Lesson 14- Examination Of Conscience [part 3]
In my last program I continued our examination of conscience in our quest to understand just how we came to create the mess in which we find ourselves. Unless we admit to God and ourselves how we have “miss the target” or sinned by choosing foolishness over Wisdom, there will be no hope for getting out of this mess. It is said that confession is good for the soul because it puts us in touch with Truth, which is the only thing that is capable of setting us free from the Mental Darkness that clouds our vision and understanding by leading us towards false goods, or gods instead of the Truly Good, or True God. And the criteria for knowing whether we are on the right path is whether our actions add to the sum total of love and union in our world or whether it increases indifference and separation.
The first indication that we are on the wrong path is the growth of loneliness and the movement towards an atomistic existence in which we isolate ourselves from other by moving inward towards “self” rather than outward towards others through service. Salvation is all about the “fullness of life” and life, which is integration, is the opposite of death, which is disintegration. Consider that St. Ireneaus, a disciple of St. Polycarp who knew St. John, the Evangelist, wrote, “The glory of God is Man fully alive.” Compare this to the fact that the word for hell in the Old Testament is Gehenna and it means “empty thought” and that Jesus, who is Father’s Truth and Wisdom, said that he came to lead us to the fullness of life. So, just as Moses said in his parting words to the Hebrews , God has set before us “life and integration or and death and disintegration”. The first is a blessing and the second is a curse and God emphatically urges us to choose life.
So the question facing all of us is whether the technological wonders of the modern world have brought us closer to other people through integration or whether they have cause the disintegration of relationships. And the second question is whether this is the inevitable result of the technology or simply the way that we have chosen to use it. Are we creating a world of broken relationships and personal isolation like the one described by C.S. Lewis in the “Great Divorce” where every wish came true to the point that no one needed to depend on or even interact with anyone else. Such is the result when things begin to replace people. So before we continue our examination of conscience, let’s review those things that we have already considered as violations of Wisdom and in need of reform:
First, the trading off of relationships for real estate after World War II when the younger generation abandoned the older urban communities, with their close relationships, for a sterile suburban existence with few relationships.
Second, the fostering of a separate teenage subculture when working parents substituted money for time with their children and made them targets for advertisers, who undermined adult values by stroking and manipulating every desire and whim of the young.
Third, the surrendering of our responsibility as adults to be the transmitters of cultural values by allowing the media, entertainers, and the young people themselves to dictate what was acceptable in what we did, viewed, wore, and valued.
Fourth, the loss of our own moral compass as the lack of community led to the breakdown of shared values while our children, through their constant exposure to the gurus of modern culture, shared a consensus which was sadly lacking in their parents who were constantly undermined by the decisions of other parents who lacked any sense of what was proper and appropriate.
Fifth, allowing sport stars, wrestler, rock stars, and entertainers, who often modeled negative behavior, to become the role models to whom our children looked up, while failing to develop healthy role models that would lead them in a positive direction. In particular, we have allowed their spirits to be shaped by music and musicians who pander to what is lowest in human nature.
Sixth, permitting our children to become desensitized to violence by allowing them to spend hours memerized by video games that are becoming increasingly filled with gross violence and sex.
Seventh, imprudently gambling with our children’s souls by allowing and supporting fads like Harry Potter to grow in an environment in which there are people, especially in England, who are seriously trying to replace Christianity with older pagan religions based on magic and witchcraft. What we think is just fun and entertainment is serious business for many others and, at the least, it is a near-occasion for sin for a young Christian is who constantly being bombarded by anti-Christian entertainment and influences.
Eighth, the normalization of double income families who bid up the price of housing and other things so that single income families faced poverty and our young adults, faced with these inflated prices, began married life in serious debt.
Ninth, creating a “super-heated” economy that couldn’t last based on the idea of “buy now, pay later” fostered by the credit card industry that was charging “loan shark” rates to people with little or no income. Sooner or later it had to collapse at the first major economic turndown.
