Son, you sure ask tough questions, but I’ll try my best to answer. Having lived a long life (and seen America at both its highest and lowest points) I think I have some insights. Many of those insights came from my parents, rather than mere experience. My mother was the first one to tell me that America would fall from the inside as a result of moral decline – not from some outside threat. She first told me that during the Cold War. I didn’t believe her then, but time has shown just how prescient she was.
I suppose the fall of America could best be traced to a failure to grasp one simple idea; namely, that ideas have consequences. Of course, that also means that bad ideas have very bad consequences.
Most of America’s very bad ideas were born on our college campuses. In fact, they were nurtured during the time that America was strongest. That was some time after the fall of the Soviet Union when we were the world’s lone superpower. The ideas took a while to sink into the larger society. Few people realized what Lincoln knew in the mid-nineteenth century; namely, that one could look at our campuses at any time and see what the culture would look like in twenty years. The larger social consequences of ideas are often delayed by many years.
The first dangerous idea embraced by postmodern America was the idea that one has the right to negate other ideas simply because they cause discomfort. This idea gained acceptance on our college campuses right after the fall of the Soviet Union. It resulted in a weakening of the character of the average college student. In fact, it served a counter-evolutionary function in the sense that it guaranteed that the ideas of the weakest students would be the ones to survive in the intellectual marketplace. It also did much to extinguish humility as a character trait among educated people.
The idea that one has a right to negate ideas simply because one is uncomfortable is narcissistic. Our speech codes reinforced that bad trait while simultaneously reinforcing the bad ideas that accompany it. Unsurprisingly, civility in discourse began to decline in the age of speech codes. It was an Orwellian development. The Ministers of Peace were becoming the Ministers of the Cultural Wars.
It was not long before these students began to assert their “right to be unoffended” in a proactive way. Instead of waiting for speech that might offend them, they actively sought it out. They joined groups that held ideas contrary to their own - and did so knowingly. After joining these groups they asserted a right to lead the groups that were advancing the ideas they found to be objectionable. When the groups predictably sought to exclude them, they claimed to be victims of discrimination. The universities supported them in their efforts to ban belief requirements in all organizations, particularly religious organizations. Oddly, in the age of diversity, all the groups began to look the same. They believed in nothing. Their leaders believed in nothing. They had no common cause that required strength in numbers. There was no more need to associate.
Eventually, the students had to leave campus and fend for themselves in the real world. When they did so, they realized churches and other organizations operated by principles foreign to them. They relied on antiquated ideas that had not been taught on the campuses in years. The churches required adherence to core beliefs for membership. The requirements were even more restrictive for deacons, elders, and other positions of leadership. Many were excluded. Many were determined to bridge the gap between the academy and the society-at-large.
So they proceed on a theory they learned at the university. Whenever Christian organizations sought to receive student funding, the university would tell them to set aside the “discriminatory” practice of demanding that all members, or just officers, believe in something. This demand was made despite the fact that the university funding came in the form of the fees students had paid only because the administration made them. The process involved three steps:
1. Administration charges fees.
2. Religious groups ask for their money back.
3. Administration forces group to abandon beliefs in order to get back fees they were forced to pay.
If students refused to renounce their religious beliefs, the university kept the money. In other words, the “mandatory student fee” was a misnomer. It was actually a “tax on orthodox beliefs.”
This method was later modified in order to deal with churches that required belief statements for membership, or for church leadership positions. Since they were paying no taxes, they were seen as being “given something” by the government. So the government decided that tax breaks for churches must be contingent. If the church “discriminated” on the basis of belief, they would no longer be given a tax exemption. In other words, they would be taxed only if they believed in something.
Liberal churches, on the other hand, continued to get tax breaks because they believed in nothing. So they survived. This was also counter-evolutionary in the sense that they were doing poorly before the government interfered with the religious marketplace. They were also the churches populated by the easily offended. In this way, churches preaching Mere Christianity lost their ability to survive and to influence the culture.
After that, the notion of truth still survived. But it lacked an objective basis. It was seen as a mere struggle for power among warring factions. They learned their tactics in the Ivory Tower. Truth is not transcendent. It must be won at the edge of the sword or the point of a gun. And so they took to the streets.
The groups had but one thing in common: They knew the old ideas had to go. But they were not sure what would replace them. They had no exit strategy. And so they eventually consumed themselves.