Who Sets the Standards?
David W. Hegg
I have purposely waited to comment on the national tragedy we continue to experience in the area of sexual tyranny. News of these acts of predatory sexual harassment, propagated by men whose behavior sickens any right-minded person, continue to dominate our public conversation. But it has seldom caused us to dig deeper into the underlying ethical patterns we have set in our society which have contributed to such wide-ranging, destructive behavior.
I expect that, if I were to ask why unwanted sexual aggression is wrong, all but a few wackos would respond incredulously “because it just is!” Of course, there are measureable emotional consequences for the victims that could be used to quantify why such behavior is wicked, but I argue even apart from the data, we all know it is just wrong. But why is that?
Why is it we intuitively recognize some things as inappropriate and even sinister? At times, I have attempted to shock my students by asking why it would be wrong for someone to eat their grandmother (sorry!). Every time I throw out that question everyone recoils in disgust. Why? Because the very thought of some actions sets off the outrage meter that comes pre-installed on our human hard drive.
Our visceral reaction to blatant wickedness ought to remind us that some truths are self-evident. Our Declaration of Independence declares “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” With our Founding Fathers we share, deep down in our humanness, the truth that some things are wrong, some things are right, and that we all recognize them as such.
But this raises another question? Who says what a society holds as self-evidently wrong has to stay “wrong?” Here is where our view of ethical behavior runs into a brick wall. Over the past decades we have watched as behavior universally believed to be wrong has, by popular vote, been determined to be right, and even laudable. Only a few decades ago, the slaying of a child in utero was a crime, marriage was respectable, and sexuality was a marital commitment rather than a hobby to be practiced at will. Only a few years ago, same-sex behavior, let alone marriage, was recognized as aberrant. In just a few weeks marijuana use will become respectable by law.
What we are seeing across the board is the erosion of innate, intuitive ethical convictions. Some call it the death of common sense. Others see it as a moral victory, as fence after fence of moral restraint is torn down and replaced with the supposed freedom of ethical libertarianism.
But are we better off? Has the dismantling of self-evident ethical convictions and restraints made our society better? Not by my count. Rampant sexuality has bloated the number of foster children needing homes. Marriages, when they occur are likely to be torn apart by the unholy trinity of infidelity, spousal abuse, or the horror of drugs. Division among societal elements has escalated exponentially whether the issue is race, economics, or political philosophy. We have become a nation of critics, cynics, and discourteous neighbors, while proudly promoting a freedom construed as the right to be and do whatever feels good at the moment. And my greatest concern is where this will lead us in the next ten years.
The current tsunami of sexual harassment shocks us now, but will it in the years to come? I doubt it, if the path we’re on now continues leading us downhill. The momentum is strong against traditional thinking. We have deconstructed intuitive ethical standards to the point where any restraint is considered puritanical. We see it among our national leaders in ways we would have considered impossible only years ago.
But perhaps all is not lost just yet. Though they don’t get the press coverage reserved for scoundrels, there are thousands of people and organizations in our nation laboring ceaselessly to show how loving God and neighbor is still our best option. Let the naysayers say nay, but I’ll continue knowing there are still large pockets of people who are committed to their spouses and children, work hard at their jobs, quietly live out their biblical morality, still believe honesty, integrity, and compassion are bedrock values, and refuse to consider that the lack of restrain is a good thing.
These are the people who, during this Christmas season, will look out for others, pass you with a smile and a “Merry Christmas”, and generally remind us all that we are at our best when we really are “one nation, under God, with life and liberty for all.”