No Holds Barred: For the love of values

For 30-odd years, evangelical Christians and social conservatives have championed ‘values’ as being central to the American political agenda, but a sober assessment would conclude that this effort has been a spectacular failure.

Obama 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
As someone who has campaigned against Muammar Gaddafi and Libya ever since “the mad dog of the Middle East” tried to pitch a tent next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey, I was underwhelmed when Barack Obama had to be dragged kicking and screaming – by the French, no less! – into using force to stop Gaddafi from slaughtering his own people. A president so out of step with the basic American values of protecting freedom would seem vulnerable come November 2012. Yet values-lovers have gained little traction against Obama, and risk seeing him reelected to resume his pitifully weak leadership. Here’s why.
For 30-odd years, evangelical Christians and social conservatives have championed “values” as being central to the American political agenda, promoting the integrity of the family and the sacredness of life. But a sober assessment of this effort would have to conclude that it’s 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in two, with women initiating three-quarters of all divorces, and 40 percent of Americans now claiming that marriage is obsolete.
American culture has never been so valueless. While the Beatles sang of not caring for money “cause money can’t buy me love,” Travie McCoy went platinum with his 2010 song “Billionare” which went “I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad, buy all 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 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 News 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 continue to poison the American soul, leading to the near collapse of a $10 trillion economy in 2008 that gave us homes we never thought were large enough, cars that were never new enough and designer labels that were never fashionable enough. With Newsweek reporting that one in three women is on anti-depressants, studies show that shopping remains a woman’s foremost cure for unhappiness.
WHAT WENT wrong? My Christian brothers and 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. Gone was any discussion of civic virtue, of quiet acts of selflessness being superior to publicity stunts, of thrift over consumption and time with family over time at the mall. No legislation has been proposed to close stores on Sundays, and thus strengthen families through an American Sabbath.
Over the past few weeks the nation has watched the Grammies and Academy Awards without one public call for an awards ceremony for soldiers earning a Purple Heart or the Medal of Honor. Nor have we heard any call for a year of community service for all high-school graduates to combat the growing narcissism of our youth.
While the divorce rate is at 50% and, according to the University of Denver, 70% of straight couples opt to cohabit rather than marry, we continue to fixate on the 7% of the population which is gay, even though homosexuals seem to be the only men left in America who still want to marry.
If social conservatives really want to strengthen the family, they would propose legislation making marital counseling tax-deductible.
But writing recently in The Wall Street Journal 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. 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. This is not about how doctors treat a fetus, but how men treat women. Can Left and Right not join to propose tough legislation punishing dead-beat dads?
The recording industry – once an aural 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 Boyles, who are recognized for talent over cleavage.
IN 2004 president George W. Bush, although reviled outside the US, defeated John Kerry because 22% of the electorate voted for values as they reacted to 11 states offering referendums on gay marriage. Yet four years later, with the economy collapsing due to Wall Street excesses and out-of-control consumer borrowing, Americans were searching for new values to address greed.
Unbelievably, social conservatives responded with yet another campaign against gay marriage in California. The result was the utter marginalization of the evangelical voting bloc.
Now, with a $13.9 trillion deficit that has every child born owing $33,000, values-voters would be wise to promote issues that directly address the American malaise, lest we be sidelined again in 2012.
The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the author of 25 books and has just published Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.