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In the early 1980s—during the Cold War–the military wanted Christians, and aggressively pursued them. Recruiting magazines would profile outstanding Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, many of them Christians.
Christians answered the call in droves. They would enroll in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. They would attend college with ROTC scholarships. They would join the ranks of the Rangers and Special Forces and Reconnaissance Marines. They would become infantrymen, tank commanders, fighter pilots, bomber pilots, cargo pilots, and parajumpers. They would ascend the ranks and transform the United States armed forces—the morale of which was in tatters in the wake of Vietnam—into the Cold War force that beat the Communists.
That is not today’s military.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the once Christian-friendly military began to push the Christian aside. The staunch conservative Reagan had given way to a more pragmatic Bush, who would give way to the draft-evading social engineer that was Clinton.
A military that, for over two hundred years, refused to send women into combat began contemplating exactly that. A military that, for over two hundred years, had found homosexuality to be incompatible with military service, was forced to enact a “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy as a compromise to Clinton’s desire to allow to gays openly serve in the military.
A military that once openly courted Christians became increasingly hostile to them, first in a passive-aggressive manner, then just plain aggressive. First, it was packaged as a crackdown on “proselytizing”. The argument was, “No one is forcing you to recant your faith; you just need to keep it to yourself.”
Now, caving to the harassment of the American Humanist Association, the United States Air Force enlistees are no longer required to say, “so help me God” in their enlistment oaths. This is no surprise being that the federal courts have become hostile to the Judeo-Christian bedrock that has served as our basis for law and justice.
Sadly, the military is the one institution for which the sobriety and severity of service and obligation cannot be understated. Whereas our Founders pledged life, fortune, and sacred honor, our military delivered that in blood.
Whereas bureaucrats obsess over policies that cost much and mean little, a military officer must make life and death decisions in combat. At his order, men and women will fight, if necessary, to the death. If a situation becomes sufficiently dire, he may order them to “stand and die”, refusing them the option of retreating. If an officer loses men in combat, he never completely returns home.
“So help me God” provides a stunning reminder of the high honor and responsibility of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. “So help me God” implies accountability to an authority greater than any court of Man.
While the military is not, and has never been, a monastery, our military leaders have long understood the importance of the Christian foundation of our society, and the place of the military in upholding those high ideals, even as servicemen at times fall short of them. This is why General George Washington gave thanks to God in victory; this is why Col. Henry Mucci—addressing the Rangers of the 6th Ranger Battalion prior to the Cabanatuan POW rescue mission—insisted, “One more thing, there will be no Atheists on this trip.”
To take God out of the oath of enlistment undermines those fundamental ideals and reduces the accountability of servicemen at a time when they need more of it.
The United States is at a critical juncture. Benjamin Franklin, once said, “A Republic, if you can keep it,” we are well on our way to giving up that Republic. While Franklin was no evangelical Christian, he, like John Adams, respected the influence of the Christian in matters of law and justice, as well as public discourse.
There are so many aspects of American life that are rooted in Christianity: the work ethic; the equality of persons before the law; free exchange of goods and services; the premise that, no matter your past, you can live a reformed life and gain both property and respect; even charity; all of these are rooted in Christian doctrine.
When a society dismisses God, then the worst becomes possible, as this welcomes an insidious pluralism that invites a new era of barbarism.
A military that dismisses God neither upholds the ideals that made America a great country, nor reflects the values to which Americans should aspire, and in fact openly courts the very elements antithetical to the values and virtues that made American exceptional and won the Cold War.
It’s Winter in America.
The latest generation to reach adulthood has often been criticized for being lazy, selfish and, in general, lacking any sense of a moral compass. Many of the critics turn to our country’s straying from Christian principles as the cause for this, and that very well may be the case. But it goes much deeper than that.
It seems that when critics of Christianity worked valiantly to eradicate all traces of the religion that led our country to be a global super power from public schools, workplaces, and government offices, they inadvertently removed all morality along with it. And it appears that morality actually plays a role beyond the confines of church.
The New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed titled, The Mental Virtues, where author, David Brooks, lays out the moral values necessary to be a person of character in boring old workplaces across the country: love of learning, courage, firmness, humility, autonomy, and generosity.
According to Brooks these characteristics are what separate the everyday heroes from the schlumps who think they don’t matter and their choices don’t matter either. As the article points out heroes aren’t just soldiers on the battle field, but can be anyone who possesses the values and actions of a hero. Intellectual virtues are attainable and needed in every school, office building and government complex.
“In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”
This ‘moral enterprise’ sounds eerily like Biblical morality. Wouldn’t it be amazing if practical morality was once again taught to children in school? Wouldn’t it change the game if employers and teachers measured success based on one’s character and morality rather than their performance record?
While Brooks is definitely on to something with his identified moral values, unless they are coupled with the underlying beliefs of Christianity they are not only unattainable, but they become a rigid measuring stick in which no one can ever be good enough. In fact, that sentiment is precisely what led to morality being tossed out the window over the last century. When Christ and grace and mercy were pushed to the back and the rules of Christianity became the focus, their appeal lessoned, leading to the mess we are in now.
