What do christians have to say about a broken society?

Last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald carried two opinion pieces on greed, ethics and a “broken” western society that presented a disturbing picture.

Greed and economic meltdown

Paul Sheehan discussed the current world economic instability in Greed of boomers led us to a total bust. He argued that greed, over consumption and “a culture of entitlement” by the generation born after World War II were mainly responsible:

This is a crisis of consumption and self-absorption, a desire for more thn was needed or expected by previous generations. It is a crisis of moral and economic obesity.

Sheehan argues that “the baby-boom-and-bust generation” has been “fattening the world with its debt”, and now we face “a decline in expectations and lower living standards” and “a return to the more frugal times of previous generations, when expectations were lower, houses were smaller, and consumption was fuelled by what we could afford, not what we could borrow.”

Ethics and a decline in public behaviour

In Old-fashioned morals can rescue societies broken by bad behaviour Alexander McCall Smith considered some less savoury aspects of modern western society, including:

  • the recent public disorder in British cities;
  • studies that showed that almost half the british population was prepared to steal and commit fraud; and
  • a US study showing that three quarters of US students were regular cheats.

Smith points to a couple of causes of what is now being called a “broken society”:

Social change:

He says “the destruction of the family as the fundamental social unit” would be fine if we had replaced the family with something else, and so “devised ways of ensuring children had stability and security”. But we haven’t, and so “considerable numbers of them are brought up instead in chaotic households where there is no consistent authority”. he says we should therefore expect “behavioural problems and damaged lives”.

Cultural change:

we are creating …. a culture in which we seem to have abandoned many of the values on which we based our civilisation.

Smith argues that the cause of this breakdown is ‘moral pluralism’:

  • “Schools cannot teach values because not everybody shares those values.”
  • He also suggests that the reality presented by TV and film “celebrates dysfunction, violence and anti-social behaviour” – popular films are “highly aggressive in tone” and reality TV accentuates “selfishness, shallowness and often sheer nastiness”.

A christian response?

It might be tempting for christians to say “I told you so”, and urge a return to christian values. But I suggest we need to reflect a little before making this response:

  1. Have we contributed to the culture of greed and entitlement as much as anyone else? Are our houses just as big, our possessions and holidays just as expensive, our debt just as big? What does our spending say about our priorities?
  2. Are we demonstrating a better way by how we live? Are our marriages any more stable and families any happier? Do our parents and leaders exhibit servant hearts? Do we raise our children in love and grace, or unloving legalism?
  3. Are we judgmental in our moralising, or do we show grace, compassion and forgiveness? Would a return to christian values actually make things better?
  4. Are we ministering to those in need, reaching out to those who are suffering or have lost direction, and loving our neighbours? Or are we more judgmental talk than loving actions?

Let’s remember that Jesus said (Luke 6:41-42):

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This is an opportunity for us to show love and truth by deeds first.

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