Tenth, electing politicians who promised us more while taxing us less. The result was that we and our government became addicted to spending OPM, other people’s money, by borrowing heavily from China and other nations and making the Social Security Trust Fund insolvent by replacing its assets with I.O.U’s.
Eleventh, making the college diploma a prerequisite for being hired even in jobs that didn’t require it. As a result, we have placed ourselves or our children heavily in debt, delayed their adulthood for four more years, watered down our educational system and put an unreasonable strain on our moral laws concerning sex before marriage.
And that summarizes the points that I have made in previous programs concerning things for which we must repent and reform if we intend to follow Wisdom rather than foolishness. However, even though it is presently a long laundry list of fault that could keep us busy for a long time, there are still other ways that we have violated Wisdom that need to be mentioned. For example:
Was it wise for us to bid up the cost of real estate way beyond it actual value and to use the equity in the house as our saving and retirement fund. When I first entered the real estate market upon being married in 1960, my wife and I lived in an apartment for three years before we ventured to buy a row house in Onley for $9,600. For twenty years we paid a mortgage of $80 a month and for twelve more years we lived mortgage free. That is the way it was done. You bought a house to live in it. You raised your children, retired, and died in it. And it was passed on to one of your heirs who went through the same cycle. Until recently, you could still witness this cycle in the Italian section of South Philadelphia where simple row homes were transformed into mansions as each succeeding generation, being mortgage free, spent money adding new improvements. As houses went up for sale, they were snatched up by the relatives of those who were already living there. In this way, the were demonstrating that they valued family and community over real estate.
Years ago, when the Philadelphia teachers were on strike, I helped my step-father, who sold awnings and storm windows, visit some of these houses. Block after block of homes displayed awnings, storm windows, and stone facades that had transformed a block of working-class row homes into a beautiful residential neighborhood. Once you entered any of these homes, you were greeted with in-laid marble vestibules, thick, plush rugs, cathedral ceilings, and expensive furnishings and decorations. But what was even more important was the sense of connectiveness and community that existed among the neighbors, who often were related or attended the same church. These people were not poor even though their ancestors who had built the house may have been. Each generation had built upon the assets of the previous ones and thus, as their income rose, they had more disposable income because they were free of the exorbitant mortgages that were becoming common in the rest of society.
Another such neighborhood exists in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia near the former Eastern State Penitentiary. Even though the area sits right next to a section of urban blight, the people, who have lived there for generations, instead of fleeing, held on to their homes, and maintained their sense of community, which suggests that the major cause of urban blight might have more to do with people fleeing than with other people moving in. And when they flee, they leave behind the old and the poor who then become victims to the chaos that results when any neighborhood loses its sense of community.
We raised our own children in a section of Onley which, although it didn’t contain all the elements of these older ethnic neighborhoods, still had some of their features. Our children played on one of the back streets where there was little traffic and the neighbors sat on their porches watching the children at play. Twelve years ago, when our children were in their late teens, some of my close friends and I moved out of Onley when “white flight” started to eroded away the community base as the quality of those moving in started to decline. Now all of our children are grown and married and, like most of their friends, have moved out of the city to greener pastures. Yet, whenever they get together, their favorite topic is their childhood memories from when they lived in Onley. In fact, many of them visit a website on the Internet where they reconnect with friends from that time in their life. They all admit that there was a closeness and sense of community that existed in the old neighborhood that they have failed to recapture in the newer ones.
