What Has Happened to Morality in the USA?

moralityYears ago, religions enforced what I would call a pseudo moral code through the power of the state to enact laws desired by the most powerful religions.  This of course reflected the power that religions had in society back when you could go to hell for missing mass on Sunday.  Gambling was verboten.  There was legalized horse race betting in only a few states, and a few states had some other sports such as greyhound racing or Jai Alai which you could bet on.  Legally, you could only place bets at the venue.  Of course, organized crime found it very lucrative to offer “off track” betting.  Every street corner where I grew up had a bookie some place or other.  And of course, the numbers game was a very popular way for fools to lose their money.  Sports betting was done privately, and casino gambling did not start in Las Vegas until 1931.  It had been legal earlier but was outlawed in 1910 and not legalized until 1931.  The only lottery I ever heard of when I was growing up had to do with the Irish Sweepstakes.  There must have been some way to buy these tickets, but I never investigated it.

Today, you can buy pull tabs and lottery tickets in almost every gas station.  Casinos are just around the corner in twenty states and sports betting became legal on April 15, 2021, in the USA.  Organized religion believed that gambling would be addictive, and husband and wives would neglect their parental responsibilities as they gambled away their hard-earned wages.  People who regularly buy lottery tickets are the norm today even though economists refer to the lottery as a tax on the poor and the stupid.

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Marijuana was once considered a drug from Satan and every state in the Union banned its sale.  The movie “Reefer Madness” came out in 1936 and portrayed wild eyed youth going crazy after smoking a joint.  Smoking weed was a sure path to hell and damnation.  As of May 27, 2022, 19 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have now enacted measures to regulate cannabis for adult non-medical use with several other states limiting its use to medical purposes.  You can now smoke that joint where it once would have put you in jail.

drink-whiskey-hail-satan-satanic-baphomet-gift-manuel-pichlerWhiskey can now be purchased almost 24/7 in many states.  You can buy it in grocery stores, gas stations, bars, and convenience stores.  Perhaps no substance has been more abhorred by religions than whiskey.  Benjamin Franklin said that “Beer is proof that God loved man and wanted him to be happy.”  However, this was not the attitude of most religious organizations.  Temperance movements motivated by so called moral considerations did their best to ban alcohol in the US.  It is illegal in thirteen countries in the world.  Several of the world’s major religions ban the use of alcohol.  There are seventy-five scripture (Bible) warnings against the drinking of alcohol.  Is it any wonder that so many religions have prohibited the drinking of alcohol.

  • Hosea 4:11 – Intoxicating wine takes away intelligence.
  • Micah 2:11 – Israelites are eager to follow false teachers who prophesy plenty of intoxicating drinks.
  • Habakkuk 2:16 – Drinking leads to shame.

I have been trying to show some of the influences that religion and state have had in terms of legislating and enforcing moral codes and policy.  I could say more about prostitution and pornography but the nuances I hold regarding these subjects would entail a blog of their own.  Suffice it to say that restrictions in these areas have declined considerably in the last fifty years.

The_Fire__Brimstone_PreachingNow there may be some of you reading my blog and expecting a fire and brimstone sermon regarding the sins of humanity and the temptations of the devil.  Nothing could be further from my mind.  I am not advocating going back to the religious sanctions or beliefs that fueled so much of our political system.  In the first place, they were misguided and in the second place they penalized those who could practice moral virtues along with those most reluctant.  I could never understand why I could not buy liquor on Sunday or after 10 PM on weekdays or in a grocery store.  I have never received a DUI or even a warning for driving drunk.

The biggest problem with efforts to legislate morality is that they assume that the legal sanctions will result in a more moral society.  The evidence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia in America should put a stake through the heart of that false belief.  The government has never been a vendor of morality.  People confuse legality with morality.

1787-Money-Mania-fullThe government has always been in the marketing business.  They would market “SIN” if they could find a way to sell it or allow it to be sold.  In some respects, they are already doing that with the legalization of gambling and their promotion of bigger and bigger lotteries.  The poor buy more and more tickets when the odds go ever higher against anyone winning.  Powerball’s odds are 1 in 292 million, and the combined populations in the states where tickets are sold equal nearly 320 million.  What would anyone do with 2 billion dollars?  (As I write this, the lottery of 2.0 billion has been won by a single person in California)

This is the stuff of more is better which I talked about in my last blog.  How large of a jackpot would be enough to support you for the rest of your life?  Assuming the average age of a lottery ticket holder, it would take nearly $5 million, according to Robert Pagliarini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors.  With a net take home of 1 billion dollars, one billion dollars could easily support 200 people for the rest of their lives.

There is nothing moral about ever bigger lottery purses.  Not to mention the fact that the odds are better that the lottery winner will go bankrupt rather than that they will see a happy old age with lots of money.  “Life after winning the lottery may not stay glamorous forever. Whether they win $500 million or $1 million, about 70 percent of lotto winners lose or spend all that money in five years or less.”Easy Come, Easy Go.

What does this have to do with morality? 

