For thirty-odd years evangelical Christians and social conservatives have championed values as central to the American political agenda, promoting the integrity of the family and the sacredness of life in every party political platform. But a sober assessment of this noble effort would have to conclude that it has been a spectacular failure.
Values in America are at an all-time low. Not even a dent has been made in the divorce rate which continues to hover at one in two, with women -- once the staunchest believers in marriage -- initiating three-quarters of all divorces. A Pew Research and Time magazine poll last November reported a shocking forty percent of all Americans now maintaining that marriage is obsolete.
Likewise, American culture has never been so valueless. While the Beatles sang four decades ago of not caring much for money "cause money can't buy me love," Travie McCoy found platinum with his 2010 song declaring "I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad , buy all of the things I never had." Eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll said getting rich is their generation's most important or second-most-important life goal, while 51% said the same about being famous.
Reality TV capitalizes on this lust for fame by subjecting celebrity-starved contestants to every conceivable humiliation, while AOL's Popeater reports that teen girls are now trying to get pregnant just to appear on MTV's Teen Mom.
Worst of all is the materialism and greed that continues to poison the American soul to such an extent that we collapsed a $10 trillion dollar economy that gave us homes that we never thought large enough, cars that were never new enough, and designer labels that were never fashionable enough. With Newsweek reporting that one out of three women is on anti-depressant, studies show that the shopping remains a woman's foremost cure for unhappiness.
With so much emphasis on values, what went wrong?
There is a simple explanation. My Christian brothers and fellow social conservatives adopted a narrow definition of values that centered almost exclusively on opposition to gay marriage and abortion to the exclusion of virtually everything else. In a shocking hijacking of the values-based agenda, these twin issues came to supplant everything else. Gone was any discussion of civic virtue filling our lives better than an impulse purchase, of quiet acts of selflessness being superior to publicity-seeking stunts, of thrift and saving over consumption and indulgence, and time with family over time spent at the mall. No legislation has been proposed by social conservatives to close stores on Sundays -- as they are in my neighborhood of Bergen County, New Jersey -- and strengthen families through an American Sabbath.
Over the past few weeks the nation has watched the Grammies and Academy Awards without one public call from social conservatives for a publicly televised awards ceremony for soldiers earning a purple heart or the Congressional Medal of Honor. Less so have we heard any call for national legislation on a communal year of service for all high school graduates that would combat the growing narcissism of our youth. No, All-gay-marriage-all-the-time is the only social conservative network.
While the divorce rate is at fifty percent and, according to the University of Denver, seventy percent of straight couples opt to cohabit as a substitution for marriage, we continue to fixate on the seven percent of the population who is gay, even though, ironically, gays seem to be the only men left in America who still want to marry.
If social conservatives really wanted to strengthen the family they would propose legislation making marital counseling tax-deductible so that couples in crisis could afford the help they need.
But writing in the Wall Sreet Journal just last week Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention castigated Indiana Governor and Presidential hopeful Mitch Daniels for advocating an abandonment of the GOP obsession with gay marriage and abortion because, as Land wrote, social conservatives "expect pro-life, pro-family legislation."
Indeed they do.
But they now expect language that unifies, rather than divides, left and right.
Abortion has been wrongly portrayed as a religious battle about the beginning of life when in reality it is a social issue about the death of love. The overwhelming majority of abortions are the product of selfish men having sex with women they don't love and to whom they refuse to commit, leaving them abandoned and pregnant. This is not about how doctors treat a fetus but how men treat women. Would any liberal object to a values-based message that has men looking at women as more than mere masturbatory material. Can left and right not join together to propose tough legislation punishing dead-beat dads who embrace the evolutionary model of man as inseminator?
In my work promoting values I have joined with staunch liberals to curb the cultural portrayal of women as the libidinous man's plaything. The recording industry -- once an audial but now a visual medium -- has all but erased the line separating music and soft porn with Madonna, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga all becoming queens of pop as much for their scantily-clad bodies as for their music. The left needs to join the right in promoting more Susan Boyle's who are recognized for talent over cleavage. If we created a culture that was more respectful of women, the abortion rate would plummet.
In 2004 Pres. George W. Bush, although reviled outside the United States, defeated John Kerry because 22 percent of the electorate voted for values as they reacted to 11 states offering referendums on gay marriage. Just four years later, however, with the economy collapsing due to Wall Street excess and out-of-control consumer borrowing, Americans were searching for new values to combat greed and materialism. Unbelievably, social conservatives responded with yet another campaign against gay marriage in California. The result of this abrogation of leadership was the utter marginalization of the evangelical voting block who could not prevent Barack Obama from the capturing the White House.
Now, with a $13.9 trillion dollar deficit that has every child born owing $33,000, social conservatives must promote values that directly addresses American malaise lest we be sidelined again in 2012.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 25 books and has just published 'Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.'
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