America: The Living Portrait of Dorian Gray

The song "God Bless the USA" is often still sung at commemorative events surrounding national days of remembrance, like the Fourth of July or Veterans' Day.  But, like with "The Star-Spangled Banner," the true meaning behind the vaunted words of this American doxology has been lost.  More importantly, the claims made in Lee Greenwood's timeless anthem are no longer accurate.

Public religious expression has been squelched in the last century, violating "free exercise" of faith in the deepest sense and ending America's status as a nation that unreservedly recognizes freedom of religion.  In one recent exhibition of this new anti-religious zealotry, the Department of Defense (DoD) ordered that Bibles no longer be available to injured personnel at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Priceless civil liberties like "privacy" have been abolished via anti-terrorism measures that neither sought amendment nor claimed constitutional legitimacy.  New legislation promises to permit "indefinite detention" of American citizens, effectively abolishing the right to trial and ending habeas corpus rights.  The legislation classifies America as a "battlefield" in the apparently limitless and never-ending "War on Terror."

Free speech is increasingly regulated, and plans are in the works to criminalize select political viewpoints, making those who hold these viewpoints enemies of the state.  One legislative proposal currently before Congress would give government regulators the power to censor political content on the web.

And finally, the American spirit, which balances respect for the individual with community, has been replaced by an entertainment obsession which is redefining traditional moral set-points with alarming speed.

All things considered, Americans can no longer say that "the flag still stands for freedom, and they can't take that away."  Nor can they utter in passing the words "at least I know I'm free."

At the root of all these changes is not merely one political deviant, or even some organized conspiracy to overthrow freedom and decency in America.  It is the collective abandonment of God and associated moral virtue by a once-God-fearing people.

The changing perception of violence is evidence of this reality.  Consider, for example, that where once gratuitous violence was understood in a cinematic and fanciful context, or in the boxing ring, violence involving the injury of real persons is now visible in seconds within the privacy of one's own home.  The next generation of youngsters are setting new standards for what is acceptable.

The dire warnings of some that TV and movie violence would one day lead to Romanesque stadiums filled with sanguine patrons looking for the next cheap thrill have proven correct.  But even these Chicken Littles could not have envisioned the internet.  Now we don't have to see the faces of victims or sweat in the presence of the abused.  We need only point and click to view the horror of the day.

Those who attempt to draw historical parallels between modern entertainment and Greco-Roman blood sports are usually laughed out of the room, but it is hard to joke when videos of gang-beatings are captured on YouTube by heartless teenagers for recreational viewing, or terrorists post scarring images of beheadings that go viral.  Millions watched the execution of Saddam Hussein.  Executions of hated dictators may be considered entertaining in certain societies, but why should so many Americans find an interest in this gruesome display?

More recently, a gang of about fifty teenage girls is reported to have camped outside a classmate's home with guns and knives, shouting death threats at the intended victim.  Two police who intervened were beaten within inches of their lives by this lawless teenage mob.  Teenagers no longer fit the Americana Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello mold.

Few can deny that a substantial shift in community instincts has occurred.  Remember when the injury of a fellow citizen would bring the help of others, and maybe the police?  Now it brings phone-cameras and crowds of entertained observers.  Something is terribly wrong in America.

If America had a painting of itself hidden away, it would look more like Dorian Gray's demonic portrait and less and less like the Thomas Kinkade scenes of small-town America that have become the medication of choice for traditional Americans seeking shelter from the cultural firestorm.

Americans are beginning to lose their soul, and if we don't turn back soon, the Dorian Gray metaphor will be more than just an apt description of present events; it will become the American identity.

And it is not just a few violence-related recordings that should disturb traditional Americans.  The porn industry has warped a generation with so many delusions that boundaries continue to be pushed toward ever more extreme displays.

Movies have begun to reflect the change in mentality.  The controversial superhero movie Kick-Ass is representative of the trend.  The recent blockbuster features a torture/execution scene supposedly streamed live over the internet.  Everyone watches almost gleefully as the heroes are summarily burned alive.  No one attempts to call the cops or locate the site of the event.  Only hours before, these heroes had helped eliminate vicious criminals from the streets and yet were now the spectacle of bloodthirsty audiences with soda and corn-nuts in hand.

TV violence has escalated to a level few baby-boomers could envision even ten years ago.  The same goes for TV sex, which has reached borderline pornographic levels.  The problem is so extensive that Saturday Night Live was able to depict Betty White, 88-year-old icon of classic television, in severely compromising sexual positions of the most grotesque and perverse variety

And children are the real victims of such behavior.  Previous generations, having "liberated" themselves from traditional social parameters, are setting a terrible example for future generations of Americans.  Kids see, and kids do

In this conundrum is a profound truth: morality and law are not two separate spheres, but one cohesive whole.

Freedom itself is the result of a nation with laws.  And nations with laws are the product of cultures grounded in religious morality.  The two items are inseparable.  Legal boundaries are based on moral boundaries.  For example, why is it wrong to kill if there is no God, or alternatively, no universal source of morality?

In the same way, what is done in private cannot be separated from what is done in public.  At some point, worlds collide, and lawlessness is unleashed.  Warped minds in private will always yield warped behavior in public.  This claim is substantiated in numerous psychological studies.

Famous philosopher Nietzsche proclaimed at the end of a century that "God is dead."  For many Americans, this is true.  In the place of traditional religious orientation, Americans worship entertainment.  Americans have lost sight of the principles that made America the world's greatest superpower.

As Alexis de Tocqueville said in his documented journey to America, "[i]f America ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great."  Tocqueville has proven prophetic.  American church attendance is now below 40 percent, as it is in most Western countries.  In America, consumerism and entertainment media have filled the gaping chasm left by Christian ancestors.  Even Christians seem to be OK with the change in ethos.  In fact, according to Pew Forum, over 60 percent of professing Christians say other systems of morality are just as valid as the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Most Americans would not see themselves as amoral sadists, and at present there is a prevailing dogma that defends traditional conceptions of morality.  But the baby-boomers are dying off.  What signs have we seen from Gen-Xers that traditional notions of morality like "Love your neighbor as yourself" will survive past the next thirty years?  "Occupy" protesters assaulting grannies outside Tea Party gatherings are not an encouraging indicator of what awaits.

The Roman Empire, second only to the United States in power and prestige, was destroyed -- not because of Goth invaders or foreign military debacles as some historians have claimed.  These events were merely that outward consequence of a deeper weakness.  Long before Rome abandoned its outer defenses and strained its soldiers in endless foreign wars, Rome became a cesspool of vice and corruption.  Women stopped having children, and men turned to less traditional means of sexual fulfillment.  Before the Goths ever set foot across the Danube, Rome lacked the social strength to resist the stronger, more unified Germanic culture.  Rome disarmed itself when it chose pleasure over long-term security.

If America is to be saved from the fate of Rome, it must first find its soul.  A nation of vice cannot be the beacon of hope for the free world.  Ben Franklin said it best: "As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."  Will we be a nation of upright freemen, or one of slaves to vice?