To say that the Western world is in a state of moral decline would be an understatement. Just about anybody who has walked this earth for forty or fifty years will readily agree. It’s difficult to pinpoint any single cause to this precipitous slide, but the erosion of Christian influence is certainly a contributing factor.
There was a day when the majority of people were influenced by Christian morals even if they didn’t fully embrace the faith. In spite of constant pressure from multiple sources, such influence maintained a level of trust in our culture and contributed to an overall concern for the “greater good.”
As the moral influence of Christianity was dismantled, piece by piece, tides of immoral behavior began sweeping over our culture. Nowhere is this change more evident than on our college campuses which are besieged by a moral vacuum of sorts. In general, students have always been partiers, but the types of behavior in today’s parties are enough to make administrators cringe with fear. When a campus community is compelled to call in state troopers on horseback to prevent drunken students from dancing on cars at red lights, I’d say you have a problem with self-centeredness.
Law Governs Behavior
Human behavior is always governed by law, and so if moral laws are eroded, forensic laws must be further enforced. More police, more cameras, and stiffer consequences become the necessary means to modify human behavior. At the very least, it permits someone in a college community to drive across town safely on homecoming weekend.
The primary problem with this approach is that it focuses on external laws. People are compelled to modify their behavior—or try to cheat the system—because of the steep cost of non-compliance. Recognizing the limited effectiveness of such an approach, more university administrators have begun to embrace an emphasis on “spirituality.” The idea is that spiritual influence of various types help to govern and modify human behavior.
The secular alternative is that of an emerging “atheist morality.” Recognizing the potential for human self-destruction, atheists have constructed a form of morality—based on Christian principles I might add—that helps everyone get along better. Some Christians would consider the secular approach a total farce, but there are secular societies in this world that manage to get along fairly well—at least on the surface. There is, of course, more to life than just getting along.
The Law of Love
One of the things that makes Christianity stand out from all other systems of belief (or unbelief) is that it fills the moral vacuum from the inside out, but as a “fringe benefit” of something greater. The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to make people more moral—and, thus, better citizens—but to enjoin them in a personal relationship with God. It is His eternal influence that radically transforms a human heart from the inside out. Everything changes when an internal law of love begins to govern a person’s behavior (James 2:8).
As I watch the erosion of morality in the Western world, I can’t help but see a glimmer of hope—and a rather bright one at that. When Christianity was the “go-to” religion, much of the general public gravitated toward morality not because of a personal relationship with God, but because of societal pressure brought on by Christian-based morals. This outward morality tended to mask many of the selfish and prideful motives that stirred beneath the surface. I think that few things are as spiritually dangerous as misplaced confidence in one’s own sense of morality. Now that the outward form is disappearing, the real state of human hearts becomes more evident.
The real need in people’s lives is not for a higher level of morality, but for a radical inward transformation that can only be accomplished by the eternal grace of God. Our goal, then, is not to try to fill a moral vacuum, but to proclaim the unique nature of the Christian faith and to introduce people to a vital relationship with Christ. Everything else will then follow in its time.