Jewish World ReviewOct. 4, 2000 /5 Tishrei 5761
While Bush enjoys the support of most voters who say that the loss of moral values is their primary concern, Vice President Al Gore offsets Bush's advantage among a larger number of voters who have other priorities. The survey also discovered that Gore's addition of Sen. Joseph Lieberman to the ticket has given the two men a seven-point boost in their standing with voters.
How can this be, given the record of the Clinton-Gore administration, including the impeachment of President Clinton, his numerous personal and professional failings and the questionable behavior and statements of Gore? How can this be, when Lieberman, though an "observant Jew,'' claims the rabbis teach him it is individual conscience, not the Torah, that is a Jew's ultimate guide? If true, every act might arguably be at least subjectively moral, because everyone becomes his or her own god. Talk about "no controlling legal authority''¡ So, a woman named "Amy,'' who was part of a study on the just-approved abortion drug RU-486, must be correct when she tells a Washington Post reporter about her abortion: "It felt morally right.'' Who can argue if there is no objective moral standard by which to judge?
The first definition of "moral'' is this: "Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.'' But what if a majority no longer accepts a common definition of right and wrong, or suppose the definition changes to suit the culture or the mood of the country at any given moment? Appeals to "morality'' then fall flat as we get the answerable, but to some embarrassing, question: "Whose morality?''
C.S. Lewis dealt with this in his classic "Mere Christianity.'' Lewis observed that everyone seems to have some standard for morality, such as the presumption that an able-bodied person would give up his seat to a disabled or elderly person or the expectation that a promise will be fulfilled. This used to be called the Law of Nature, he writes, before it came to signify gravitation, heredity or the properties of chemistry.
Lewis said the Law of Nature cannot be ignored because of immediate consequences (such as falling from a building or a chemical explosion). But the higher laws governing human nature can willfully be ignored. They, too, cause consequences, though they are often deferred. A number of recent books on divorce prove what common sense tells us -- that marital breakup has severe implications for children into their adult years. It's not that we can't know right from wrong. There are ample sources of information for people who would learn. It is that we have deliberately chosen to ignore the sources. We prefer immediate gratification to eternal rewards. We are, observed the hymn writer, "rich in things, but poor in soul.'' Such moral poverty inevitably is reflected in our politics.
An Oregon woman who plans to vote for Gore told pollsters, "I see decay in our society. As a single individual, you really don't know what to do -- what can one person do? That's why we turn to government, and that's why we want someone who shares our values.''
Her statement is meaningless. If there are no universally held "values,'' how can government reflect them? Besides, government is the last place we should look for moral renewal. Government reflects the soul of its people. If individuals cannot properly define morality, politicians will be of little help. When most people don't know what they believe or why, politicians engage in spiritual shoplifting, claiming to be able to produce the desired results without requiring anyone to pay a price. Those reverends of left and right who make their bed with politicians are unable to tell them where to turn, because such ministers have mortgaged their own souls in exchange for the illusion of political influence.
The Oregon woman who thinks Gore will improve the moral climate will be disappointed, as will
those who have faith that Bush can reverse the slide. The problem lies deeper than politics can
reach. An increasingly immoral majority refuses to search for the solution, which is higher than the
kingdoms of this