By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett J.D.
Founder/President G.L.O.B.A.L Justice
For many years I have heard the reference that the United States is like modern day Rome – both in its glorious achievements and also in its potential downfall. While Rome had many issues that affected its eventual demise, the underlying one was moral decay. Some would argue that morality may also be at the center of whether or not the United States will continue to achieve and prosper as a nation. I would argue that it is not just the United States that will hinge on the morality issue. Indeed, across the globe, the myriad of concerns that we read, hear and see on the news and social media, are mostly rooted in issues of morality. In some respects, while the globe has progressed on many fronts since the Roman Era, in other ways, the world seems to be backsliding into a previous time when pagan societies engaged in morally questionable and societally destructive practices. As we scan the issues of the globe over many years, we seem to have spanned from pagan to sacred and back again.
Religions and society in general have long borrowed from pagan practices, incorporating them into our daily lives and religious exercises, such as in various holiday references. This is why bunnies, spring, and other references to fertility are the images of Easter despite that holiday being about the resurrection of Jesus. However, what religion, and specifically the Christian religion, has brought to pagan life was a broader sense of humanity and good. While Christianity is not the only faith in the world to offer and do good to society, Christianity does have a singular history of promoting, protecting, and spreading globally a range of concepts that have deeply impacted society for the good. Love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, dignity, justice, mercy – are all concepts at the center of Christian faith. These concepts also gave deep roots for why Christian evangelists, missionaries, advocates and service organizations promoted liberty, abolition of slavery, suffrage, women’s rights, education, protection of children, etc. These evangelistic and advocacy pursuits were very much an extension of a moral understanding that came from a Christian perspective on the value of humans
Neither I as an individual, nor Christianity as a religion, advocates for a theocracy or one world religion. However, when the central concepts of Christianity are absent in society, other forces pull society toward a different and often troubling perspective on life and the world. As the United States and the globe in general have become less Christian focused, these alternate moral frameworks have created challenges to society in many ways. Other religions have grown and taken strong positions on a wide range of societal issues, thus framing the societies they influence. Just consider the status of women, education, or religious freedom in countries in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. And in Western and Communist countries where society has become increasingly secularized, there is a corresponding rise of corruption and major crimes including drugs/arms/human trafficking.
Over time, the results of the shifts in moral perspective are more than apparent. Without the concepts of love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, dignity, justice, mercy, etc connected with Christian morality, our world has become increasingly violent and barbaric, and has increasingly devalued human life. Groups like ISIS can behead individuals, attack communities, abduct and abuse children, etc. Human traffickers can kidnap and violently abuse young girls, women, boys, and men for sexual slavery, forced labor, and other forms of oppression. Governmental leaders can conduct morally corrupt practices not only in their work but in their personal lives. Mothers and fathers can disfavor, degrade, or neglect their children, especially their girls. And community members can attack one another on the basis of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, or the language they speak.
These types of abuses were very much a part of pagan society. That is what led Christians to draw sides and lines to say that these practices were not only wrong, but could no longer be tolerated in a civil society. Years after the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of enlightened and reformed Europe, the US Civil War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, World War II, the UN Charter, 9/11, and many of our other historical markers, people and nations repeatedly said “no more” to societal abuses. However, today we not only continue to face these abuses, we are escalating and glorifying these practices – just like the pagans did – but through media and the manner in which we “debate” one another.
The debates of today seem to center on whether or not we should be religious, whether or not we should be tolerant of other perspectives and practices, whether or not we deserve specific privileges or own specific rights. But these debates may not address the very real issues of today. Without a moral understanding and value of humanity, practices and behaviors that degrade, demean, discriminate, and defile human beings will continue. Christian principles and concepts are significant in addressing these issues not because they are religious tenets or because they are specifically Christian, but because they make sense for humanity. Love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, dignity, justice, and mercy all provide the underpinnings for solutions since they give society a moral base to pursue those solutions. Regardless of religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, or political status, no person in society should treat others in the way that ISIS, traffickers, corrupt officials, and morally bankrupt family and community members have. And, society has an obligation to caution against broad scale abuse. With that perspective, and as an example, any person, religious or not, and any nation, religious or not, could and should condemn wide spread religious persecution and death inflicted and not just idly watch or ignore the gruesome results on the news or social media.
More than 2000 years after the principles of Christianity were introduced to the world through Jesus and his followers, society has progressed in remarkable ways. Our current structures, laws, institutions, technologies, and discoveries along with our people have the capacity to do more good for the world than at any other time in history. But in light of the tragedies and difficulties facing the globe today, we need to engage those capacities with morality, recognizing what is sacred and worthy of protecting. We cannot fall back to the ways of the pagans, focusing on our own interests and not valuing humanity more broadly. We have come too far to fall so low.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.