Beliefnet

Freud says we twist certain baser instincts inward for the sake of conventional morality and society. For example, the fear of God and/or prison keeps John from hitting Suzie over the head and dragging her back to his posh urban duplex. Instead, he convinces Suzie to retreat with him to the duplex, where they get in touch with their ids by more innocuous means, like watching Jim Carrey get hit over the head with a brick.

Ah yes, man's baser instincts are neither gained nor lost, they are merely vented through socially acceptable safety valves. Even at this late date in history, man remains, at heart, a mean and brutish creature.

Fortunately, religion has played a key role in suppressing man's baser instincts for the past 2,000 years.

Still, every once in a while, that elevated primate known as man makes a power play and places himself philosophically at the center of the universe. Because we have that kind of luck, we happen to inhabit such an era.

It is no surprise that the phenomenon has coincided with the industrial age. At the turn of the century, technological advancement allowed man to exert his will upon his surroundings in ways that he previously never dreamed of. From this realization sprang a new human desire to exist not as God's child but as a creator himself. As the mechanical engine of industrialization purred along, man realized he could create the world he wanted, complete with skyscrapers and microcomputers. He began to use up and remake the world around him. In such a manner, the elevated primate came to regard himself as empowered. Naturally, he came to place himself at the center of the world that he was rapidly re-constructing. Man has become the measure of all things, including our moral compass.

"Why should the rules of one tribe, two thousand years ago, guide our thoughts in this day and age?" the modern man might say. After all, he need only look around to realize that this world is no longer congruous with that which birthed the Bible. Man has created a new world. And with a wave of his inspired hand, today's elevated primate prefers to play things by ear, to weigh the pros and cons of any particular moral dilemma for himself.

Consequently, we are witnessing the breakup of an immutable moral foundation. We live in an era when moral relativism increasingly supplants any understanding of moral absolutes.

Bottom line: Relativism is breeding like bacteria.

And what hath this new relativism wrought? Crime in this country is rampant, while parents are slowly growing alarmed at the violent tendencies of our youth. The latter seem to have particular trouble choosing the right behavior--such as making moral decisions, respecting their elders, accepting responsibility for their actions--because they lack self-discipline and resolute moral examples.

Sadly, we have reached a point where people would rather rob a store than work in one. Drug dealers confiscate entire city blocks, stalking through the streets with their guns. Criminals are glorified in the popular-culture media as symbols of empowerment who refuse to be neutered by society's repressive rules. (Think of the Sopranos or gangsta rappers.) People are casually profane. Once-common courtesies fall by the wayside.

As always, our adolescents test extremes. But now they lack the moral foundation, the boundaries that eventually pull one back into society. They are guided not so much by long-honored principles of right and wrong as by fleeting moments of desire and whim. And so they drift about, unable to cure their moral indifference with the sort of definitive code and actions that religion fosters.

Moralists grow alarmed. But the rest of society slides slowly toward indifference--a pattern set in motion by the modern relativist and his tendency to place himself at the center of the universe, just before the fall.

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