It is said that our people must be moral for the country to survive. Our decline has to do with the sinfulness of man and the decline of American morality.
We hear these things all the time.
Here is the issue at the very bottom of this mess: The fundamental right that each individual has to his life, the protection of which (and its derivatives) was THE idea at which our government was aimed at protecting from the force of other men and the force of the government, the fruit of which was the prosperity of the American experiment --- that right, of Man to live AS man - to be unchained in his attempts to secure his survival AS man --- that right can not be set on top of a Morality of altruism.
If you mix a keen political passion for individual right to life (and thus produced property) with the ethics of self-sacrifice, you get, from the first, the glories and achievements but, from the second, the absurdities, and contradictions, and obscenities of America's history down to today.
By ethics of self sacrifice, I mean the ethical principle that the good, the righteous, for man is to sacrifice his own true good for the interests of others. Full grown, this means that the highest good is for man to have no regard for himself, but to literally live for others. From Plato, to the Stoics, to Kant, to Hegel, to Dewey, to James, to the pop culture that ridicules self interest, projects that all achievement is communal, and worships 'giving back' - THIS has become our morality. Even more powerfully, a Christian misunderstanding of the atonement, penal substitution, in which God Himself sends His Son to DIE (stressed rather than to live), and the Son Christ who completes the highest 'good' to submit to torture and death for others - and especially to sacrifice himself to 'pay' the penalty of others. This mangled theory, with hundreds of nuances, is widely read as the Christian sanction of self-sacrifice as THE CRITERION of the good. The secular and Christian ethics unite in this sense, and over and over, it is screamed at us and whispered to us that the MORAL is the death of the individual, the immolation of the individual, the denial of self interest (in any form). In fact, the whole notion that there could be righteous SELF interest is ridiculed. However, the group, or 'the public", or 'the people," is a figure of language, devised for convenience of expression. Only individuals exist. To treat the tool of reference in language as the primary moral unit is absurd - subtle, destructive, and absurd.
(Regarding the atonement and Christian morality: These are very difficult concepts about which to write, with extremely fine shades of meaning. For the non-Christian, the concepts are relevant for several reasons, but the most obvious is that many in our nation take these ideas very seriously as the authority on what their morality *should* be. For Christians, the key point is that we believe that Christ achieved HIs and the Father's aim of doing what was necessary to offer salvation to men. He did not sacrifice a greater personal value for 'others.' He achieved His chosen value - our salvation, our life, HIs victory, as a man over evil - an aspect of which was the idea that my good is your loss and your good is my loss. The shocking thing is that God values His creatures in this way - to enter creation and suffer to be victorious for His ends which is our good. This is not 'sacrifice' in the way that devalues the individual. This is Christos Victor, doing for Himself and Father out of value of mankind - securing the value that God placed in man. This is far better than Father venting 'necessary' wrath on a necessarily innocent scapegoat who is supposedly 'good' because he agrees to self immolation FOR everyone else. Remember when it went dark in mid-day - Christ said why have you forsaken ME. The creation is destroying the son of man, the son of God, it goes dark at mid day, it appears as if this is not going to be allowed to happen - and Christ says why have you forsaken *me.* Christ's identification with the value of mankind, and His prioritization of that value over even torture and death-- this is what effected our salvation and defines morality - to value that which is truly good for *US.*
I realize even broaching the subject of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement is considered by many as tantamount to questioning the entire faith. I would only suggest that folks who feel that way look at two, admittedly daunting, things: the history of Christian atonement theory, and the effects of the typical interpretation of the morality defined by penal theory. )
We do not need to embrace *this*sort of morality to salvage America. It is this sort of morality that is destroying America. We need to first define and clarify morality. A key here, is that for government,, we need only realize that it is moral to protect the INDIVIDUAL's right to life, property, liberty, and pursuit of happiness within the rule of objective law. We need not define the full particulars of human morality, including the differences in particulars depending on whether there is a loving personal Creator or not. For Government purposes, we need only protect liberty and right to life from force of other men and government using the power of force of the government. It is up to individual men, in their liberty, to see the actual value that other men are to them in myriad ways, both physical, and emotional, and spiritual, and potentially even as members of the Kingdom of Heaven.
For those who struggle with this, at the outset, I have found that it was helpful to look a the reduction to absurdity to which the altruistic ethic leads. If we all, every human, followed the ethics of altruism perfectly, each of us would have nothing and we would all die. Take it to its full conclusion, its full meaning.
Hopefully, you the reader, do value your spouse or your child, or family, or neighbor, or even just your fellow man, and so you see immediately that acting out of your own TRUE, RATIONAL, self interest, as best you can see, taking into account both short and long term, not just any passing whim or wish, will mean that you express a great deal of concern and care for others. You will also notice that those you honor with your friendship and help will come to, happily, know that you value them, by the values they own, that you admire or approve or cherish or hope for them --- that they are not just a disinterested charity case, or an opportunity for you to practice your virtue. This spiritual trade is of tremendous importance to the encouragement and strengthening of the soul.
You can see what the evil of altruism does in the political and economic worlds.
Think a little about what it does in the psychology of man. A man trying to live this way swerves between resentment for the unearned tax that everyone is to him by supposed moral right, and guilt for when he indulges some interest of his own -- he is too 'weak' to live up to what is supposedly moral. And, he looks around and see no one else living up to morality, and he is disillusioned, he comes to hate mankind as a bunch of hypocrites, and himself foremost, in the end. He doesn't believe the 'morality' and he condemns himself and everyone else for not following it. What do you suppose the mental state of men and women who career fitfully between guilt, resentment, ridicule, and despair is? --- I see it every day in my practice. Get a man to believe that what is evil is good, and that what is good is evil, and he will destroy himself, and perhaps many around him as well.