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What Moral Crisis?

Saturday, February 28, 2009 2:32 PM Comments (0)

In the editorial I posted below, the Register characterized Obama as picking which crisis to focus on (the economic one) ... and which to ignore (the moral one). Michael Medved might beg to disagree.

“Why do so many otherwise reasonable people feel an odd compulsion to embrace the illogical and unsupportable notion of the nation’s total moral collapse?” he asks in his Feb. 25 column “America’s Teens: Not As Raunchy or Irresponsible as You Think.”

“Despite irrefutable evidence of dramatically declining rates of crime, divorce, drug abuse, traffic accidents, smoking, abortion and even environmental pollution in the last 20 years, most Americans insist that the ethical state of the nation has never been worse,” he writes.

In the column, he points to the Jan. 27 New York Times, where Tara Parker-Pope wrote, “The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity.”

Medved cites her “startling and unexpectedly reassuring statistics.” From his piece:

—The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey recently showed that the majority of all high school students, both male and female, remained virgins. In 2007, only 47.8% had ever had sex –a sharp drop from 54.1% in 1991.

—Meanwhile, a 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services also showed that teenagers seemed more determined to postpone their first sexual encounters. Only 30% of 15-to-17 year old girls had experienced sex—dramatically down from 38% in 1995. In the same period (just seven years, remember), the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group declined from 43% to 31%.

- Younger teenagers also showed significant decreases in sexual experimentation. In 1995, an alarming 20% said they had had sex before age fifteen, but by 2002 the numbers decreased to just 13% of girls (and 15% of boys).

He goes on to explain why public perception isn’t syncing up with this “dramatic” moral reversal.

What to say to all this?

First, to give him his due, Medved does provide an important corrective. In every age there are two extremes: Those who see nothing wrong with the times they live in, and those who see their times as hopeless.

We religious folks tend to fall into the second extreme. We romanticize history and forget that other ages were also marked by grievous sins: Feudalism was a nightmare system of oppression; the Industrial Revolution turned human beings into cogs; the casual racism of the beginning of the 20th century makes us wince when we glimpse it. We have abortion; our forefathers had slavery. We objectify women with pornography; others did it by denying them rights.

But second, the moral crisis we pointed to didn’t depend on rising teen sex rates. What about child sexual abuse? What about pornography? What about suicide rates? We did mention that casual sex is common from a young age, and I think that’s a justifiable thing to point out: The rates may have dropped, but calling their drop “dramatic” doesn’t change the fact that they are still very high.

And third, as Pope John Paul II and others have pointed out, the greatest sin in our day isn’t any particular sin, but the loss of the sense of sin.

Even for sinners who are obstinately wrong, there is still hope, provided they admit sin exists. They may pay the homage of hypocrisy to the truth, but they pay homage all the same. People who just don’t care whether they are sinning or not are another matter.

If teen sex is declining, why is it declining? Because there’s a healthy sense that it’s wrong? In the age of pornography, I doubt that. If it’s declining, it’s probably because the prevalence of venereal disease has made it so dangerous.

To get more moral, you need God. As Pope Benedict XVI put it: “Where God is excluded from the public forum, the sense of offense against God—the true sense of sin—dissipates, just as when the absolute value of moral norms is relativized the categories of good or evil vanish, along with individual responsibility.”

Heck, in our day, even ministers aren’t willing to call sin, sin.

And so, we return to the editorial’s main point, and reiterate: Shouldn’t we be most concerned about the crisis of our day that dwarfs all others—the moral one?

Filed under weekend commentary

About Guest Blogger/Tom Hoopes

Tom  Hoopes
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Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He has written for the Register for more than 20 years and was its executive editor for 10. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children.