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November 25, 2013

Moral Progress or Decline? Beyond Knockout!

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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Some say we are morally getting better, some say we are getting worse. What is your moral assessment of your family, your neighborhood, your nation, your world?

I am torn by this question because I see evidence in both directions.

The good: there is arguably more equality (fairness) and opportunity (i.e. freedom) for certain groups than there were one or two generations ago. That is morally good.

The better: There is more healing ministries around the world where millions more are getting their health needs meet than just 20 years ago. That’s even better.

The great: And as Bono points out, we are even making headway on world hunger

That is morally fantastic and cause for us singing praises to what God is doing in the hearts of many people who don’t even acknowledge him. I celebrate with Bono. I want to do more like Bono is doing.

Recently I watched several YouTube videos designed by Unilever in England to reassure parents of unborn babies that they can have hope for their new babies. The theme of Project Sunlight is about working toward better sustainability. That is a campaign that should encourage us and motivate us to get with these groups to work for the good.

Even in my household, we are downsizing, reducing our carbon footprint and getting more involved in helping others solve real problems with hope, sacrifice and encouragement.

So, there are a lot of reasons to believe things are getting better, even moral things.

Phi Delta Kappa—with Gallup—has been the organization for teachers in the US—does a poll about what people want for and think about American schools.  Despite all the negativity about public education some parents are saying things are much better than when they were kids: better services, more opportunities (especially for girls and minorities), better facilities, better teaching. Interestingly, in the past it seems that white, educated men who are conservative are the ones that think things are getting worse while minority females who vote democratic see things getting better. Hmmmm interesting.

(Click here for the most recent poll which has less emphasis on getting better or worse but does create some good directions we can be optimistic about ).

Last year, I joined the optimist club mainly because a friend kept pestering me to do so. I have to admit it has been good for my dire view about the future of morality. My hope was waning until I started reaching out more and working with others in the community who are doing real stuff to help make the world better. I purchased a book to help me see this good stuff. Bradley Wright’s UPSIDE is a well-researched book about the “surprising good news about the state of our world.” From a strongly Christian perspective I felt like I should start being more full of smiles than only trials. He gives the sober stuff but also the good stuff about trends that should make us happy about some moral progress.

I don’t want to become just another cranky old white man blogging about how morality is going to pot (remembering the Gallup poll about who is feeling better about our schools and I reel in my bony finger and look for more to praise).

But then I read CNN and Fox—and listen to the radio and sounds like things are getting worse, dreadfully worse.

People cite the Knockout movement where youth randomly punch people in the head to see if they can knock them unconscious.  That is morally downhill, worse, its just plain stupid activity. But I don’t think that defines even a percent of our youth. They want to grow.

But I do see some more detrimental trends that concern me.

Jonathan Haidt outlines, however, ideas that keeps me sober within my optimism. He says there are four moral asteroids headed to destroy our planet:

  1. Global warming or the general need for sustainability of food and environment
  2. The disparity between the have’s and the have nots.
  3. The demise of a two parent home
  4. The growth of entitlement.

I agree with Haidt. I think these four general trends are serious reminder may be getting worse.

Jesus didn’t seem optimistic about things getting better when he delivered his last full sermon on earth. In Matthew 24 he outlines just how bad it will get: wars, famines, and then just to make the point, he said that was only the beginning of how bad it was going to get.

It is hard to be optimistic when Jesus isn’t smiling.

And listen to one of his best spokesmen, Paul, who was even more pessimistic: “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13, NIV).

“All who desire to live a goldy life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 12-17

Wow, I found myself in a dilemma. I follow Jesus and consider his word the last word, but see some promising moral changes in my world. What should I do: be optimistic about our moral future or pesimistic.

The key has come from seeing the good that is working also. For example, in Jesus’ long sermon on Matthew 24,25 he talks about those who did do good and didn’t even know they were doing good and that Jesus commends them. The problems were increasing and they were increasing their resources to help solve them: more classes of cold water, more clothes, more prison visits….more to meet the problems.

And then, if you know that after his big Mt 24, 25 talk, he also spent time telling his disciples that he wanted their love to grow more and more (read John 14-17).

If you read the prophets only with a pessimistic mind and eye, you don’t see the positivity. Its about the ability to decide NOT to be a part of the problem and CHOOSE to be part of the solution.

Even Paul’s last letter is one of hope:

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” 2 Tim 2:2

There are trustworthy people that will hear the voice of moral reason and respond. Love can grow in some even as it is waning in others. “Because wickedness is increasing, the love of many will grow cold” but not everyone. That was Jesus point with John 14-17. The churched of the beloved would learn to love despite the chaotic and downward trend.

And it seems people like Bono and Haidt and others are out in front. I hope the church can catch up.

One of the reasons I joined the Optimist club other than to respond to a friends request, was how much I loved their creed…especially the part about giving every living creature you meet a smile.  Not a bad idea!!!

For me, it has come down to what Moses set before the people: life or death. You decide.

Two of the most powerful passages have helped me think may way through the “better or worse” conundrum.

Jeremiah 18 and Ezekiel 18.

They suggest the power of choice and the power of change.

First, in Jeremiah 18, a person can chose something different than his fathers and do good or evil.

Second, in Ezekiel 18, a person or nation can be headed in one direction and change.

“At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.”

So, the trend is mixed….some going up, some going down….

The question is rather you will be on the right side helping go up or the wrong side going down.

Lord of hope and healing, I want to be part of the solution not the problem.

First, please strengthen my attempts to reduce my carbon footprint, help build up families, promote the distribution of wealth, and help empower people to get OFF their entitlement mentalities. Second, I want to keep celebrating success that takes care of your children: Thanks Bono!!! Third, I want to keep blogging what you teach me so that what is good about these ideas can be entrusted to others who are much more trustworthy than I to make good happen.

I trust you will keep your promise of Ezekiel 18—even if that means changing you mind about all that fire stuff.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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