I just read a new Barna report indicating that American society is manifesting a strong aversion toward institutions. This trend seems to include virtually all institutions within our society such as government, business, marriage, and church.
Just one blatant example of this trend can be found in so many couples opting for cohabitation as opposed to marriage. We also hear people talking about being spiritual but not favorable toward organized religion.
Why might that be?
By superficial I am not referring to reasons that are not genuine, but rather ones that are symptoms of a deeper cause.
It takes little imagination to understand growing hostility toward government. With a President who seems to break his oath of office frequently by not upholding the Constitution, who is on record as having lied to the American public, and uses the power of government to assault his political adversaries, we have little reason to trust political institutions.
Of course those on the other side of the aisle give plenty of reason for hostility toward government also, with so many of them running for office as conservatives and voting as RINOs.
Likewise we find marriages disintegrating at an alarming rate, inflicting extreme damage emotionally, economically, and in countless other ways.
The Major Ingredient
Institutions are comprised of relationships, and maintaining relationships requires character. A practical definition of character might be consistently doing the right thing even when it is difficult.
We all fail that test on occasion, but though we lack perfection we can nonetheless maintain a pattern of good character.
A good and lasting marriage requires a broad spectrum of expressions of character. The individual needs to display faithfulness, honesty, consideration, patience, and a host of other character traits. These traits require character because often we do not feel like displaying them, and therefore maintaining them calls us to rise above contrary desires. This might be manifested by the spouse who when a child throws up in the middle of the night responds by saying, “You stay in bed. I will take care of it.”
Character is required for every relationship. Elected officials are under tremendous pressure to yield to special interest groups, especially those who have donated to their campaigns or who might do so the next time around. Employees must work hard and employers must be fair, even at times making decisions that benefit an employee rather than the bottom line.
The Missing Ingredient
Institutions are disintegrating in America because most Americans lack the character needed to maintain healthy, long-term relationships. This lack of character creates distrust, legitimately so, between parties in our institutions, which in turn leads to disintegration of the relationship and hostility toward the institution.
Young people today are fearful of marriage because they realize the likelihood of getting caught in a relationship in which they will be victimized by breach of character.
I have heard the protestations against organized religion, and perhaps some people have just cause for disliking churches. However, I also believe that often that rhetoric is just a cover-up for not wanting to make and live up to the commitment necessary to belong to a church. It’s just a lot easier to sleep in on Sunday morning and then watch television in your pajamas. Likewise in regard to meeting the obligation to give and to serve. That is, since a parishioner doesn’t get paid for church involvement, the motivating factor must be character. Often, “I don’t believe in organized religion” really means “I don’t have the character to be a faithful church member.”
Formula for Character Eradication
We are not born with character. It must be developed through external discipline and self-discipline. When America was shaped by a Christian culture, discipline constituted a consistent societal ingredient. Families and schools were disciplinary institutions. In addition, self-discipline was promoted as a virtue.
In our post-Christian society, we have swapped discipline for unconditional acceptance, which eliminates the need for discipline and self-discipline. Secular society teaches, “You are okay just the way you are,” the evangelical version being, “God is happy with you regardless of how you live.” This elimination of discipline prevents the development of character.
The Death of Institutions
I have done marriage counseling in which the husband, who was acting immaturely, responded with, “but she is supposed to accept me unconditionally.” That response pretty well sums up the reason for the disintegration of American institutions.