Symptom of Moral Crisis

Yes, there was systemic failure, but we should be raising individuals capable of separating right from wrong anyway.

The Baghdad prison abuse scandal should serve as a warning to Americans that something has gone terribly awry in our society. Political talk shows and news columns this week are all about whether or not the top commanders-perhaps even all the way up to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld--should be fired. These are important conversations, but they avoid a sickening fact: As a society, we are raising too many children who don't understand the difference between plain right and wrong. Otherwise, we wouldn't have U.S. soldiers committing such crimes.

When I first saw the photos, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, I was shocked and horrified. The feelings of outrage were intensified by the fact that the perpetrators were American soldiers. How could American boys and girls do things so contrary for all we stand for in the world?

As I struggled to answer that question in my own mind and heart, I was reminded of a little book called The Abolition of Man written in 1947 by C.S. Lewis, the British author and social commentator. Responding to a textbook that introduced subjective and relativist values into post-war British schools, Lewis defended traditional Judeo-Christian morality.

Lewis explained that in the properly ordered composition of a human being, the head (the intellect) ruled the belly (the visceral appetites) through the chest. Lewis defined the chest as the "higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character." Lewis went on to argue that the higher emotions of the chest-in essence, the workings of the heart--were the essential liaison between the cerebral and the sensual. Without the chest, human beings become self-idolatrous worshipers of their own minds and their own appetites.


C. S. Lewis understood that moral relativism eventually eviscerates moral character. When schools train students to "clarify" their own values, tell them they have the right to question parental or societal values, and that each person's values are as valid as any other person's values, then you have made all morals relative and each person becomes the final arbiter of what is "right" or "wrong" for them.

When such thinking permeates society, there are no agreed-upon absolute Truths (with a capital "T") where some things are always right and some things are always wrong. Instead, you are left with an almost endless number of personal idiosyncratic "truths;" nothing is always right or wrong but entirely dependent upon the situation, circumstance, or personal opinion. Additionally, no one has the right to assert that anyone else's values are wrong. In such a society, where nothing is always objectively wrong, anything is possible.

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Richard Land
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