Two new issues are now part of our national political discussion: the role of religion in our system of government and the role of government in our sexual lives. The first issue has been raised repeatedly in the Republican Party debates. We hear contenders for the highest office unabashedly discoursing on how religion has played an important role in their lives and in the nation’s history. It is a refreshing change in a country where the bare mention of a Creator in school sends atheist parents racing to call the ACLU. The second issue has been raised by President Obama’s mandate that contraceptives be provided to all, for free. The icon of the need for free contraceptives is a woman, not married, who clearly doesn’t need contraceptives to better schedule the birth of children within a happy home. Thus we have a national discussion of promiscuity. There is even a faint hint—though most political commentators flee from it as they would an assassin—that promiscuity is a sin. What a change in a country where suggesting something is sinful is harshly condemned as intolerant and silenced either by derision or persecution.
Promiscuity is “promiscuous sexual behavior” which means “not restricted to one sexual partner.”[i] Prostitution is committing sexual acts for a fee.[ii] The difference is that prostitutes get paid, those who are promiscuous don’t. Promiscuity is the opposite of Fidelity—the essential foundation of Family. The Marine Corp motto of “Semper Fidelis” = “Always Faithful” applies to Marriage and Family as much or more than it does to the Marines. What child wants a promiscuous father? What child wants a prostitute as a mother? Who would claim that promiscuity contributes to happy and successful families? We call those who aid, abet, and prosper from prostitution “pimps.” What shall we call those who aid, abet and prosper politically from promiscuity? Certainly they are enemies of Fidelity and Family. You can’t be for promiscuity and Family. They are opposites.
Does personal immorality undermine a country? It certainly undermines Marriages and thus Families, the true foundation of any country. These issues are not new. In fact they resonate from ancient times when other civilizations faced the same moral decay that worries so many of us today.
In 440 A.D., witnessing the collapse of the once all-powerful Roman Empire “. . . Salvian, a priest from the region of Marseille, addressed the central and difficult questions, ‘Why has God allowed us to become weaker and more miserable than all the [Germanic Gothic] tribal peoples? Why has he allowed us to be defeated by the barbarians, and subjected to the rule of our enemies’?” His answer: . “‘We enjoy immodest behavior, the Goths detest it. We avoid purity; they love it. Fornication is considered by them to be a crime and a danger, we honour it’.”[iii]
Will failure of Families affect our nation? One of our great modern historians, Will Durant, who along with his wife Ariel won the Pulitzer Prize for the concluding work of their 11 volume history, The Story of Civilization, reached this most remarkable conclusion about what caused the Roman Empire to fall:
“’The two greatest problems in history,’ says a brilliant scholar of our time, are ‘how to account for the rise of Rome and how to account for her fall.’ . . . A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars. . . . Biological factors were fundamental [emphasis added]. A serious decline of population appears in the West after Hadrian. It has been questioned, but the mass importation of barbarians into the Empire . . . leaves little room for doubt. . . . So many farms had been abandoned, above all in Italy, that Pertinax offered them gratis to anyone who would till them. . . In Greece the depopulation had been going on for centuries. In Alexandria, which had boasted of its numbers, Bishop Dionysius calculated that the population had in his time halved. . . . Only the barbarians and the Orientals were increasing, outside the Empire and within.
“What had caused this fall in population? Above all, family limitation [emphasis added]. . . . Though branded as a crime, infanticide flourished as poverty grew. Sexual excesses may have reduced human fertility; the avoidance or deferment of marriage had a like effect, and the making of eunuchs increased as Oriental customs flowed into the West. . . . Second only to family limitation as a cause of lessened population were the slaughters of pestilence, revolution and war. . . .The holocausts of war and revolution, and perhaps the operation of contraception, abortion, and infanticide, had a dysgenic as well as a numeric effect: the ablest men married latest, bred least, and died soonest. . . . The rapidly breeding Germans could not understand the classic culture, did not accept it, did not transmit it; the rapidly breeding Orientals were mostly of a mind to destroy that culture; the Romans, possessing it, sacrificed it to the comforts of sterility.”[iv]
How significant, and relevant, that the historian found pestilence, war, and revolution only secondary causes. He feared contraception, abortion, infanticide undermined Rome. Greatness was sacrificed for the “comforts of sterility.” How up-to-date is Salvian’s description of a culture so sunk in immorality that they honored it. How descriptive of modern Western Europe and America is Durant’s diagnosis of Rome’s fall.
That these issues are being openly discussed is a shock to those who reject any suggestion that there is such a thing as right or wrong, virtue or vice, for human conduct. But the mockery of non-believers is no longer sufficient to silence the believers. Those who do believe that private morality undergirds public morality and claim that it was a Creator, and only a Creator, who endowed us with inalienable rights are now publicly and cheerfully upholding their beliefs. What a hopeful change!
How beneficial it will be if the marvelous trend grows for public discussion of the role of morality—of being “Just”— and of God in establishing and maintaining America. How wonderful if Americans learn and believe the last verse of our National Anthem as well as the first—and joyfully sing together:
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
[i] Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition, 2007 (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, Massachusetts, 2007).
[iii] Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) 30. His award winning history ends with “Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.” p. 183.
[iv] Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1944) 665-666.