Do Moral Values Change with the Times?
One of the most common objections I hear to biblical morality is short, succinct, and to the point: “It’s 2018!” In other words, “How can you believe in such outdated values in this day and age?” But do morals change the way technology changes? Or could it be that, when it comes to moral values, the older is sometimes better?
In our new animated video, “What Does It Mean to Be a Conservative?”, I made the case that a true conservative would not believe in the redefinition of marriage or the fluidity of gender. In response, one viewer commented, “Politically it means you’re 100 years behind the times and you don’t understand public policy or economic policy that works.”
So, are we behind the times if we don’t embrace the latest social trends? Are the moral values of 2018 better than, say, 1918, or 1018, or 18, or 1018 BC?
There’s no question that we’ve taken some positive strides in the world today. Slavery, while still practiced, is widely abhorred. Apartheid and segregation are recognized as wrong. War is not necessarily the first option considered in resolving international conflicts. All of that is good.
There also is much more equality and opportunity for women than at virtually any time in the past, through many parts of the world.
On the other hand, the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history.
This was not just because of technological advances, which allowed for more killing. It was also because of massive human evil.
In any generation, men like Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot would have stood out for their cold-blooded, murderous ways. Yet all of them rose to national prominence, and some were even popular during their heyday. What can explain the embrace of such wickedness?
And can we really boast about the morality of 2018 when we have aborted more than 55 million babies in America since 1973, not to mention an estimated 1.5 million worldwide since 1980?
How about our sexual mores in 2018? Are we more moral today than, say, 50 years ago? In virtually every category, the answer is no.
This includes: exposure to pornography (beginning, on average as early as 11 years old – or some even claim as early as 8), sex out of wedlock, and no-fault divorce. (Will anyone argue that it’s morally better if our kids start having sex at younger ages? Or that no-fault divorce has strengthened families?)
And did I mention the increasing acceptance of things like polyamory and consensual adult incest? This acceptance points to the hardening of our hearts, not the fine-tuning of our moral sensitivities.
To flesh this out, as I noted in Saving a Sick America, Americans in the late-1950s to early-1960s enjoyed watching Father Knows Best and The Andy Griffith Show; today we enjoy watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Secret Diary of a Call Girl. . . . In the late-50s to early-60s, Annette Funicello was a popular, young female star singing songs like “Pineapple Princes”; today it’s Miley Cyrus, singing songs like “Wrecking Ball” – in the nude, riding a wrecking ball, on her music video.
Or compare Andy Griffith to Stalker or Hannibal, or Lawrence Welk to the annual MTV Music Awards. Or watch an old Elvis movie where he shakes his hips – that was so controversial – and compare that to the latest crotch-grabbing, bootie shaking music video (those have been around for quite some time now). And be sure to compare the lyrics too.
If you’re a young person reading this and you’re not familiar with the older shows, take a few minutes to watch some of the episodes. They’re readily available on YouTube, and you’ll be amazed by what you see. Watch an episode of Lassie, then switch over to American Horror Story, or compare West Side Story to Natural Born Killers (which is considered old these days). Then go back to The Flintstonescartoon show – remember, we would watch this together as a family – and compare it to today’s animated shows like South Park or Adult Swim.
Surely we are taking many steps backwards, not forwards, as poll after poll confirms.
One commenter to our recent video on true conservatism wrote: “To preserve ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’…
“The cornerstone of society is the family.
“Therefore a conservative seeks to conserve the traditional family. Anything that seeks to weaken or destroy the traditional family is liberalism. . . .
“ALL true conservatives seek to conserve the cornerstone of the traditional family and its relationship to society through means of protecting liberty.”
What this means is that newer is not always better, especially when it comes to moral values.
That’s why we must reject what C. S. Lewis termed “chronological snobbery.” As explained by Owen Barfield, Lewis was referring to “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”
Or as J. I. Packer put it so well, with biting sarcasm (and not just in terms of morality but also theology), “the newer is the truer, only what is recent is decent, every shift of ground is a step forward, and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject.”
That is self-evidently not the case.
That’s why past societies tended to hold their elders in high respect (not just because of their age but also because of their wisdom). And that’s why we have verses in the Bible that say, “”Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, ‘Which one is the good way?’ Take it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16, CJB).
There is a reason people still travel these “ancient paths,” and quite often, the older is better. That certainly applies in many ways today, in 2018.
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