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The moral fences down? Or totally removed?

Blog author:
It will take a mighty strong wind of change and courage to lift the fog in which we have got lost

Seeing with rising concern the deliberate spreading of lies and denial of truths in democratic society today, my mind has repeatedly turned to something Frank Buchman once said; “a nation’s thinking is in ruins before the nation is in ruins.” (Frank Buchman: a life, the biography written by Garth Lean, page 515). A frightening warning? Definitely a challenge to take our way of thinking seriously. It made me write the following article:

They are hanging on to the speaker’s every word. He, or she, is keeping their audience spellbound. The words are uttered with vicious aggression or with a laugh, the voice shifts from fury to soft soothing, and the face turns into a warm smile and back to a concerned furrow on the brow. All the emotions are on display. The words are simple and direct. Anger and arrogance coupled with the warmth of apparent empathy.

The audience are taking it all in, swallowing it hook, line and sinker. They seem completely unable to discern what drives the person they so enthusiastically listen to.

Who is the speaker? Pick your choice. There are plenty of them. Some more outrageous or famous than others. They speak to crowds in the open air, to a selected audience at a hotel, or on the internet, they are so-called influencers or political and religious leaders.

My question is: How can they get away with this? After all, the content is obviously a murky soup of lies, exaggerations, distortions and denials, spiced up with the speaker’s prejudices, hatred and fear.

Obviously? Who am I to say that their narratives and descriptions of reality are not true? How do I have any authority to claim that it is all false when so many people claim the opposite?

I am a child of the 50-ies in western Europe, went through my teenage years and youth in the 60-ies and 70-ies, living in a democratic society. Now, having passed the landmark of 70, I am trying to find my way in the fog of modern freedom. I am struggling to navigate in a world where everyone is allowed to say in public and social media whatever comes to their minds. Restrictions are few and badly enforced, opinions are strong, and many opinions have become facts or so-called alternative facts.

Dictatorships are built on lies. That is their DNA. But democracies are built on revealing the truth and building trust, even if we too often fall short of that ideal.

I know what fog is. I have been hiking in the forests and mountains since I was a teenager, and fog can really get you on the wrong track. A thick white and greyish soup that conceals everything.

I was a member of the scout movement, and with a small team I was once out in the forest at night when thick fog as well as the darkness made it extremely difficult to find our way. However, the terrain was familiar, and we were cocksure that we were heading in the right direction. Though, walking for a while without reaching our destination, a niggling uncertainty made us dig out a compass from a rucksack. The revelation was startling! We were walking in the opposite direction of what we were supposed to.

In April 1961, a few months before he died, Frank Buchman gave a public statement entitled ‘All the Moral Fences are Down’. It was inspired by a conversation he had with an old friend, Sir Richard Livingstone, a one-time Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He said to Buchman, “When you and I were young there were moral fences. We did not always keep to them, but we always knew when we had crossed them. Today all the fences are down.” (Frank Buchman: a life, the biography written by Garth Lean, page 525).

This was more than 60 years ago, and a question immediately comes to my mind. If they were alive today, what would Buchman and Livingstone say about the present reality against the backdrop of what I have described above? Would they conclude that the fences are not only down, but completely torn apart and removed?

Many moral guidelines were under attack in the 1960-ies. Influential people and organizations were on a mission to get rid of them, or at least reduce their importance. Especially those which were related to family life and relationships between sexes. Some also wanted to get rid of religious faith, as it provided reason and motivation for obedience to moral guidelines.

Although this may be true, I believe it cannot fully explain why this blinding fog regarding right and wrong, truth and lies, has descended on and enveloped today’s society. Neither am I satisfied putting the main blame on technology facilitating life in bubbles of misinformation. We have to dig deeper. Reading the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament recently has given me a clue.

One passage says, ‘…where your treasure is, there your heart will be.’ And further on it says: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon (money).’ A little later Jesus speaks about the need to build our house on solid rock and not on sand.

Reading this I used to focus only on my personal, spiritual relationship with God. I asked myself whether God really came first and what I was building my life on. Helpful and valid! But I have come to believe that Jesus also had something more far-reaching in mind. That is, how to build a sound and healthy society, how to live together and organize our communities, nations and the world. His words are a vision and a warning.

Our modern civilization is a stunning achievement in material progress and wealth, technology, education, medicine and the cure for diseases, you name it. But what are the foundations of this amazing house?

Many of our forefathers, who went out from Europe colonizing the rest of the world, completely disregarded what Jesus said. They seem to have told God that they would succeed in serving both Him and money. Brutal oppression of people and excessive exploitation of natural resources became hallmarks of our economic development. Today the whole world is engaged in the project of the consumer society where profit and wealth come first. Enough is never enough. When morals have stood in the way of earning big profits, they have been adjusted, or forgotten. The desire for more and more is the driving engine of our economic system. And, huge cracks are appearing in the walls of the house of mankind, not least because the natural world and environment cannot sustain our way of life any longer. The impressive house turns out to be built on sand.

This is the main cause of our fast slide into moral confusion, the fog in which we have got lost.

Is there hope?

Honesty about ourselves and a sincere search for truth have brought liberation to countless individuals, and sometimes nations. However, it will take a mighty strong wind of change and courage to lift this fog.

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