One of the shortcomings of Christianity (in my humble opinion) is its ineffectiveness at teaching the wisdom of God’s laws. In my 16 years of education in Catholic schools, the laws of the Church — including but not limited to laws about personal morality — were presented more as a series of seemingly arbitrary rules that one must follow to secure one’s place in heaven. The focus was on some distant future, not the here and now. Obedience, not understanding, was what mattered. God’s motives were inscrutable, or (to the extent they could be discerned at all) were based on authority, not love.
This, it seems to me, has been a mistake of unfathomable proportions.
While obedience to the laws of God may well result in an eternity in paradise, what has become increasingly clear to me over the years is that compliance with those laws is fundamental to a society here on earth in which human beings can flourish and prosper.
The precepts set forth in the Ten Commandments are as good an example as any. Among the admonitions handed down by God to Moses on Mount Sinai were:
— First and foremost, to worship only the one true God, not any of the many pagan gods popular in the Middle Eastern cultures surrounding the Israelites
— To set aside a day of rest (the Sabbath)
— To honor one’s father and mother
— The prohibition against murder
— The prohibition against adultery
— The prohibition against theft
— The prohibition against lying
— The prohibition against envy and covetousness
Consider the extent to which American society has decided to abandon these principles in favor of selfishness and easy gratification; what have we wrought?
Marriage no longer holds the primary place in our society as it once did. Infidelity is common. While the divorce rate in the United States is down from its highest point in the 1980s, nearly 50% of all marriages will still end in divorce. Furthermore, some of the decline can be attributed to the fact that fewer Americans are marrying at all. In other words, an additional consequence of decades of broken commitments is that the latest generation of Americans is even less likely to make those commitments in the first place.
Society suffers greatly without a culture of strong marriages and families, and children arguably pay the highest price. Almost 25% of all children in America grow up in single-parent homes — and it is usually the father who is absent. A shocking figure released by the U.S. Census in 2015 showed that fully 54% of teens aged 15-17 had grown up in broken families where their parents had either never married or had divorced.
Research shows that children from broken and single-parent homes are more likely to grow up in poverty, less likely to achieve academically, attend college or experience upward financial mobility, more likely to suffer from emotional or psychological illness (including depression and suicidal ideation) and more likely to engage in risky and destructive behavior like drug use, sexual promiscuity and crime. Yes, there are exceptions. But by almost every conceivable metric, success in life is more difficult for these children.
So much of this can be laid at the feet of the sexual revolution, which sought to separate sexual behavior from marriage and the procreation of children. When sex is reconstituted as being primarily for entertainment or personal gratification, the children who are conceived outside of marriage are often considered unwanted. The pill and other forms of contraceptives were supposed to usher in an era of freedom from biological reality. But contraceptives often fail (or are simply not used). Thus, abortion on demand becomes a fallback.
The Israelites of the Old Testament would have been familiar with the Canaanite god Moloch. According to historians, infants were sacrificed by dumping them into the belly of a statue of the pagan deity in which a fire burned to consume its victims. As barbaric as that practice sounds to modern ears, America has had its own history of child sacrifice. More than 60 million children have been aborted since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. (The numbers have been declining in recent years, and it remains to be seen what the recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will do to the total number of abortions in the U.S. each year.)
It is not only in matters of sex, marriage and the family where our society is choosing to deviate from the wisdom of God’s laws, and we are reaping the destructive consequences. In cities and states across the country, laws have been changed in ways that fail to punish criminals — and therefore fail to protect law-abiding citizens. In California, for example, thieves can now steal up to $950 worth of property without being charged with a felony. (Which means, as a practical matter, that they are not charged at all.) Theft has become rampant in Los Angeles and San Francisco. New York changed its law in 2020 to eliminate cash bail; criminals are now released immediately after being arrested and charged; hundreds of crimes have been committed by released repeat offenders, many of them violent. In Waukesha, Wisconsin, last December, Darrell Brooks Jr. drove his SUV into a Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens more. Brooks had been released on a paltry $1,000 bail just three weeks prior, despite a record of violent offences across three states, and after having run over his girlfriend with his car.
One would think that we would wise up upon seeing the damage we are doing to ourselves, our children, our families and our communities by discarding time-tested principles, and seek to return to them as quickly as possible.
But then, we would need to be a society that prized wisdom.