As we count off the last days of both the year and the decade, I want to pause to reflect on the state of our culture.
From an economic standpoint, we are in for decades of muddling through. We in the U.S. are still number one in commerce, the US Dollar is still king of currencies, and we still have more political, economic and religious freedom than any other country. But we are slipping fast.
We have over 12 trillion dollars of national debt, and we have made over 106 trillion dollars of promises to pay (Social Security and Medicare, mostly) money out in the future for which we have no money in reserve. (It’s officially referred to as an unfunded liability.) So the entire unfunded liability is like an IOU. And an IOU is the same as a debt, except that you don’t have to pay interest on it. Add those two together and divide by the number of citizens in the country, and you get $385,727. If you’re a citizen, that’s how much of the government’s IOU is on you.
And you’ve got some of your own to take care of too. We have almost 17 trillion dollars of total personal debt, of which a bit over 14 trillion is mortgage debt. That’s an average additional debt per citizen of $54,160.
So each of us, fellow citizens, has a total of $439,887 of red ink on our personal balance sheets. That’s going to take a long time to pay off, even if we stop digging ourselves in deeper every minute. I long for that eventuality.
The US Debt Clock, which you can see at http://www.usdebtclock.org/, animates it all nicely. If you tarry a while, you can see that we do have $256,343 of assets per citizen, and that we do have $40,587 of income per citizen. If we each gave up all of our income for the next 10 years, we’d have it all paid off!
Meanwhile, we have gender confusion, we’re divided over whether killing babies still in the womb should be legal, and what we used to call “shacking up” is now socially acceptable at nearly every level of society. We’re divided on whether it is natural or normal or should be legal for members of one sex to marry members of the same sex. We continue to turn our backs on all manner of religion, eschewing the cliched old standards of fidelity, honor, and integrity. When I was a boy scout, I recited this oath”
On my honor I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times;
to keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
How many of you can honestly say that you were taught values like those? Do you remember JFK’s call to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”? Where is that nobility today? Do you realize that in that same speech, Kennedy said this:
For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
We have no moral compass outside the “law”, as prescribed by the hand of Almighty God. We reject that belief more and more, and that is the source of most of the evil in our world – including the evil done in the name of God. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Every person has the right to decide for himself whether to be subject to God – to be His follower, or to be the master of his fate and captain of his own destiny. And one of the most sublime paradoxes in life is that trying to run our lives on our own is the one sure way to lose them. Christ himself put it this way: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Yet today the ideal is something else. Today, conservatives generally believe that freedom itself, or capitalism, or the great American entrepreneurial spirit will save us. In other words, we will save us. Liberals generally look for salvation to the government. Better laws, kinder and gentler laws, more programs to fight poverty, injustice and pollution of our air, water and environment – that’s what we need. That’s what will set us free.
Both sides are wrong. We cannot save us, and it does not matter whether “we” is defined as free, enterprising individuals, or the government. We cannot be the kings of our own kingdoms. We just can’t. We’ve been trying for several thousand years, and we do not have one single success story that lasted more than a few hundred years. Every one eventually sowed the seeds of its own destruction by turning its back on the fundamental principles of human dignity – the most enduring of which are found in the Holy Scriptures.
So our political freedom is being sandpapered away with each new crisis. “Fix this!”, we cry, and so our elected leaders feel the weight of a moral obligation to do so. And whatever solution they come up with, two things are nearly certain to grow – our national debt and the size of our government. And the bigger the government gets, the less freedom we have. And the bigger the government gets, the more it needs to be fed, so we become “another day older and deeper in debt”, as Tennessee Ernie Ford sang in “Sixteen Tons”.
You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store…
All of which is why I say that Malcolm Muggeridge had it right when he said:
“…it has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in a process of auto-genocide, convincing himself that he is too numerous, and labouring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary, battered old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.”
So this year as we sing Auld Lang Syne, let us ask not how we can once again ascend to that position of global-leader-in-everything that we once thought was our manifest destiny. Let us rather ask, what can I do, what price can I pay, what sacrifice can I make, and what foe can I oppose, in order to once again regain my rightful place as a champion of the oppressed, defender of the weak, and servant of all?