As I have mention in earlier programs, this flight from city began following World War II, when the returning soldiers and their new wives started the movement from these older neighborhoods for greener pastures in the suburbs. However, they not only changed where they lived, they also began to change how they looked at things. They and their children began to see their homes, not as permanent dwellings where they and their neighbors could reestablish a new community built around their common and shared interests. Rather they saw their new homes as stepping stones to the next home farther out on the horizon. Like the people in hell in C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce”, the double income family gave them the wealth to make their dream house a reality. Or, at least they thought so. Eventually a pattern developed in which one bought high and resold even higher and then repeated the formulae again and again. And each time this happened, they gained in property value but loss in human connectiveness with members of their own family and with their neighbors. Separation and isolation began to replace integration and connection with others to the point that “self” became the center of the universe. In short, love and its role of uniting, was diminishing. Then their homes began to take on a new function by replacing any need for savings or retirement funds. Real estate always went up, they thought, and by the time they retired they would have a pretty nest egg in the sale of their house. And as they bid the price of housing way beyond any reasonable limits, their married children were forced to buy in an inflated real estate market and found themselves, already saddle with educational loans, taking on mortgages in the three, four, five, and even six thousand dollars range. And debt and the need to reduce it became the major focus of many marriages. Any reasonable person began to wonder where it would stop. Some people began to predict a megaopolis where the separation between towns and cities would be eliminated resulting from the frenzy to constantly buy up valuable farm land to build new houses. Would the next generations be looking at one million dollar mortgages? And would they eventually wonder where they were going to find farm land to feed future populations?
And, just as in education where the college diploma became almost a necessity and a right, the government, in its obsession with making everyone equal, decided that everyone had a right to live in the suburbs, whether they could afford it or not. Thus, it decided to guarantee mortgage loans, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, just as it had backed up student loans. And in both cases, the banks were encouraged to make bad loans that often resulted in default. But why should they care so long as the government assured them that they would guarantee the money if the banks couldn’t get it through the resale of the house in a rising real estate market.
Well now we know, whatever goes up, eventually comes down and the number of toxic loans rose to such a level that the banks were caught with thousands of homes in a declining market, that they were unable to unload. So who paid? We did through the billions of dollars of our tax money that the government used to bail them out. But wait, we didn’t pay. We don’t elect politicians who raise our taxes so they had to go once again to China to bail us out knowing that we would never object so long as we were spending “other people’s money”. If it had been our money, acquired through increased taxation, we would have paid more attention. The truth would have set us free but our political leaders knew that if they ever told us the truth, they would have been out of a job and a lot of these well intended, but foolish, attempts at social engineering, would never have gotten off the ground.
Nearly every time the government starts to pump vast amount of money into a situations, it create an artificial environment that, in addition to great waste and inefficiency, causes private agencies, like new homes builders and college building programs, to expand far beyond what normal conditions will support. And, as soon as the government programs are reduced or removed, the over expansion leads to a collapse.
Sooner or later China needs to be paid, with interest, and thus the debt that we acquired through our greed and foolishness will be passed on to our children, grand children, and even great grandchildren. In fact, it may reach the level predicted in the Bible where the sins of the parents are passed on to the children to the fifth generation. Will they ever forgive us for the mess we are leaving them? Will we ever forgive ourselves?
Next. Was it wise to allow the auto industry to grow so large that, if it should fail, it would drag down other supportive industries with it, such as tires, steel, glass, paint, upholstery, radios, air conditioners etc… The billions of dollars that we are pumping into the Detroit auto industry certainly isn’t because of a shortage of automobiles. It’s the jobs that would disappear first within the industry itself and then the domino effect throughout related industries. It’s as I said in a previous program. Marx had predicted that a major flaw in Capitalism was that it had tied production and distribution together and if you stopped production, you also stopped the distribution of money that was necessary to buy what the economy had produced.
The auto industry is totally out of proportion to the rest of the economy. It is like a gigantic arm on a normal body. How did this happen? When I was a kid, there was nearly five years between model changes which meant that it didn’t make any sense to buy a new car until new models with new features were produced. If you wanted a new car, you went to a car dealer, who stocked a few representative models, and decided on the one you wanted, along with its color and features. Then you were told that the dealer would order from the factory and notify you when it arrived. Today, many dealers carry large inventories which, I assume, places them in debt to banks and puts them under great pressure to move their cars. To me it seems to be just another part of the philosophy of “instant gratification” through which nobody wants to wait for anything.
