How Did America Get So Morally Divided?

Ravi Zacharias answers a question
Ravi Zacharias answers a question
Reflecting on an absurdly tumultuous week, I asked myself “How did we get so morally divided as a country?” I’ve pondered this question before, but in watching a video this morning on YouTube, “how” finally crystalized. In the video, Dr. Zacharias was speaking to a church, and took a question about how non-believers perceive the disagreement between them and the Christian process of thought. The questioner didn’t name the topic, it was clear he/she was asking about homosexuality. Zacharias’ answer brought the winners, the losers, and the answer into focus. It’s about our individual moral codes, our expectations, and what we perceive to be true. Please bear with the history lesson, but it is important.

MLK - priceless response
MLK – priceless response
In the 1964 election cycle, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater famously stated “You can’t legislate morality.” Martin Luther King, Jr. aptly corrected and grounded Goldwater, saying “Morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” In America, the lines between morality and legality have become perilously blurred. The hodge-podge of personal moral codes, expectations that don’t match reality, and a ridiculous sense of “offendedness” have driven our citizenry to impose a haphazard and confusing legality on one affinity group, by another affinity group.

Thumbs up - the finger before the sale
Thumbs up – the finger before the sale
Let’s use business to demonstrate the conflicts of individual morality in American society. America has set a very high bar of expectations for businesses. We expect our calls to be answered promptly. We expect immediate and correct information about the product or service we want to pay for. ‘’’The customer is always right”, so the internet and industry met to bring us mass customization. We are spoiled rotten by business, just to get our business. Our individual autonomy with our money has earned us a special moral response from business.

Oh, you wanted customer service with that?
Oh, you wanted customer service with that?
“Sales turns the till”, so where sales meets the consumer, the consumer gets attention. Customer service is an entirely different moral response. Now, we have an expectation of getting what we want, but business has its own individual autonomy because the sale is over. Welcome to “perma-hold”, company policy, and they really never cared about you, just your money. Welcome to a demonstration of real power.

Today, business resources dwarf government resources. The business oligarchy buys our elected representatives just so they can control how they are regulated. Government regulatory agencies are paid by the industries they regulate, and the consumer has very little actual power. Now, the autonomous consumer has become subjected to being ruled by the oligarchy of big business. There are shifting moral codes at play, and possibly a shock to the expectations of the inexperienced consumer.

We need to look at moral codes to get a better understanding of why the United States fractures on ideological and religious lines. There are three basic classifications of individual moral code at play in our country: theonomy, heteronomy and autonomy. In the graphic below, we will start with the mother of all expectations, theonomy.

TheonomyUntil the mid-18th century, most of the developed world was ruled by dictatorial monarchy. America was largely settled by Europeans, who accepted heteronomous rule (by another) in affairs of government, which aligned with the Biblical principal that God puts kings and rulers in place. Also aligning with Biblical principal, the citizenry governed themselves according to theonomy or God’s natural law. What was obvious and right, and aligned with Biblical principles was generally accepted by most citizens. No one needed anyone to define morality to them. Gender was obvious, there wasn’t much moral squishiness about killing or stealing, and unless an assault left a permanent mark, people let it slide.

The Academy gets its power
The Academy gets its power
But new moral codes had been brewing. Time progressed and moral codes changed.

Though the brain-children of European enlightenment were born in the 1620’s, they didn’t yet have a name for it. In 1774, Immanuel Kant published “Answering the Question; “What is Enlightenment?” In 1776, America declared independence, fought the revolutionary war, threw off the shackles of monarchy, and became a representative democracy. European enlightenment eventually swept the continent, jumped the Atlantic Ocean, and the changing morality and governmental structures of the Enlightenment were upon us by the mid 1800’s. The

Enlightenment thinkers play a roll with the Founders
Enlightenment thinkers play a roll with the Founders
academic community caught fire with the idea that all social and even scientific moral codes must be questioned. Darwin was elevated above the Bible by many elites, and then Biblical truth was discarded altogether by the element of society who would become responsible for teaching our children.

