Are these really the worst of times?

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But of Cicero, 1st Century C.E.

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But of Cicero, 1st Century C.E.

But of Cicero, 1st Century C.E.

But of Cicero, 1st Century C.E.

“O Tempora, O Mores,” cried Cicero, and you’d be hard pressed to find a time when somebody wasn’t lamenting the decline of morals. That said, we Americans are living at a moment when the jeremiads have gotten louder. Here’s a typical example, from Father Andrew Petiprin, rector of St. Mary of the Angels Episcopal Church in Orlando, writing over at Covenant.

We have slid down the slippery slope, hurried away from a biblical vision of rightly ordered humanity, and our culture now consists of work with with no intrinsic end, mind-numbing entertainment, ubiquitous self-medication, the valorization of every sexual desire and identity under the sun, genetic manipulation, and industrial levels of abortion on demand with the harvesting of baby organs.

I’d like to suggest the opposite.

In America today, violent crime hasn’t been so low since the 1970s. Abortions have been in steady decline for a quarter-century. There is new concern about the plight of the poor, about income inequality. Society as a whole has become aware of police brutality toward people of color, and we are beginning to do something about it. The death penalty is on the way out.

Sexual abuse of minors is being taken more seriously than ever before. We are living through a golden age of mind-challenging television and podcasts. Prejudice against gays and lesbians is disappearing, and their right to marry those they love has been recognized. A greater percentage of Americans have health insurance than ever before. The minimum wage is on the rise. The imminent threat of climate change is finally on the political map.

Is there much to be accomplished? Of course there is. I’d put establishing a path to citizenship for our undocumented immigrants right up there. And while I’m not exactly sure what work with an intrinsic end is, it would be good if more people were employed by enterprises whose sole concern wasn’t increasing shareholder value.

I understand, of course, the conservative hue and cry over same-sex marriage and the contraception mandate. Likewise, that the rise of the Nones and the difficulty of getting millennials to show up in church makes it more difficult to communicate your biblical vision of rightly ordered humanity.

But slippery slope? Let’s get real.

  • Don

    I notice the author was highly selective in his response. I can only assume he agrees with the idea that “our culture now consists of work with no intrinsic end, mind-numbing entertainment, ubiquitous self-medication, the valorization of every sexual desire.”

  • Larry

    Genocide is harder to carry out than it was even 50 years ago.

    Dictatorships can no longer control the flow of information going through their nations.

    Endemic famine is a thing of the past outside of conflicted regions. War is now the chief source of starvation in the world as opposed to lack of food production.

    Wars of aggression between developed nations are an aberration as opposed to a regular occurrence.

    Nuclear armageddon is unlikely.

    People are more aware of human rights abuses throughout the world than before.

  • Jack

    Silk is right about the unmistakable progress that has occurred. In terms of the basics regarding culture and morality, America is a better, not worse place, than in the 1970s. Yes, pop culture is worse, and yes, images in TV and the Internet are more graphic in terms of sex and violence, but no, Americans in daily life are not worse, but better — far better than in the 1970s. On almost every measure of social pathology, Americans are behaving themselves better than at any time since before the 1960s.

    So while the images coming out of America are often vile and creepy, Americans in real life do not live that way….not even close.

  • Jack

    I can’t believe I’m agreeing 100% with a post from LarryWorld, but this time, I am.

  • Nanabedokw’Môlsem

    One small dissent from the way you spoke of things: “if more people were employed by enterprises whose sole concern wasn’t increasing shareholder value” … I would suggest it’s increasing ‘executive compensation’.

  • Jack

    Silk makes excellent points…..Unfortunately, he undermines the effectiveness of his article by unabashed cheerleading on controversial cultural issues.

    But this tactic, while distracting, doesn’t change the fact that he is right in his larger argument:

    Americans are not becoming more decadent at all….the opposite is the case.

  • Jack

    To sum up, America’s a moral and cultural paradox: Sometimes it looks and talks like Ozzie Osborne, but it still lives more like Ozzie and Harriet.

  • Larry

    I will accept the compliment, despite being somewhat passive aggressive. 🙂

  • Glenn Harrell

    Mark–Somehow I picture you with a tear streaming down your face as you gaze longingly at a picture of President Obama. For he and his staff have made you the optimistic man you are today.

    You must know that the good Father Petiprin you quoted, though he will not inspire blog commentary on the scale you perhaps hope, is in tune with real life, and not the statistical fog you feel offers some kind of “hope and change.”

    Thank you for his quote. Real substance.

  • Jack

    Well, enjoy it while you can, because I’m sure we’ll be back to arguing about other things…..

    Nonetheless, you’ve gotten some really important things right in your post and someone needs to say so.

  • Jack

    I’ve read Mark Silk’s columns for awhile now, and I genuinely believe he’d be writing the same thing if Bush were still in office.

  • Gabe

    About that work with no intrinsic value, read at the New York Times a piece on “inside Amazon.”

  • Georger Nixon Shuler

    Good stuff. The whining by right-wing extremists and the outright grifting going on, fooling the gullible in believing GGAAWWDDDDD is going to DEE-STROY! America for, what, gay marriage, or something, finally needs an answer. And this fellow has provided it, revealing the fraud and carnival show for what it is – a gross insult to diety based entirely on monetizing religion.

    Of course, Patti Smith provided the answer also in the song “Ask The Angels” some 38 years ago: “World ending? It’s just beginning!”

    George Nixon Shuler, Junction City KS