Our love affair with the automobile has led to a lot of negative consequences. First, it has created a lifestyle that has almost made it mandatory to have more than one car per family since the mobility that it provides allowed people to move farther and farther away from people and services that once were located within walking distance. Neighborhood stores, playgrounds, movies, schools, transportation and other necessary services have given way to suburban models that are distant from their cliental. The man who invented the suburban shopping mall later regretted it because he saw how it had contributed to the fragmentation of communities. To live in most suburbs without a car is to be cut off from essential services.
It began with both dad and mom needing a car. Then when the children entered their teenage years, the choice for families was to either constantly chauffer them or buy them their own car. And, since automobiles today sometimes cost as much or more than a home cost years ago, plus the cost for gasoline and insurance, this became a big ticket item and inducement for greater debt for the families that chose this option. My seventeen-year-old grandson constantly complains about being born into a poor family because he is one of the few students who doesn’t have his own car to drive to school. He’s not convinced when we explain that we are not willing to go into the debt that other families decide to incur and thus are in much better shape now that the economy has begun to collapse. This is another example of how the actions of some families put pressure on other families to make unwise economic decisions.
Another spin off of our obsession with the automobile is the decline of public transportation which was often fostered on purpose by the automotive companies themselves, who used their political and economic clout to pressure local governments to replace electrical operated trollies, subways, and rail lines with buses and expressways. But this was insignificant to the decision of car owners to drive to work instead of taking public transportation. The results almost defy logic when one considers the traffic jams every morning and evening as weary workers struggle to get into and out of center city after having paid exorbitant parking fees in downtown garages. Anyone who has ever visited Chicago or Los Angeles, or for that matter, any major city during the morning and evening rush hour has to wonder whether any of this makes any sense from the point of view of rapid transportation, economics, or inner peace.
Why, Wisdom might ask, would you want to sit in a horn-blowing line of cars, burning up expensive fuel, jangling your frayed nerves, trying to travel a few blocks to get out of a congested center city, after having paid as much as $18 a day just to park when public transportation, minus all these cars, could whiz everybody to their destination, with less strain, and at a much cheaper cost. And, of course, the benefits of using public transportation far outweigh any inconvenience that might result.
For example, much of our dependence on foreign oil comes from the 430 billion gallons of gasoline consumed each year by our cars. Second, our cars are responsible for much of our air pollution and contribute to Global Warming. Third, the reduced wear and tear on our cars would cut down on repairs, cause a drop in insurance rates, and extend their useful lives and result in a significant cut in most people’s budget. Fourth, when more people use public transportation the fare decreases and the efficiency and service increases as they are able to create more routes and buy more buses, that come at more frequent intervals, and use alternate fuel sources.
An acquaintance just told me that a major city in Brazil passed a law prohibiting any cars from driving in the downtown area. Instead they beefed-up their transportation system to the point that buses arrived every five minutes and, without any other traffic to contend with, were able to wisk passenger quickly to their destinations. Also, I’ve heard that Europe has a rail system that allow people to travel throughout Europe at reasonable rates. We could learn some valuable lessons from how other countries deal with the issue of transportation. One thing is for certain, we have not been very wise in becoming so dependent on individual passenger cars for transporting us from place to place.
Next. Was it wise for us to allow the moral quality of TV and other entertainment and media sources to sink to an all-time low in intellectual and moral content. The television, like any technology, cuts both ways. It can uplift the human spirit and add to the quality of life or it can degrade it and undermine the moral fiber of a community. And, unfortunately, in recent years the trend has been towards moral depravity as the portrayal of sex and violence becomes increasingly more graphic and depraved. At first, the major culprit was the cable stations who, because they were supported by paying subscribers, thought they were free of the normal constraints of the major networks. But, as time passed, the major networks, seeing the success of the cable programs, started to “push the envelope” in their own programming until now they are where cable was a few years ago while the cable programs have moved on to even greater depravity with programs that involve cannibalism, incest, sex with animals, pedophila sado/masochism, and blasphemous attacks on Christian beliefs and practices.
