“We have met the enemy and he is us.” —Pogo
This quote, written by cartoonist Walt Kelly more than 40 years ago, is as appropriate now as it ever has been. Given our dismal state of affairs in public or private—no pun intended—whether it’s about finances or our social welfare, there’s much blame to go around.
Yet all we read in the papers and hear from pundits of all political stripes is the “other guy” is to blame for everything that is wrong with America.
Could it be that we are simply reaping what we’ve already sown? Consider these facts as they are presented by a credible institution that studies these things:
A 2003 study by the Barna Group highlights the contradictory nature of American citizens. Though 83 percent of all adults indicated they are concerned about the moral condition of America, many of their views conflict with the moral teachings of their own professed faith. In the same survey, 84 percent indicated they consider themselves to be Christian.
Of the 10 moral behaviors evaluated, a majority believed three behaviors to be morally acceptable: gambling, co-habitation and sexual fantasies.
Of the other 10 moral behaviors, nearly half believed it was morally acceptable to have an abortion and to engage in sexual activities with someone other than their spouse. Nearly a third of these adults also gave their stamp of approval of viewing pornography, the use of profanity, drunkenness and homosexual sex.
Contrast that statistic with a low approval rating of the use of non-prescription drugs (17 percent).
George Barna indicates the long-term trend of Americans’ views of morality continues on a downward slope, suggesting we may even see a more rapid decline in a few years. He suggests people seem to be aware of the problem but do not see themselves as contributors to it.
Having said that, please remember this study is nearly 10 years old, that the numbers may already have changed and not for the better.
In the interest of fairness, evangelicals indicated somewhat lower tendencies to submit to the 10 moral behaviors. However, in my opinion, in the current marketplace of ideas, the icon of evangelicalism has become synonymous with radical political conservatism while the basic tenets of our faith—love, compassion, redemption, grace, mercy, humility and fidelity—have taken the back seat as political action takes the front stage.
In that sense, the message of hope and redemption has been compromised and those who carry that message are deemed irrelevant.
Rather than demonstrating to the world how to live by our actions, we have chosen to follow the easier road through legislation and political action.
Not surprisingly, another report by the Barna Group indicates evangelicals strongly support legislation establishing Christianity as our national religion.
Apparently, we have forgotten that our ancestors fled the old world in search of freedom to worship according to their own conscience and not according to the dictates of an official church/state edict. We have already forgotten why the establishment clause was included in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and how crucial its influence was in the formation of our great nation.
What does that have to do with us in Marion County? Do we accept Barna’s premise that there is a perceived disconnection between our beliefs and actual behavior? If a poll were taken today, I doubt we would see a majority agreeing with the premise.
We believe ourselves to be a good, moral people. Yet a brief glance in the legal section of our newspapers suggests we are far from perfect.
We attend church and participate in many ministries to assist people in financial and spiritual need; if one were to observe our activities, they might conclude we live a perfect life.
Yet if one were a fly on the wall of any coffee shop in town or any home at any given time, we might discover that most of us are not picture perfect and struggle with one or more moral issues that contradicts our profession of faith.
It’s time that we acknowledge the obvious. It’s not “those evil people” that are responsible for our moral decline. In Pogo’s words, we have met the enemy and he is us.
How am I doing so far? It hurts as much to read these words as it does to write them.
Now for the cure. Rather than focusing on others and what they have or have not done, we need to take personal responsibility for our own actions and change behavior that is more in conformity to what we say we believe.
With God’s help, we can begin the journey to change not only our lives but the lives of everyone who is within our sphere of influence.
Paul Penner originally wrote this column in 2012.