January 10, 2009

The change we really need ...

...is the change few are prepared to talk about. It's not "politically correct."

Thomas Merton wrote, "the salvation of society depends, in the long run, on the moral and spiritual health of individuals." He was writing in the context of spiritual maturity as related to sanctity. "You cannot save the world merely with a system. You cannot have peace without charity. You cannot have social order without saints, mystics, and prophets."

But our saints, mystics, and prophets are often silenced by a society that believes it is more important to protect people's feelings than to speak hard moral truths.

It's one thing to revile speech that is hateful, based on irrational fear and prejudice. It's another to forbid honest discussion of moral questions, such as why some religions condemn particular actions as sin.

If we cannot discuss such things openly as a society, how can we solve the problems that plague us?

For example: A recent study, referenced in this Wall Street Journal article, found that "the numbers of unfaithful wives under 30 increased by 20% and husbands by a whopping 45%." This despite the fact that "more than 90% of the population believes that cheating on one's spouse is always wrong."

The author's sources speculate on a variety of possible causes for this phenomenon, including the prevalence in our society of people with multiple sex partners prior to marriage -- a habit that some apparently are unable to break after marriage.

Few people outside the pulpit seem willing to go out on a politically incorrect limb and point out that our society not only permits this behavior, it encourages it. Surely none of us wish to be accused of pointing out planks in other peoples' eyes. But we do our society no favors by censoring or vilifying those saints and prophets who affirm the notion that unmarried people ought not to have sex.

Professor Daniel N. Robinson, of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, said in a lecture about John Stuart Mill, that in our society "...the sensitivity to the needs, and indeed the temperament, of others is such that thought must be censored and speech must be transformed. If Mill isn't turning in his grave, he should have."

Robinson is quite right that the inhibition of free speech hampers liberty and prevents productive discourse. When 90 percent of people say adultery is wrong, while increasing numbers of people commit adultery, then we are becoming a nation of hypocrites, and we must speak up about it.

Infidelity is just one example of moral and spiritual disease. There are many others, including greed, corruption, bigotry, apathy, and certainly hypocrisy. But coercing people into silence lest their opinion hurt someone's feelings will only hamper our nation's healing and our spiritual growth as individuals.

We can only bring about the change our nation needs if we are free to openly discuss -- with respect and honesty -- the moral and spiritual health of the individuals it comprises.

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