The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The headlines have been gruesome and the facts behind the stories are difficult to even read. We recoil at the horrors that seem to be present at every turn these days. The Boston Marathon bombings, the agonizing trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, the shootings at Sandy Hook and the Aurora theater come readily to mind.
Sadly, this road of national tragedy is growing increasingly familiar. It’s almost as if the public has grown accustomed to the aftermath of senseless death. Within moments of the news my friends on Facebook had created memorial and tribute pictures. It used to be we didn’t know what to say. But now it seems we do, and I don’t think that’s a positive development.
What of the long-term impact?
We may take a short time to mourn and reflect, but once the shock wears off, the gloves are off.
Just the other day a pundit said he hoped the Boston bomber was a white American, lest racial tensions escalate should it be an individual of foreign descent.
And so in the days and weeks following tragedy, we all too soon succumb to the temptation of fitting grisly facts into tidy political narratives. Pundits go to the airwaves, and the nation watches the heated exchanges on TV. The extremes seem to dominate. Opinions are encapsulated into 30-second sound bites and 140 characters or less.
None of this changes the fact that babies and children, the most vulnerable among us, are increasingly becoming the victims of unthinkable evil that should have never, ever have happened. Somehow, what really matters gets lost in the chaos.
Can we do something differently this time?
I think we can.
For starters, we have to be willing to accept tough truths. We have to curb our instinct to say that it was bad public policy that allowed this or that to happen, or that entertainment/culture/the right/the left was to blame.
Instead, let’s be honest and recognize the evil that can dwell in the human heart.
It’s certainly not popular to throw around terms like wickedness and sin. As we marvel at our achievements, our education and our technology, it’s easy to think we’re somehow worlds apart from our uncivilized ancestors. The reality is, however, that human hearts don’t change simply because our thinking may have advanced. The only way out is back, reversing course from our decades-long march into the wasteland of moral relativism.
Simply put, we may not want to admit there’s right and wrong, but deep down, we know it’s true. That’s the truth that gnaws at us as we learn about 20 murdered children or a suddenly departed 8-year-old who dreamed of peace or infants apparently brutally killed moments after they were born alive.
What I’m about to say will not be a widely popular message in our present culture, but I’m convinced it is the only cure for what ails us.
There is a creator who has given us, his creation, the blueprint for a healthy humanity. It involves love and selflessness and respect and truth and grace and clear moral standards and a host of other principles by which societies are designed to function. Yet we have, in our “wisdom” and “sophistication,” turned our backs on those timeless teachings, dismissing them as outmoded and unenlightened.
As our culture drifts ever further from the truth that each person is created in God’s image, and is therefore of unspeakable value, life will continue to be viewed as a cheap commodity. Troubled souls will continue to wreak havoc on innocent men, women and children. And we will continue to wring our collective hands in desperate search of a solution. But short of a moral and spiritual reawakening, we are left to apply Band-Aid solutions to tourniquet problems.
We must lead by example, living out a true love that cares, that tends to people’s needs, and that speaks the truth.
God help us.
NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the Washington Post’s On Faith page.