not.
Moral reasoning does not come with a calendar, and the belief that we have moved "beyond" ancient wisdom is a prejudice no more attractive now than it was one hundred and fifty years ago in Victorian England. Every civilization must balance the need for progress against the demand to throw out ancient truths because of that progress.
Victorians thought "science" confirmed their weird sexual prejudices and now middlebrow opinion thinks the same about America's. The fact that often they are the opposite opinions should warn us that today's moral fads will be tomorrow's folly.
This call to not worry about sex outside of marriage is not a new call, has no real new arguments, and will lead to the same predictably sad results. People will not grow happier, children will not be born in sufficient numbers or in stable homes, and civilization will not grow stronger.
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