First, we must define morality.  It is not about making money, winning the lottery, drinking booze, smoking weed or visiting a casino.  The Prosperity Gospel is a distortion of the idea of moral behavior.  Morality is the process of asking yourself what impact an action, a course of action, a decision, a purchase, or a behavior will have on other people.  It does not mean that you cannot drink and gamble.  It does not mean that you cannot have wild sex at a swinger’s party.  It does mean that you need to be able to ask yourself if your gambling and drinking is having a negative impact on others.  It does mean that you need to ask yourself if your sexual habits are having a negative impact on other people.  By others. I mean more than your family, more than your friends, more than your neighbors.  I mean other states.  I mean other countries.  I mean the entire world.  This does not mean that you have no rights.  You have the right to swing your arm but your right proverbially stops at the nose of another person.

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As I said in my last blog, we must look outside of ourselves to find morality.  This is not easy to do.  Some of us, (fewer every year) go to a church on Sunday where we may get a sermon that asks us to look at our behaviors and what we can do for other people.  (“According to a 2021 survey, 31 percent of Americans never attend church or synagogue, compared to 22 percent of Americans who attend every week.”— Church Attendance of Americans)  Those of us who attend church hear maybe a twenty or thirty minute sermon each week on morality.

Compared to this 30-minute sermon once per week for maybe fifty percent of Americans:

The average American watches four hours of TV each day (that’s down from about six hours in the 1960s through 1990s by the way). There are about twenty minutes of “non-program material” per hour, which includes ads, promos, news updates, etc. For our purposes, let’s consider all of this commercial matter.  So in four hours, we see eighty minutes of commercials.” — Fred Pagano, Radio, television and Internet advertising producer and director.

This means that the average American hears about 560 minutes of paid advertisements each week or the equivalent of 19 sermons.  These ads exhort you to think of yourself.  You are special but you need more to be more special.  If you don’t buy more, you neighbors will look down on you.  Your friends will surpass you in status.  Your family will stop loving you.  You can be a better smarter person, but you must buy the new Persico Bacon Maker.  You need a new car or maybe even a bigger house.  You should go out to eat more or get a new insurance policy.

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Advertisements are NEVER what you can do for other people or society.  They are ALWAYS inherently selfish.  Is it any wonder that Americans shop till they drop or keep on buying more stuff that is bigger and bigger than they will ever need?   Americans have been and are continually bombarded by Madison Avenue messages that are a form of de facto brainwashing.  Too many Americans today are selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, and exhibit an entitlement mentality.  Economic policy extols benefits that will accrue to society with more buying and more spending.  It is somewhat ironic that the rampant inflation today and the wild economic swings have not been helped one iota by a greedy narcissistic economic policy that ignores any effort to provide a balance Moral Policy.  In addition, Americans are no happier today than they were seventy years ago.

“The vast majority of Americans report being “very” (42%) or “fairly happy” (44%), but the combined 86% is down from 91% the last time Gallup asked about this, in December 2008. It is also the lowest overall percentage happy Gallup has recorded in periodic readings over 71 years and is only the fifth time happiness has dipped below the 90% mark in 23 readings since 1948.”Happiness Not Quite as Widespread as Usual in the U.S

How do we get a balance between Moral Policy and Economic Policy?

My apologies.  This blog was longer than I thought it would be.  I will address the above question in my next blog.  In the meantime, I would love to hear any comments, questions or ideas that you might have concerning the issues I have raised in this and my previous blog.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Nov 08, 2022 @ 19:22:05

    Thanks for the non-sermon. I have to agree completely that we in the “civilized” world have become totally corrupted by the capitalist ideas and why shouldn’t we? We have literally been brainwashed into thinking we can and should enjoy every pleasure there is available and bought into the notion of more is better! Our entire economies have been built on the false premise of GDP and not sustainability or with any concern for our extractive greed.
    However, I do believe we may be reaching our limit sooner rather than later and the price we will have to pay will be life as we have grown to known it.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Nov 09, 2022 @ 08:16:18

      Hi Wayne, I suppose I do too many sermons over the years so I tried to stay out of the pulpit on this one. Thanks for your comments, they add to my perspective on this issue. It is something I never thought much about when I was younger. I sometimes wonder if there is any retreat from this problem. John

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  2. barryh
    Nov 09, 2022 @ 05:05:46

    Nice post, John. This decline of morality is pretty widespread, although I guess the US leads the way. I look at the quality of many of the leading politicians in UK government and despair – the desperate legacy of the amoral Boris Johnson.
    We can’t just blame advertising, but yes it has a significant impact, as do media.
    All driven by economics and the rich/powerful narcissists who control the directions of discourse?
    Yet if you go to the local level, there are many moral people, not necessarily religious or spiritual. The people who keep ‘society’ going.
    There are no easy answers, but thanks for raising the question!

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Nov 09, 2022 @ 08:14:42

      Thanks Barry, I tried to show a different perspective on morality. I think most people think of religion when they hear morality. For me, it is how I can help other people. You are right. No easy answers. John

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