Grass-Roots Morality

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear another case on the public display of the Ten Commandments. However the court rules, it won’t solve the problem.

I believe the federal courts have erred in banning religious displays from the public commons. I believe they erred when they forced the 50 states to legalize abortion. I understand the nostalgia of a lot of Americans for a more moral society. But that more moral society cannot be established by court rulings, laws or public displays of religious symbols.

Morality, like true democracy, must exist at the grass-roots level. A wise Chinese sage said a long time ago that a strong country begins with strong families. If families taught respect for life, all of the abortion clinics would go out of business; if families were moral, there would be no market for profitable immorality in the form of pornography and sleazy movies and television shows. If the families were religious, it wouldn’t matter whether there were public displays of religious symbols.

There is a line in the excellent movie Rob Roy in which hero of the film tells his son, “Honor is a gift a man gives to himself.” In other words, if you decide to live an honorable life regardless of the consequences, there is nothing anybody can do to stop you. The same is true of religious faith and morality. If you decide to believe in God and to follow the precepts of your faith, there is nothing the government can do to stop you. A government far more cruel and ruthless than ours once tried to stamp out Christianity and failed.

Religious people in the U.S. have been victimized by politicians and lawyers. Vote for this guy, litigate this issue, and the world will be OK again. To use religious symbols, this is just old Satan wearing a new disguise and promising the world for votes and money. He will take the votes and the money, but he won’t deliver what he promises. In the meantime, the religious people neglect what they should be doing, which is changing society by the example of their lives.

Even my libertarian friends sometimes slip into the trap of believing that people have less freedom than they actually do. Every human being has complete freedom of conscience. You can believe what you like and even do what you like as long as you are willing to accept the consequences. If you are not willing to pay the price for your beliefs, you have only yourself to blame.

Any significant change in this country must start in the hearts and minds of individuals; move from there to families, from families to communities, from communities to states, from states to regions, and only then to the imperial palaces on the Potomac River. Litigation and legislation cannot produce any significant change. They can only nibble on the fringes and deal with mechanical problems.

What we should fear most is the great fog of passivity that has settled over the country. Too many of us passively accept whatever the politicians say; too many passively accept whatever decadent entertainment the small group that controls that industry serves up to us; too many of us passively accept rude behavior, poor service and shoddy products.

America was once a nation of strong, outspoken individuals. You cannot bring about significant reform if you are committed to being politically correct and are afraid of making waves. Political correctness is a strategy to control you, as is the claim that you should never offend anybody.

I don’t know if the American people can find it in themselves to change the direction of the country. The people in some countries have revived their nation’s fortunes, and the people in other countries have not. Rome did not fall in a day. It gradually rotted from the inside.

We should avoid the trap of believing we are a chosen people. We are not. We are a lucky people, the beneficiaries of a bunch of bold, often rapacious ancestors who seized the fattest part of the North American continent and fought off everybody who tried to take it away from them. Politics and litigation were not the answer then, and they are not the answer today.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.