Back in preschool, stealing He-Man figures from snot-nosed Stevie was wrong, as was punching Mikey in the stomach and telling Jenny she had a weird face. It didn’t matter that Stevie stole something from me, or that Mikey had tattled on me, or that Jenny was just plain ugly. In the end both my irate teacher and mother were as black-and-white as Michael Jackson on the issue. I did something wrong. Period.
It’s 2003, and things aren’t as easy. These days, it’s okay to pull Morpheus discounts on record-executive scum because God knows they’ve been robbing us blind for years. It’s justified to serve a royal beat-down on a dude if he has disrespected your precious rep. And Oprah tells me time and again it’s better to give honest opinions, because only then can you truly be a friend.
This sucks. Postmodernism has raped and pillaged our nation’s sense of right and wrong, and we’ve become too intelligent, self-absorbed and complacent to acknowledge its path of destruction. The smart, the rich, the powerful tell us what our beliefs are, that there is no one truth, force-feeding us their self-destructive blueprint of morality that says anything goes … and everyone’s been eating it up and asking for seconds.
From the vantage point of primitive religion to the stuffy Oxford scholar, most everyone agrees morals were initially established to further the existence of humankind, the survival of the group. The Bible and Torah have maintained the Ten Commandments as a pretty good starting point. Hindus have sought to deny themselves as a measure of self-discipline while Buddhists have the Five Precepts, prohibiting killing, stealing, illicit sexual relations, wrong speech and drugs or alcohol. Friedrich Nietzsche did his share of tearing the issue apart in The Genealogy of Morals, and yet, the convoluted argument grows ever convoluted-er still. Does this mean we have the right to enjoy our bodies and coitus up like bunnies? Or is it better to wait till marriage on the principle that casual sex may result in permanent emotional and physical pain? Both ensure man’s advancement on many levels, both are moral acts to different individuals. Buddha’s not giving me much help on this one.
Ask any red-blooded high school jock whether pre-marital or even promiscuous sex is immoral, and he’ll most likely guffaw in your face, all the while pointing to the condom ring embedded in his wallet and library of dirty videos he’s made with the pep squad. Consequently, A.C. Green will readily attest to the countless blessings of sexual abstinence. On a recent MTV special which created quite a stir in the political community, Colin Powell encouraged the use of condoms for pre-marital sexual activity, a remark that strayed far from the administration’s age-old crusade for abstinence — a debate that’s been waging political warfare from day one, mostly because both sides see themselves as masters of the universe and defenders of their own moral standard.
So how do we determine who’s right? Well, postmodern American thought would definitely point to the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or as Jesus put it, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), as the Jews would put it. Or Islam’s version: “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
A close variation that garners applause these days goes something like this: “Do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s life.” Pretty subjective, isn’t it? While Britney may enjoy flaunting her virgin boob implants, half the male population is embroiled in lust, their girlfriends are having chest-envy, and 9-year-old daughters are taking note as to what makes boys’ heads turn. While human beings once sought out set rules, morals and ethics, we have now come to preach the aforementioned statement because it makes us all out to be winners, reveling in our own self-satisfying concept of morals. It’s the easy way out. Nothing’s wrong anymore. Everything can be justified and rationalized.
It also doesn’t help that we’ve taken a giant step back from politically incorrect Truth and snuggled up to media-friendly relativism, the land where everyone is happy and lovely and righteous. Oh yeah, and don’t forget, if you don’t believe in this “everyone’s ‘right’ and can do whatever they want with themselves” junk, then you are the one counted as being “wrong.” Kinda contradictory and self-defeating, huh?
So what happens if a friend of mine puffs the magic dragon at a McDonald’s PlayPlace in the middle of some kid’s birthday party? He wouldn’t mind if someone hit the bong at one of his parties, and he believes marijuana has medicinal purposes (just ask Woody Harrelson), so he’s upholding the Golden Rule and being moral by doing it, right? Who’s to tell him what he can do with his life, because after all, anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Right?
Personally, the Golden Rule’s not holding it down these days, so it looks like we’ll need to hook up some kind of Platinum bling-bling Rule to set the standard. It’s argued that law and ethics operate within a set paradigm, but as we know, even laws are subject to negotiation, compromise, dirty political agreements and big money.
Another problem with the ideology behind morality is our sense of right and wrong. Good and bad fluctuates whether we are happy or sad, in an orphanage or at a strip joint. The Barna Research Group records “by a 3-to-1 margin (64% vs. 22%) adults said truth is always relative to a person’s situation. The perspective was even more lopsided among teenagers. People are most likely to make their moral and ethical decisions on the basis of whatever feels right or comfortable in a situation.” Which basically means right is always right, except for when it’ll cost one money, make him/her look stupid, physically hurt him/her, or when it’s just plain inconvenient.
The problem with our morals and ethics is they’re essentially based on nothing and constantly change. Most people who believe they have morals don’t exactly know why they have them, except for the fact the priest, Dad or President Bush told them it was right. Case in point: the straight-edge movement — a decades-old punk subculture founded on Ian Mackaye’s (Minor Threat/Fugazi) call for sexual purity and abstinence from drugs and alcohol as a subversive action to the hedonistic lifestyle of the punk scene. Sounds positive and worthwhile, right? Then how come the vast majority of youth who adopted the lifestyle in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including almost all the hardcore bands who progressed the message (even Mackaye himself) eventually dropped the lifestyle like a Civic at a car show? Amongst other reasons, the general understanding remains that these kids got swept up in the trend, their friends held them up, it’s the only thing they had, etc. But when they moved away to college, left their social circle or basically thought about it really hard, they had no idea what, why or who they were keeping straight edge for.
Barna’s report says: “Without some firm and compelling basis for suggesting that such acts are inappropriate, people are left with philosophies such as ‘if it feels good, do it,’ ‘everyone else is doing it’ or ‘as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s permissible.’ In fact, the alarmingly fast decline of moral foundations among our young people has culminated in a one-word worldview: ‘whatever.’ The result is a mentality that esteems pluralism, relativism, tolerance, and diversity without critical reflection of the implications of particular views and actions.”
So what are your “morals?” Why do you have them?
Where do you draw the line? Why do you draw it there?
Do we truly believe everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, or are we just being lazy, selfish and non-confrontational?
How can everyone have different beliefs and still be “right”? What does it mean to be “good” and to be a “good person”?
We’re in an era where limits are pushed and boundaries are crossed; where walls are broken and judgment is blurred; when sexuality is trivialized, lying is a means to an end, and selfishness is a way of life. Gluttony has become a virtue, overindulgence is up for interpretation and when it comes to money and power, it’s a free-for-all. Somehow stemming from our free will, somewhere amidst all our successful exploits, sometime between our quest for truth, justice, the American way and our settlement on postmodern apathy, we lost our moral code — a reality that might not strike so hard when we look in the mirror, but will start to show in the faces of our children and grandchildren. Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best with the greatest understatement of all time, “’Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23).