If the trend continues, the major networks will be indistinguishable from the cable networks in the quality of their programming. Witness, for example, the movement of the program “Dexter”, whose central character is a sadistic serial killer who tortures his victims, from the cable networks to the major networks.
And who is responsible for this? We are because in a capitalistic society nothing can survive for very long without the direct or indirect support of the consumer. I said “direct or indirect support of the consumer” because very often we are not paying attention to the advertisers who supply the financial backing that supports these programs. We may not be watching these programs ourselves, but we do contribute to their production when we unknowingly support the companies whose advertising dollars are necessary for their production. Our economic system is amoral, that is, it doesn’t include any moral considerations in its decisions as to what should or should not be produced. It is geared to follow the money based on the buying practices of the consumers. Therefore, the only morality in a capitalistic system is the morality of the consumer who by directing his buying powers to things that he or she values, shapes the direction of the society. Either we don’t understand this and have unknowingly contributed to the growing decadence in our society, or, God forbid, we are willing contributors because they accurately reflect the inner state of our souls. We better wake up and begin to consciously exercise our economic power to reward or punish those who support or oppose our Christian values.
Those who produce this filth and depravity defend their right to do so by appealing to the right of freedom of speech and of the press found in the First Amendment of the Constitution. As a former social studies teacher, I find this claim to be ludicrous. Anyone who has read the First Amendment within the context in which it was written knows that its original intent was to protect the right of the people to speak, write, and assemble to discuss and protest the public policies of the government. They had just experience a revolution that was fought because they were denied these rights by the king of England and they wanted to be sure that this would not happen with the government they were forming. They certainly weren’t thinking of the right to undermine the basic values of civilization. Nor were they trying to protect the “freedom of expression.” “Speech” has to do with what you say; “expression” has to do with how you say it. “Speech” has to do with ideas; “Expression” has to do with the attitude used to express those ideas. You can refer to me as a “white man” or a “honky”. The first refers to what I l am. The second project your attitude towards me.
They were trying to create a society of reasonable people who, like mature adults, were capable of reasonable discussion of their ideas. The purpose was to discover the truth and not to inflame or insult the listener. Writing a letter to your Congressman disagreeing with some government policy is “speech”; burning an American flag is a type of “expression” whose purpose is to inflame those with whom you disagree. The first is adult, mature and inputs into the discussion; the second is infantile, immature and does not input anything except the hostile attitude of the perpetrator. In other words, the real American Dream of our Founding Fathers was to create a society of reasonable, mature people who were capable of ruling themselves and whenever we pander to what is lower and immature in human nature we undermine it.
It has always amazed me that we refer to certain types of entertainment as “for adults only” when only the very immature would be drawn to it. Most of it is designed to attract people with a teenagers mentality who are still battling the rush of hormones rather than mature adults who have finally brought them under rational control. It makes me shudder to think that some people might actually believe that adults would be drawn to this type of material. If they are, then we are in serious trouble because “when the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into the ditch.”
However, even if we were to accept this misconception of freedom based on a distortion of the Constitution, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us are powerless in protecting our society from the influence of their immature choices. If they have right to produce things that pander to what is lowest in human nature and undermine important social values, we have the right to reject what they produce. The one thing that I like most about capitalism is that “if you have the right to produce something”, I have “the right to decide whether I want to buy it.” The most effective form of censorship in a free, democratic, and capitalistic society is self-censorship where we express our disapproval by refusing to support what offends us. But to effectively do so, we must present a united front that communicates our disapproval.
I contribute monthly to an organization known as the Parents Television Council, a “watchdog organization, that was founded years ago by the comedian Steve Allen and other entertainers who were shocked and disgusted by the moral quality of what was being produced by their own industry. Each month they send me a bulletin that describes some of the major offenders on TV and a list of the advertisers who support them and how to contact them. I am trying to develop the habit of speaking up because, as Edmund Burke once said, “the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for enough good people to do nothing.” We are, as the Rev. Jerry Fallwell was fond of saying, the Silent Majority and it’s about time that we began speaking up before it’s too late.
Well, I see that my time is up.