From monarchy rule to representative republic, we traded one form of heteronomy (rule by another) for another. The academic elites infiltrated America’s adolescent government, and the “tyranny of the left” began pushing government to erode personal autonomy. The 16th Amendment brought income tax to America in 1913 and government got a new pool of money to

Urbanizing, just in time for income taxes
Urbanizing, just in time for income taxes
dip into. The historical private and small-town schools started being eclipsed by more urban public schools at the turn of the 20th century. The moral fabric that had been observed and respected in theonomy gave way to heteronomic control at the dawn of the 20th century. The Bible became unwelcome, particularly in the classroom.

Urbanizing, leave your Bible in the country
Urbanizing, leave your Bible in the country
This period also gives birth to what some believe is federalized, creeping moral decay, while others perceive they’ve been liberated from a theocracy that never actually was. The industrial revolution during this period started moving rural America off the farm and toward the cities. Cities became powerful capitols.

The next graphic illustrates heteronomy; the condition of being under outside control, either human or divine. We’ve never been a theocracy. The founders of the United States ended the control of King George’s theocratic monarchy on the US (fun fact – England is technically still ruled by one). The US constitution designed a representative democracy, which is another heteronomy above the autonomy of the individual. In reality, America’s representative democracy was choked out by the toxic money of the international corporations, which act as a shadow oligarchy today. A solid case can be made that last week’s passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership marked America’s conversion to an oligarchical democracy. Another fun fact: much like the Queen of England, the American voter remains a quaint relic of a glorious past.


We’ve discussed a great deal about autonomy, which is the subject of our next graphic. This is the most confusing moral code that America deals with, and it is our greatest source of moral conflict. Business has convinced us that we should expect industry to govern itself based on a moral code of virtue. Industries fight regulation, self-imposing a moral collective that is essentially powerless. But in reality, businesses operate in a world of anarchy. If you live for today’s American values, individual autonomy is actually more of a perception than a reality.


Underneath the genuine power of the oligarchy, the citizens squabble amongst themselves trying to assert the virtues of one moral collective over another. Call it left or right, conservative or liberal, each side believes their personal moral code is greater than the other. We use the instruments of our representative democracy to impose the virtues of one special interest group over another. The only legal power we have to govern our civil squabbles is our Constitution, which hasn’t actually applied to the oligarchy in a long time, if ever. The ugly truth is, in our melting pot of moral codes, the only hope the citizens have to maintain order amongst ourselves is that Constitution that we distort and use as a wedge to separate one another from power.

Heather Barwick of "Heather has Two Mommies"
Heather Barwick of “Heather has Two Mommies”
Let’s look at the real loser in our squabble over moral codes. Heather Barwick  personifies the real loser of the events of last week. She was the daughter in the landmark LGBT children’s book, “Heather Has Two Mommies”, and she came out last week admitting she loves LGBT people and her lesbian parents, but she was robbed of a father. The Liberty News reports that Barwick says that many children being raised by same-sex partners are hurting, longing for the other half of traditional parenting:

Children of LGBT couples long for their missing parent
Children of LGBT couples long for their missing parent
The other winners and losers aren’t quite as obvious. The liberal left believes they had a fantastic week with the ACA staying, “gay marriage” passing in the legislature of SCOTUS, and seeing public display of the Confederate flag in its death throws. But already the left media is reporting on the big letdown now that the “gay marriage” fight is over. The Christian conservatives believe they had a rotten week, but in many respects it was a fantastic win. For the atheist and agnostic, their very short lives will see what they believed to be progress evaporate at the whim of the oligarchy. For the Christian, we’ve been shocked into realizing that we are in peril. We always have been, but now it is public and painful. We were born in adversity, and as early church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Perhaps Paul said it even better as he described asking God to take the devil’s thorn out of his flesh:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NLT)
9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Christians have somewhere to turn when the shifting moral codes of today change on a whim. They can go to the One who never changes. They can run to their Father, the Creator. Not in denial of their weaknesses, they can tap into the greatest strength that is.

Job 38:4-7 (NLT)
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.
5 Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
6 What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone
7 as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

jesus_cristo.gifcartoon confused imogis


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