On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. The African American community was outraged at what they perceived as another senseless killing of a black young person. Several nights of rioting ensued, prompting Missouri governor Jay Nixon to send in the National Guard to quell the violence.
While there was an obvious need to maintain the peace for public safety, there was much criticism about the heavy-handed tactics of the Missouri police. CNN described the incident as having triggered a national debate on race relations, as well as on the use of force and the militarisation of the police in US.
In situations like these—and one is reminded of other civil disturbances in history, including the 2011 England riots—it isn’t just rioters and criminals who demonstrate a lack of moral standards. While the direct reason for the England riots may have been uncannily similar to that of Missouri’s, experts also identified other underlying causes, including classism, economic decline and the breakdown of social morality.
And it’s easy to understand why. Those in power are not immune to such degeneration. Politicians lie and cheat, while rich businessmen move their money into overseas tax havens to avoid paying their dues to the country that protects them.
Ironically, these tycoons, while wanting to enjoy making millions of dollars in a safe environment where there is social and political stability, reliable transport systems and good schools to educate their children, do not want to contribute to support the structure they profit from.
While the rich can employ expensive tax lawyers who make sure that everything they do is legal, are their actions always ethical and moral? Are their motives any better than those of a criminal or rioter?
What this tells me is that the unrest in our street-level society cannot be disassociated from the moral corruption in the higher ranks, whatever country that may be.
We routinely read of parliamentarians rorting their expense allowances and of politicians who have used the cover of their job to line their own pockets with millions of dollars.
Then we could mention the banks and bankers who have made themselves wealthy while exploiting their customers. Early this year, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, one of the four “pillar” banks in the country, was found to have committed acts of fraud and financial mismanagement in respect to the funds of its customers. To date, it has paid out some $A52 million in compensation.
Such scandals are symptomatic of our society today. Something is wrong. Society floats in a moral vacuum. We might have an amoral, “feral” culture that ignores decency and morality. But just as evil are the cultured rich and powerful who also ignore laws.
Society today is at war. The battle-front is not in Israel, Palestine or Ukraine. It is here in our midst: it is our own inability to distinguish between right and wrong.
Under the cloak of freedom and tolerance, we have abandoned morality grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics, replacing it with a concept of moral relativism.
Moral relativism has many definitions, but each claims there is no objective basis of determining right or wrong. Rather, everyone determines for themselves what is right or wrong based on their own feelings or cultural norms.
Is it possible that there are no universally right or wrong actions? What about paedophilia, child molestation, rape, murder or incest? Should society or people have the right to say any of these actions are morally acceptable? Just think about a society where its morals are defined by the perpetrators of the crimes above. Imagine living in this society; imagine the consequences!
Unfortunately, many of the programs we daily view on our TV screens and the things we read about are the consequences of this moral relativism. It allows any behaviour to become permissible and acceptable. Every day we are exposed to it in our entertainment, educational systems and even our laws.
Today, many argue against biblical morality, stating that it is outdated, outmoded and out of touch with today’s world. Is this true? Does morality change with time? Listen to what the biblical king, Solomon, said a long time ago: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–11).
The immorality that exists at every level of society has a long history. It is an old immorality that began the day Adam and Eve decided to dis-obey God. And it is still a part of our modern society today. The message of the Bible is just as relevant today as it was in the past.
We are living in a time when right is wrong and wrong is right. The apostle Paul, in Romans 7, put it so well when he said, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’ ” (verse 7).
In other words, we need the law of God to help us distinguish right from wrong. Without the law, sin and moral relativism reign.
We would do well to go to the Bible and read God’s Ten Commandments again (found in Exodus 20:1–17). Wouldn’t you rather live in a society that upholds each of these Commandments than one that doesn’t? I know I would.