The New Moral Majority

That is a loaded caption, but give me a couple of paragraphs. The 10 commandments are a shorthand for the law and have long served as the basic bedrock of morality. At the American founding and at most times until the middle of the 20th century, both tables of the 10 commandments were accepted by a majority of Americans. By both tables I mean table 1 which includes the “God” commandments like “You shall have no other gods before me” and table 2 which includes the behavioral commandments like “don’t steal”. The moral majority accepted both tables hence Thomas Paine who was the only out and out atheist of the founders eventually went to France and never held elective office. We can argue about Deists and Jefferson, but the fact stands that for most of American history, rejecting the first table of the 10 commandments brought questions of one’s fitness for public life.

Starting in the 20th century but reaching acceptance in the post war years was a new moral majority grounded in ecumenicism. The phrase Judeo-Christian (per the OED first seen in 1899, but the first reference to a Judeo-Christian deity was in 1957) highlights that ecumenicism that the new moral majority was founded upon. The first table of the 10 commandments which ultimately says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and in a small hubristic addition “know who that Lord is” was pushed out in favor of a majority rooted in the 2nd table and an agreement to all be nice. My hypothesis would be that the people of the age, who grew up under and were used to the old moral majority, couldn’t abide tolerance and pluralism but they also couldn’t continue to ignore the plural reality of America, so they constructed a new ecumenical whole that doesn’t really exist. And in a phrase of the age, “deeds not creeds” were where the majority was at anyway.

That 2nd table moral majority, which was an uneasy truce, has cracked. There is a new morality that questions significant planks of the 2nd table. The 4th commandment to honor your father and mother which has long been a from-the-roots justification for the family as a special legal unit, and the ultimate ground of the state, is being abolished in favor of the individual under the state and contract law. We would not have the divorce rates that we do if we took the family as something more than a contract between individuals. The Christian understanding of marriage is a one flesh union made real in children. The new majority understanding is two individuals who have contracted with each other for mutual benefit and pleasure. The 6th commandment on adultery which moralized sexual behavior is viewed as pure prudery by the new morality. The 7th commandment on stealing used to be read as limiting certain business forms and transactions by social opprobrium. The new morality says as long as its legal it is fine. Hence we have “too big to fail”, payday lenders and unbankruptable student loans given out like water.

There is a new moral majority coming into existence and it will not look like anything anyone used to either of the older majorities would recognize. This is Rod Dreher looking at roughly the same thing focusing on the new morality or a-morality around sexual behavior.

The bottom line is that we are fast reaching a place in which before the law, churches that adhere to traditional religious teaching on homosexuality in practice will have the same status under federal civil rights laws as racist churches. Religious conservatives may argue that discrimination against homosexuals is not the same thing as racial discrimination, because there is, in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teaching, a moral aspect to sexual behavior that is not present in race — they can argue this, and they would be correct, but nobody cares, because the culture in general is coming to accept that there is no particular moral status inherent in homosexual behavior. Nor, for that matter, in most heterosexual behavior.

This is what it means to live in a post-Christian culture. We may wail and moan and gnash our teeth, but we had better get used to it.

As Mr. Dreher would council, the real question in this new moral majority is if there will be a healthy tolerance or if it will be totalitarian. Can the new morality and the Christian moralist find a way to abide each other in deep disagreement, or is this a to the death struggle?