Our Moral Heritage
My brother Salvatore, a World War II veteran (deceased), was asked in 1974 to speak at a National Prayer Breakfast held at an Army supply facility where he worked. Sal was a gifted speaker who in 1982 ran for New York state senate on the Right to Life Party.
At this prayer breakfast he made clear the reason why Defense Department personnel should meet in prayer.
I know that brother Sal would approve of a repeat of what he said, as relevant today as it was then. From a copy I have of his speech, here are his words:
To set the record perfectly straight, I must point out that Breakfast Groups actually had their start more than 1,900 years ago. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, one morning, that businessmen and workers at their trade met with Jesus, to find an enriching fellowship...and a new challenge for life. An account of this breakfast meeting is related by John (Chapter 21).
My brief talk this morning has been billed as a commentary on “Our Moral Heritage”... a mighty topic [which] I’m not going to pretend to cover, but rather to comment on its thrust as an idea, and the implications it has for us as individuals and as a people.
In casting about for some succinct statements on “Our Moral Heritage,” I ran across the Foreword to a DA Pamphlet on Human Self-Development that will serve our purposes...
[Sal quotes from the Department of the Army pamphlet:]
“The Human Self-Development Program of the Army seeks to identify and teach those aspects of American values which are the moral foundations of dedicated citizenship and character development.... It is necessary to look beneath the surface of changing events to find the values that constitute and sustain the moral heritage of the United States. It is commonplace to point out that your country is a land of great differences and rapid changes. It is more important to underscore the fact that there is a strong unity in the nation. Americans of all national origins, colors, classes, regions, and creeds have something in common: a set of values, a moral heritage. This heritage is a clearly expressed body of ideals about human relations which are essentially principles of social ethics that have been hammered out in the nation’s history by peoples of differing interests and backgrounds. This social ethic has been a unifying element between various personal, philosophical, and religious conceptions of morality practiced in the nation...”
Many sincere Americans are questioning the validity of our common moral heritage. They find a contradiction in the notion of cultural pluralism and a consensus of values. “We would like to believe that we are a united people,” they will say, “but we have too many differences, too many conflicts, which are ripping us apart.”
Yes, we have differences. Blacks are fighting whites; Christians are fighting Jews; our young and their elders are fighting the “generation-gap” war; and the women are fighting the men. And while all these battles are raging, all of us, black and white, Christian & Jew, young and old, man or woman, are fighting poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, venereal disease, crime in the streets, inflation, pornography, and, yes, the moral issues of abortion and euthanasia.
But a nation which is predominantly Christian, and certainly, decidedly Judeo-Christian, has little reason to deny that it possesses a common moral heritage. Yes, I refer to the foundation stone of our common heritage – the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments (not really authored by Charlton Heston) encompass the basic moral code for all men, for all generations. Yet this common moral heritage, which our ancestors took from the hands of God and preserved for us through the centuries, has, in recent decades, been treated as though it was a set of rules written by men.
The prevailing “religion” in America seems to be that man is on his own – that his personal life is neither dependent on, nor answerable to, any external Authority (with a capital A). This philosophy affects the government frameworks which he creates and which exercise so much influence over his life. It affects the caliber of officials who govern him. It expresses itself in the notion that human life and human society can be perfected by man, and man alone.
[The word “man,” as used here, was commonly employed to refer to humankind – both genders. Merriam-Webster (1b): the human race, as in “the history of man.”]
But since man by himself cannot function in the realm of the spirit, our secularism impels him to seek his goals in the realm of matter. That search requires experimentation measured only in materialistic standards, and has produced the famous American pragmatism we hear so much about. This pragmatism sends us off into many directions, all of which, when taken together, don’t really solve our problems, It sometimes counsels us to rugged individualism and self-reliance, and at other times, to collectivism and communal enterprises. It also urges us to the support of technology, as we wait with bated breath on all the material wonders it will bestow on us.
Still, secularism recognizes that matter may not be everything, and so it urges us to reach for the spirit – for truth; on the understanding, however, that one man’s reach is as good as another’s. And this, finally, results in the notion that any affirmation of Truth (capital T) must be denied.
The Ten Commandments, then, have been superseded by a body of mores and customs created by the whims and pleasures of every Tom, Dick, and Harry. The rejection of objective truth – the revolt against God – has rendered our common moral heritage an anemic, ineffective force.
But if God’s commands have been rejected, the consequences cannot be. Just look around you and observe the human misery, the wasted lives our Man-centered culture has created. Our technology may have placed a man on the moon, but only the God of our fathers can put peace into our daily lives.
And what about the public order we have constructed? Can a public official worship God in his house of prayer one hour a week and worship his wallet the balance of the week? I'm sure that Watergate has reminded us that moral corruption permeates every seat of government throughout the land, be it town, city, county, state, or federal. And what has disgusted us most is the corruption of our holier-than-thou mass information media...
Our moral heritage is in deep trouble. But with patience, sacrifice, prayer, and Grace, we can breathe a new life into it.
It is awfully difficult to compose a non-sectarian prayer, but there is a sort of prayer we Americans should all remember from our grammar-school days. I particularly commend to you these lines from “America, The Beautiful” for your constant repetition:
God shed His grace on thee;
And crowned thy good, with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea!
[Brother Anthony would like to add the following footnote to Sal’s insightful message: If social justice is to prevail in America, land of the brave, the free, and democracy, attacks on our Judeo-Christian heritage must not be tolerated.]
Anthony J. DeBlasi is a veteran and lifelong defender of Western culture.
Image: U.S. National Archives, via Picryl // no known copyright restrictions