Is the New Morality Destroying America?

Article excerpt

I was honored-as who would not be?-by the invitation to address this Golden Circle of remarkable IBM achievers. But I confess I was somewhat floored by the subject your program producer assigned to me. He asked me to hold forth for a half-hour on the condition of morality in the United States, with special reference to the differences between America's traditional moral values and the values of the so-called "New Morality." Now even a theologian or a philosopher might hesitate to tackle so vast and complex a subject in just 30 minutes. So I suggested that he let me talk instead about, well, politics or foreign affairs, or the Press. But he insisted that your convention wanted to talk on a subject related to morals.

Well, the invitation reminded me of a story about Archbishop Sheen, who received a telegram inviting him to deliver an address to a convention on "The World, Peace, War, and the Churches." He replied: "Gentlemen, I am honored to address your great convention, but I would not want my style to be cramped by so narrow a subject. However, I would be glad to accept if you will widen the subject to include `The Sun and the Moon and the Stars."' So I finally agreed to talk if I could widen my subject to include, "The Traditional Morality, the New Morality, and the Universal Morality."

There's another trouble with talking about morals. It's a terribly serious subject. And a serious talk is just one step away from being a dull, not to say a soporific one. So I won't be offended if, before I finish, some of you leave. But please do so quietly, so as not to disturb those who may be sleeping.

The theme of this convention is "Involvement." Now there is one thing in which all Americans, including every one of us here, are already deeply involved. Every day of our lives, every hour of our waking days, we are all inescapably involved in making America either a more moral or a more immoral country.

So this morning, let's take a look at the direction in which we Americans are going. But first, we must begin by asking, "What are morals?"

Morals, the dictionary tells us, are a set of principles of right action and behavior for the individual. The "traditional morality" of any given society is the set of moral principles to which the great majority of its members have subscribed over a good length of time. It is the consensus which any given society has reached on what right action and decent behavior are for everybody. It is the way that society expects a person to behave, even when the law-the civil law-does not require him (or her)* to do so.

One example will have to suffice. There is no law that requires a person to speak the truth, unless he is under oath to do so in a court proceeding. A person can, with legal impunity, be an habitual liar. The traditional morality of our society, however, takes a dim view of the habitual liar. Accordingly, society punishes him in the only way it can-by social ostracism.

The person who believes in the traditional principles of his society, and who also succeeds in regulating his conduct by them, is recognized by society as a "moral person." But the person who believes in these principles-- who knows the difference between "right and wrong" personal conduct, but who nevertheless habitually chooses to do what he himself believes to be wrong-is looked upon by his society as an "immoral person."

But what about the person who does not believe in the traditional moral principles of his society, and who openly challenges them on grounds that he believes to be rational? Is such a person to be considered a moral or an immoral person?

Today there are many Americans who sincerely believe that many of our traditional moral values are "obsolete." They hold that some of them go against the laws of human nature, that others are no longer relevant to the economic and political condition of our society, that this or that so-called "traditional moral value" contravenes the individual's Constitutional freedoms and legitimate pursuit of happiness. …

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