Posts Tagged ‘Social Consequences for Moral Behavior’

The Demise of Morality in America

December 17, 2011

The Demise of Morality in America

The following is taken from Robert H. Bork’s (1996) extraordinary book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline  (p.278). For me, Robert Bork has cut through the Gordian tangle presented by the philosophy of ethics. The following are Robert Bork’s words.

Todays Religious conservatives take Christianity and Judaism seriously, but that does not place them outside a very long moral tradition. C. S. Lewis: The number of actions about whose ethical quality a Stoic, an Aristotelian, a Thomist, a Kantian, and a Utilitarian would agree is , after all very large. And again: A Christian who understands his own religion laughs when unbelievers expect to trouble him by the assertion that Jesus uttered no command which had not been anticipated by the Rabbis—few, indeed, which cannot be paralleled in classical, ancient Egyptian, Ninevite, Babylonian, or Chinese texts. We have long recognized that truth with rejoicing. Our faith is not pinned on a crank.’ Bork continued: Only religion can accomplish for a modern society what tradition, reason, and empirical observation cannot. Christianity and Judaism provide the major premises of moral reasoning by revelation and by the stories in the Bible. There is no need to attempt the impossible task of reasoning your way to first principles. Those principles are accepted as given by God. For most people, only revealed religion can supply the premises from which the prescriptions of morality can be deduced. Religion tells us what the end of man should be and that information supplies the premises for moral reasoning and hence a basis for moral conduct. Philosophers cannot agree on the proper end of man and hence cannot supply the necessary premises. Religion is by its nature authoritative and final as to first principles. It must be so or it would be valueless. Those principles are given on a stone tablet, either literally or figuratively, and so long as you believe the religion, there is simply no possibility to arguing with what is on the tablet. End of quotes. But, while Bork’s words resonate and ring true to many, they take their power from something that continues to diminish in the modern world: Faith in God and his Word.

Bork is aware of this potentially fatal erosion and he continues as follows:

What Frederick Lewis Allen noted of the 1920s was true for a long time previously and remains true today: religion is declining because those identified with it do not actually believe in it. It seems impossible to say that a person believes in a religion when he rejects what the religion proclaims. It is difficult to say that a religion even exists if it keeps giving up its tenets to appease its members and critics. If belief, in some sense, can be said to be present, it is a weak and watery belief that is no match for parishioners’ personal, secular concerns (P. 280).

Bork continued:

As life became easier and diversions more plentiful, men are less willing to accept the authority of their clergy and less willing to worship a demanding God, a God who dictates how one should live and puts a great many bodily and psychological pleasures off limits (p. 281).

For Robert Bork and countless others, faith in God is the critical ingredient in human conformity to a religiously based code of moral behavior. It is true that modernity and its products appears to diminish faith in a higher power and also our conformity to religiously based morals. What we call faith is heavily  influenced by social consequences levied by those around us, and that suggests another layer of complexity to our moral undoing.  

Stay tuned for more on the demise of morality in America

VTM, 12/17/11


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