"Success with Honor" is the motto of Penn State's athletic program. They got it half right.
The alleged sexual abuse of young boys by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is disgusting, outrageous, and immoral. That so many at the school's highest level allegedly engaged either in covering up serial abuses, or turned a blind eye to them in order to maintain the "integrity" of the football program and its legendary coach, Joe Paterno, adds insult to unfathomable injury.
Baseball may still be called the national pastime, but football has become the national religion. College football is played on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, while professional football is mostly played on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Fans of both often express themselves in ways that are more vocal than the wildest Pentecostal preacher.
While denouncing what is alleged to have happened at Penn State as repugnant, we would do well to examine the reasons behind such things. Yes, it begins with human nature, but society -- buttressed by religion -- once did a better job of keeping human nature in check.
Since the free-loving '60s, we seem to have taken a wrecking ball to social mores. Today, anyone appealing to such a standard is denounced and stamped with the label of the day, usually ending in the suffix, "-phobe."
The medical and psychological professions have aided and abetted the cultural rot. Doctors once took an oath to "never do harm," accompanied by a pledge never to assist in an abortion. Now the official position of the American Medical association's "code of ethics" is this: "The principles of medical ethics of the AMA do not prohibit a physician from performing an abortion in accordance with good medical practice and under circumstances that do not violate law."
Doctors once led, now they follow cultural trends.
On its website, the American Psychological Association brags, "Since 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations." It once considered such behavior otherwise and while even most conservatives no longer regard homosexuality as a mental illness, many still regard it as sinful. That theological diagnosis, too, has been discarded in our increasingly secular and anomalous society where everything is to be tolerated except those people who assert that, according to a standard higher than opinion polls, some things remain intolerable.
What changed? Pressure groups aided by secular education and the entertainment industry.
Last week, an episode of "Glee" featured two couples -- one straight, one gay -- "losing their virginity." The show's co-creator, Ryan Murphy, told Bravo's "Sex in the Box": "Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that will be my legacy." Some legacy.
What we tolerate and promote we get more of and what we discourage and reject we get less of. C.S. Lewis said it best in "The Abolition of Man": "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."
The message at Penn State was that we live in a culture that forbids almost nothing. Jerry Sandusky apparently believed that and crossed one of the few remaining lines of morality left in our culture. But even that line might soon be erased if the pressure groups and their campaign contributions grow large enough.
In the last verse of the Old Testament's book of Judges, there is this: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
That could have been the motto at Penn State. Increasingly, it appears to describe contemporary America as well.