Supposedly America is in moral decay, for which there’s much evidence. But then there always has been. A quote has long been attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville saying 180 years ago that America is great because America is good. He never said it, but pretend he did. In the 1830s millions of Americans were slaves, with masters who could beat them, sexually molest them, impregnate them, abort the child or sell it, or kill the slave, with little to no legal or social consequence. Was America more Christian and moral then?
Recently while social media, hours after the horrible Dallas police murders, asserted that America was on the verge of a race war, I met a colleague at an urban courtyard. On a balmy evening children of all races laughingly played together around a fountain. Adults of all races sat on benches or sipped their drinks at outdoor cafes. My colleague, looking on, with understatement observed that the hyperbolic headlines did not match the reality before us.
Indeed. What if our smart phones instantly alerted each of us to every murder in America in real time? What if we all got similar alerts for every rape and robbery? What if we knew instantly of every parent who abused a child and of every spouse who routinely abused his or her consort? What if we knew immediately of every teacher, cleric or neighbor who sexually exploited a young charge? Imagine our phones ringing with every suicide, every child succumbing to cancer, every family killed or devastated by an auto accident. This overload of horrific data would overwhelm us, drive us all to despair if not suicide.
And imagine if the alerts were expanded beyond coverage of our own country of 320 million but were global, with the major tragedies and atrocities among 7 billion people instantly transmitted to us. Life would be unbearable. Who among us could endure such unending burdens?
Fortunately only God in heaven with His complete knowledge is receiving all this simultaneous information and so much more. He can process this unending grief and shame, amid His own sadness and anger, even if we decidedly cannot. People of faith, especially Christians, are for this reason, among others, asked to place their burdens before God and trust in His ultimate disposition of human affairs. We are warned that sufficient unto the day are the problems thereof, so therefore we live by faith, not with complaint, contending with challenges and evils over which we have some influence, leaving the rest to Him.
We are also called by faith to appreciate that even amid great evils God’s works of mercy and redemption are proceeding on a schedule known fully only by Him. In all times, but especially our own times, we have a responsibility, to step back from the micro and appreciate the macro. We remain in America among the wealthiest, healthiest, longest lived, freest and most advantaged people who’ve ever lived.
This recognition can no longer be confined just to America. The world in recent decades has enjoyed the greatest increase in human history of human wealth, of human health, of human longevity, of human comfort, of human safety, and by some measures of human freedom. Poverty, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, childhood mortality are of course too common but are in dramatic retreat. By most measures war is less common. By some measures, the rule of law has advanced.
As an American there’s no other time I would prefer to live than now. But I would say the same for virtually any other country, perhaps excluding North Korea, which has been dreadful for 70 years, and was no bed of roses beforehand under Japanese occupation. Human rights in Iran are worse under the mullahs than under the Shah 40 years ago, but still there are better living and health standards. Saudi Arabia remains a dark place, but when was it not? Arguably there are some baby steps toward incremental freedoms. Certainly materially they are better than ever.