The education establishment in the United States—from K-12 to higher education—is in serious trouble on many fronts. Students are graduating high school with scant job prospects, ill-prepared for the demands of the workforce. Even worse, college students are graduating with 6-figures of non-dischargeable student loan debt and little connection between their education and the demands of the workforce. Except for some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-based fields, the costs of a college degree are fast-becoming out of touch with the benefits. If the problems stopped here, it would be bad enough.
Now, we have even more bad news: not only are workers not technically-qualified for many of the good jobs, they are lacking basic common-sense skills: communication, basic professionalism, even team orientation. This is reflective not only of a breakdown in our education system, but at the basic building block of society. Historically, these intangible skills are learned in the home.
While Burstein correctly points out the lack in such skills, she is errant in thinking that Common Core will resolve this dilemma. It will not, and in fact will only exacerbate the existing problems in the education system. While the technical skill gap reflects a failure in schools, the intangible skill gap reflects a larger failure in homes.
Critical thinking is not learned solely from reading literature—although that can help—but is also gained from managing complex situations with varying levels of risk. You don’t learn that on a smartphone or a video game.
A wise engineering professor once said, “You don’t really start learning until you encounter a problem that you cannot solve.” He was spot-on: when you have to dig outside your body of knowledge to arrive at an answer, then you begin to really learn. This isn’t merely about engineering, it’s about life.
In childhood and adolescence, one must learn the rigorous subjects: addition and subtraction, multiplication tables, algebra, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and even chemistry and physics. That necessary body of learning also includes playing team sports, doing odd jobs, learning to prioritize, and working with people. In the process, one learns the complexities of decision-making, as well as responsibility and accountability.
Just as you begin learning when you encounter a problem you cannot solve, you also begin learning when you fail. In homes and schools alike, students often aren’t allowed to fail; this deprives them of a very hard reality of life, as failure is an opportunity to learn risk management and responsibility, not to mention integrity.
While schools—to include colleges—can help on these fronts, these are the intangibles that children and teens need to learn at home.
The workforce is, and has always been, fickle and demanding. Employers need workers who will show up on time and ready to contribute, who have interpersonal skills, who can work with a team to solve problems, who will put in the extra time when that becomes necessary, who will take prudent risks and accept responsibility.
That begins with parents.
The moral decline in America is finally gaining notice, and not merely from Christians. Recently, Tim Elmore—writing in The Huffington Post—addressed this very issue. Elmore rightly concludes that absolute truths are necessary. As Elmore put it:
“While the list isn’t likely long, we must maintain a universal set of values, ethics and morals among all humanity. But as the pendulum of history swung from black and white to gray, we’ve become afraid to do so. Have you noticed the drift away from any judgment or evaluation of behavior for fear it’s improper? In the name of tolerance, our ability to possess wise judgment evaporates.”
As a result, what we have now is a generation of young adults who are not just amoral but also apathetic. Elmore suggests that the only remedy for this is a set of core principles that can be agreed upon by everyone and accepted as truths in any and all circumstances:
“At the risk of oversimplifying, we need a plumb line for our morals today — an outside source that helps us evaluate our shifting morals so they aren’t merely reflections of what gives us pleasure, what others think or feel, or even what gets us where we want to go…At the same time, it seems so antiquated to bring up old, stale, traditional values…I simply propose that old doesn’t equal irrelevant. Isn’t it possible that “old” could mean timeless? Even though our world population now contains over seven billion people, could we say (for instance) that love, honesty and empathy are timeless and universal for all people?”
This is where Elmore, sadly, begins to break down: while love, honesty, and empathy sound wonderful, they are hardly universal for all people.
The Auca Indians of Ecuador, for example, were legendary for their savagery: they killed others—and even themselves—for any or no reason. The first Christian missionaries—among whom were Jim Elliot and Nate Saint—died at the hands of the Aucas in 1956. Thankfully, Christians continued to reach out to them and, today, the once-murderous Aucas are largely Christian.
Nor is “love”–even when accepted in a society—understood the same way in all cultures. The ancient Greeks engaged in pederasty—sexual relations between adult males and boys. In the Middle East, “child brides” are not uncommon.
While Elmore is correct in that we need a plumb line, he incorrectly posits that we can derive it from universal cultural norms. While American society once had an objective plumb line, we have, over the years, buried it as we collectively exchanged the truth of God for the fleeting pleasures of a moral relativism that is giving way to an insidious Nihilism that is evidenced—at the margins—by suicides and mass shootings.
Unfortunately, Christians have created some of the problem here, as Christians often make the mistake of presenting their faith in terms of morality rather than core principles rooted in the person and character of God. On one extreme, Christianity is all rule-based, performance-based morality that leads to frustration as we fall short of the glory; on the other extreme, we have a morality is disengaged from the world and resembles Islamic fatalism rather than proclamations of a loving God who made everything in His wisdom and His time and His goodness, and Who reaches out to a fallen Humanity.
Other Christians, adding insult to injury, have not only bought into relative morality, they also promote it within the church, further muddying the waters: they present lies packaged as truth.
While Elmore was spot-on in his assessment of our young generation, his recommended treatment is short of the glory.
That God sent His Son–who took time to chat with a Samaritan woman, call out tax collectors and “sinners”, heal people who were otherwise outcasts, work tirelessly in training and teaching twelve men who would turn the world upside down without firing a shot–into the world, provides a basis for the compassion of Christian morality.
As David said in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, and forget not His benefits.”
May our nation rediscover that the Lord is good, and His ways are the paths of life.