From the beginning, Americans were taught to trust God and to be suspicious of government; now Americans are taught to trust government and to be suspicious of God. Most remarkably, this very fundamental reversal seems to raise little concern for its evident consequences.
The societal tipping point appears to have arrived in the 1960’s as feminists rejected basic religious precepts to demand for women the sexual license they attributed to and envied in men. That goal had materialized with the arrival of practical female contraception and legal abortion. Women, previously conservators of marriage, family and church, increasingly abandoned that behavior and therewith, the religious precepts that supported it. Religion continues to decline and is now also undermined by government with mandates supporting birth control, abortion and the provision of services for gay marriages. Women traded their religious birthright for the right to work while homemaking, the right to be single mothers and the right to die on battlefields. Men and churches watched, while government move into the resulting vacuum. As women converted from God to Government, church, marriage and family lost their champions. And as we will see later, so did work.
Historically, the family has provided the formative societal grouping and the ultimate refuge; your family taught you how to live and in extremis, had to take you in. Religion reinforced such duties, adding charity for strangers. Now, government has assumed the functions. Recently, a Kentucky family was raided, the mother arrested and her ten kids taken by deputies over their homeschooled, off-the-grid lifestyle on their 26 acres. An eleven year old played alone in the family back yard; the child was taken by officers and the parents charged with felony neglect. Government is becoming the ultimate parent, suffering only conforming birth parents to remain in their roles. These aren’t routine cases; they made news, but they illustrate a trend. Authority that parents once claimed of God is now assumed by government. Today’s divorce rates likely reflect this hollowing-out of the family as well as the casting-off of female sexual restraints. Family and government cannot be expected to occupy the same space at the same time. And there is more.
Most know that compulsory public education now teaches irreligious sex, a negative attitude toward religion and a reverence for government. Some public schools foster abortion, all exclude God and His Commandments. Some of these programs have been modified to meet local sensibilities; the advent of Common Core implies standardization. Children’s appropriate social standards are no longer left in average parents’ hands; they tend to be absorbed in school. Behavioral changes therefore, have become less religious, more uniform and more political.
Regarding aid in extremis: Welfare, food stamps, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, Social Security, healthcare and more now come via government bureaucrats, no longer through families and churches. But the assumption of charity by government carries an increasingly visible risk: Debt. Government has borrowed heavily to fund these added charities; government largesse has come mortgaged past the taxpayers’ capacity to repay. The notion that government has relieved families and churches of a burden is proving illusory; the reality appears to be that government has appropriated the functions, expanded them and stuck the taxpayers with the bill. God never did that; He left families and churches in charge of their spending. God’s charity was more affordable than that of government is proving to be. Nor did it expand poverty via debt. Unintended perhaps, but predicted consequences of government intrusion. With all of that in play, it’s useful to consider how the West grew wealthy in the first place.
On the world map, economic success is maximized where political corruption is at a minimum, a logical correlation. Note that the “developed world” or “rich world” enriched itself while it was also the Christian world. Many see Post-Reformation Christianity with its “Protestant Work Ethic” a likely contributor to the development of Capitalism and the wealth of the West. That is argued but the heartland of modern wealth and technology is not. However, we are post-Christian now; that old “Protestant Work Ethic lies behind us. Children no longer hear of the Ant and the Grasshopper in home and school. Honesty, hard work, frugality, self-reliance and delayed gratification have been replaced by dependency and entitlement. Surveys suggest that recent generations may as a result of their educations and values, lack the necessary attitudes and skills to constitute a productive workforce. Perhaps government parenting produces layabouts?
Delayed gratification underlies the creation of economic surplus, i.e. wealth. The entitlement mentality reverses that productive attitude as dependency reverses the self-sufficiency that motivates economic competition. Americans who shared the Protestant Work Ethic were by no means all Protestants but they all saw accepting charity as a tacit admission of personal failure and so, shameful. Today’s Americans see charity as a right and complain when it is little or late, while the American economy mysteriously languishes. Perhaps the reversed attitudes have something to do with our reversed economic results?
It is generally accepted that taxing something reduces its production, while subsidizing increases it. Today’s government taxes and regulates production while subsidizing and encouraging consumption. We see those subsidized increasing while those producing decrease. It fits: God’s intangible help was free; Government’s material help is extracted from taxpayers. The more the government helps, the less the taxpayers have.
While society has been changing, government has evolved too. Politicians during the Great Depression and after WWII stood for excluding and deporting illegal aliens to maximize opportunities for working citizens. Today, President Obama and leaders of both parties are doing all that they can to attract foreigners to work in the U.S, another reversed attitude. Add the shift from relatively cheap to costly “green” energy sources. The repeal of deferred gratification to favor consumption over production stood the Protestant Work Ethic on its head. That is confirmed by the 49% of Americans who now receive government benefits, a startling reversal from viewing the acceptance of charity as shameful. Little wonder that a society with half its citizens burdened by the other half, owns a struggling economy.
How reversed American attitudes have reversed economic results seems clear. As God is an invisible presence, trust in Him ends as trusting oneself. The feedback loop between effort and result is short and uncomplicated by the presence of bureaucrats and politicians. Blame remains undebatable. However, Government in place of God reverses all of that: Cause is far from effect, many are involved and available to blame. Entitlement removes local corrective action. Instead of arising and going after what is needed, dissatisfied folk riot and rampage in tantrums, demanding a solution be handed them. That sets up the failure of the system since ultimately, government lacks sufficient resources to fulfill the expectations ultimately aroused by politicians. (A point largely ignored by media, economists and politicians.) Doubters: Kindly examine today’s Greece.
Also, wealth flows differently; we are returning to the historical pattern of a large proletariat, small middle and tiny class of superwealthy. The spread of socio-political corruption released by the retreat of religious values siphons wealth into major corporate management, politicians and government workers at the expense of ordinary citizens. Under corruption, wealth accrues to power rather than productivity. The Greeks, victims of their societal corruption, are showing us our way. Americans and Europeans have traded their older, productive values for polar opposites; it seems reasonable that the economic result reflects the change. Trusting God was cheaper than trusting Government is proving to be.
America’s Founders believed that trust in God brought out the best in men; that government, a thing of conflicted human nature, illustrates instead, the imperfections of our species. So far, it seems that historical results agree with the Founders. But they were no fools; it comes as no surprise that Ben Franklin appended: “… if you can keep it,” when he described the new government to a questioner on the steps of Constitution Hall. Were he here today, he would understand both our evident wealth, and our impending poverty.