04/02/2013 12:55 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

Conversation by a Fireplace About Morality in America

An old friend of mine is one of America's influential and respected newspaper editors. Not long ago we sat down near a wood-burning fireplace, sipping Scotch, to share an absolutely informal conversation about the state of morality in America.

"The previous amorphous 'Protestant-Catholic-Jew' scene has broken into highly diverse groups ranging from fundamentalists, liturgy freaks, pentecostals, isolated individuals and small, separated communities," he said. "For the past 20 years public worship has moved from something nearly everybody did to something hardly anybody does."

He discussed public morality in wartime.

"We are a nation that has long been at war globally. But how do you talk of love and salvation to a guy who has just shot up a miserable village in a long ranging war that is condemned by a large chunk of the world, including his own church and maybe even family?"

I asked about old communes that may have survived in one form or another. Do they possible convey a message of hope or a basis for moving in a new direction?

"I've read more than I want about communes and how rough it is to make one," hle replied. "Nevertheless the Hutterites and the Doukhobors and the Bruderhoffs -- names out of the past -- have survived for decades. Some parallels might be of passing interest."

I wondered if some remnants of hippies might represent an element of faith for any current meaningfrul action.

"I didn't raise my kid to be a hippie, says the old man among now aging hippies. We've moved along to the point where hippies are parents too. How are they raising their kids? Are the offspring of the counter-culture any different from my own three children?"

As we were discussing the state of morality in America, what about the scandal of child abuse?

"This seems related to the subject of celibacy itself. Gays may represent a wholly new and different approach. What I mean is gays used to be marginalized in society. At the moment they are mainstream. Gays are no longer merely props in pop culture. They are increasingly regarded as recipients of God's grace. Defining such recipients on an equal basis may usher in completelly new attitudes and resolutions.

"For example, I took notice when it was suggested that blacks may have a monopoly on perhaps the basic Christian message of our time. Someone said that blacks -- as victims of slavery and persecution -- may well be the real Christ figures of our day."

My editor friend surprised me when he suddenly spoke of what he described as "the new missionaries." I asked him to explain.

"These are highly visible. They include, for example, disc jockeys, literary experts and film advisers. One important thing they are bringing us is a new language to communicate. This is new, different and unprecedented. None of the old cliches make sense when they are used. 'Youth' is not an amorphous category that simply does not describe real people. Neither is 'aging' or 'senior' or 'elder' a distinct category that wishes to be treated as such. Instead, we see real people in flux who are engaged in developmental changes."

My friend leaned back in his chair. As always, I appreciated his seasoned wisdom, impelling sense of humor and sharp insight. "It's a new world," he said. "Isn't it time to wake up?"