The Decline of a Society (part 1)

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My recent short visit to Lancaster County, PA, was delightful, and surprising my parents was priceless. I almost was greeted by a less-than-friendly noise, however, when I “broke into” my parents’ home. My dad had deactivated their new security system just minutes before.

My home town has changed. Physically speaking, Elizabethtown is nearly identical to the town of my youth. Yes, we have a McDonalds, and a K-Mart, they’ve both been there for a long time now. Sure, a lot of farmland has disappeared and given way to sprawling housing developments. But the bigger changes have been smaller, cultural aspects that belie a downward trend in what really makes a culture enjoyable and wholesome.

We visited Dale’s Drum Shop in Harrisburg. A funny, eclectic salesman apologized for the lack of selection for Splash cymbals. Splash cymbals are normally only 8-12 inches wide. Because they are small, they are targets for theft. The stand with those cymbals used to be in the back of the story, until one day they discovered that someone must have stuffed a bunch of them in their coat. Two days later we visited a Radio Shack, and I asked about the new iPhone 5c and 5s models. Oh, we don’t display them, the helpful saleman said. They have a tendency to walk out of the store.

I was at K-Mart purchasing an XBOX game for my son, and wanted to pay for it. An older gentleman was receiving some help from the young lady at the cashier. She was telling him how to figure out some features on his cell phone. After several minutes of waiting, I asked her if I could pay for my purchase at the other cashiers at the front of the store. This produced in the man a pretty venemous rant, controlled but nasty, and laced with profanity, about how people (in this case, me) were %$#@# and intolerant. Really?

What’s going on? Has the whole world gone mad?

In a culture that touts tolerance, we’re becoming intolerant. Why? Because ultimately tolerance is dependent upon other more concrete virtues, like goodness and self-sacrifice, like forgiveness and love, humility even. Whereas tolerance can be considered a Christian value, it is a rather treacherous value, because it can be co-opted by the culture to condone all manner of activities and attitudes that should never be acceptable. Tolerance is a whispy, whimsical and slippery value. It is a transparent value that is defined by what it contains.

Goodness and self-sacrifice, on the other hand, are solid. As soon as goodness is not good, it is not goodness. Altruism forces us outside ourselves. The Golden Rule is foundational to a healthy society, and to the degree that we as a people abandon “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is to the degree that we will need to take the iPhones off the selves, and shield our children’s ears from the profanity around us. Under the guise of tolerance we are losing the ability to truly be so. There is no anchor for society anymore. No wonder my parents need a security system.

More on this tomorrow.

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