By LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON
(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four articles concerning America’s cultural and moral decline. Lawrence P. Grayson is a visiting scholar in The School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America.)
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Ever since the social forces unleashed in the 1960s overran the Christian mores of the country, America has continued to move toward becoming a more irreligious nation. In the last half century, there has been a progressive offensive against the public display and acknowledgment of religion, accompanied by lifestyle practices and social abuses which are antithetical to Christian beliefs. Marriage, the family, and even life itself have been degraded.
Today, a great deal of social practice and political action in the nation is incompatible with Christian principles.
In 1970, California passed a law that legalized no-fault divorce. By 1985, every state allowed it. A rationale for this change was that when there were irreconcilable differences, the partners would not have to lie about the other’s infidelity to develop grounds for divorce. The result, however, transformed the marriage bond from a lifelong covenant into a cancelable contract.
A movement to remove the procreative rationale for marriage and make it a contract for material security followed. With this reasoning, marriage is now being viewed as a civil agreement between any two people, regardless of gender. In 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared that limiting marriage to a man and a woman was discriminatory against same-sex couples, and legalized homosexual marriages in that state.
A number of other states have followed that lead, while others now allow civil unions, an arrangement which confers a material status equivalent to marriage.
With the emphasis in marriage on individual satisfaction, there was no reason why pregnancy should hinder personal desires. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women had a constitutional right to privacy under the 14th Amendment, and based on that they could choose to abort any child they were carrying. The period of legality for abortion has been extended from conception to the moment preceding birth of a full-term child. Since the ruling, some 55 million babies, which is the equivalent of the combined populations of California and New York, have been killed by abortion.
These changes have occurred with minimal resistance from the Christian community, even though Christians form the majority of the United States population. Too many Christians, including Catholics, have accepted the notion that religion is a matter that should be restricted to one’s private life. They limit religious expression to a Sunday worship service, and pursue their material ends the rest of the week. Their religious beliefs are carefully compartmentalized and therefore do not impinge on their behavior in the secular world.
Increasingly, religious beliefs are becoming diluted and the nation is becoming de-Christianized as people accommodate themselves to a society which is militantly secular and highly materialistic. Media that glorify sex, easy access to pornography, rap music that extols killing, the acceptance of all lifestyles as valid in the name of tolerance, schools that teach children about sexuality and provide them the means to practice it, and a myriad of similar influences which operate steadily, but silently, undermine traditional family values and mitigate against the transmission of Christian beliefs and traditions from generation to generation.
Pope John Paul II drew a distinction between secularity and secularism. The former is advantageous in a pluralistic society as it separates the political realm from the religious. Secularity implies that the state is non-clerical and is concerned solely with the temporal concerns of its people, leaving the religious sphere to operate as it sees fit. A state founded on secularity ensures the free exercise of worship and of the spiritual, cultural, and charitable activities of the communities of believers.
Secularism, in contrast, is an ideology that promotes indifference to religion and disallows any public expression of faith or religious considerations. It relegates faith to the private sphere and leads, over time, to restrictions on religious liberty, promoting contempt or ignorance of religion. A government based on secularism is intolerant of religion and attempts to impose its own values on the consciences of the people and exerts pressures to have religiously based organizations operate according to totally secular norms, even when those norms violate the tenets of the religion.
Today, America is moving from the principles of secularity, upon which it was founded, to those of secularism. It is occurring on a consistent basis in innumerable ways. It is seen in the rejection of a display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses, in forbidding the saying of nonsectarian prayers in public schools, in forcing pharmacists to dispense birth control and abortifacient medications even if it goes against their consciences, in attempting to require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, in repeated actions to take the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, in trying to mandate that Catholic social service agencies allow same-sex couples to adopt children, and the list goes on. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the accompanying mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services, the incursions on faith have become a frontal assault on religious liberty.
The movement toward a dominant secularism must be reversed or America as we know it will cease to exist. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated: “A culture, a nation that cuts itself off from the great ethical and religious forces of its own history commits suicide.”
The route back will not be easy, but, with God’s help, it can be done.