How Shall We Live?

Today, many of our brightest and best leaders are concerned with the question, ”How shall we be governed?” But in the book of Ezekiel the Jews asked: ”How shall we live?” This is the better question. It doesn’t matter who governs if society has no spiritual element to guide it.

Criminologist James Q. Wilson, among others, has tried to identify the root cause of the modern epidemic of lawlessness. When he began his inquiry, he was certain that he would discover that in the great period of industrial revolution in the latter half of the 19th century there was a tremendous increase in crime. But to his astonishment, he discovered a decrease. And then he looked at the years of the Great Depression. Again, there was significant decrease in crime. Frustrated by these findings which upset all preconceived notions, Wilson decided to search for a single factor to correlate. The factor he found was religious faith. When crime should have been rising in the late 1800s because of rapid growth of cities, factories, and economic dislocation, morality was sweeping across America. It was a time of intense spirituality. It was not until Victorian morality was rejected during the Roaring Twenties that crime went up. This was the era when Sigmund Freud’s views were coming into vogue among ”thinking” Americans: people weren’t evil, just misguided or mistreated, or they required better environments. Sin was regarded as a lot of religious nonsense.

The crime rate did not decline again until the Great Depression, a time of people banding together in the face of crisis. Wilson concluded, therefore, that crime was in large part caused by a breakdown of morality. Since 1965, the crime rate has steadily risen. During the same period, religious faith has waned. There has never been a case in history when a nation has survived for long without a strong moral code informed by religious truth. Countries, communities, families can not prosper when they forsake God.

This unraveling of the moral fabric of our nation underscores the need for us to do all we can to keep our families and our schools from becoming ”conformed to this world.” Increasing acceptance of secular attitudes and lifestyles is also evident in our school community. Enforcing school dress codes, formulating and enforcing school discipline procedures occupies an increasing amount of staff time. Too many of our young people today have the entire range of popular culture at their fingertips. Car radios, TV, Internet, and portable CD players blast music or bombard with images that are often degradingly immoral. When Time magazine recently published a cover story on the 2S most influential Americans, its choices were quite an eyeopener. Along with some predictable names from government, business, and academe, were fashion designers, comedians, TV talk show hosts and rock music stars. How quickly things have changed. It wasn’t so long ago that the chief influences on young people were mainly the home, the church, and the school.

Of course, we can not prevent our children from com ing into contact with the world around them - nor should we. But, working together, let’s filter out as much as possible its harmful influences and exercise our responsibility as parents to minimize the extent to which we and our families are ”conformed to this world.” What is inappropriate dress, music, leisure activities etc. at school should also be inappropriate in our homes. Let us train our children by word and example to make discerning choices, to live responsibly in the world but not as the world. By the time our children reach adulthood may the 25 people who have most decisively helped them to answer the question ”How shall we live’?” include their parents, their pastor, and the teachers they have encountered in their Christian schools.