In “Why do conservative Christians think everything is getting worse?” I argued that the widespread conservative belief that society is, on the whole, becoming less just and compassionate is not borne out by the facts. This doesn’t entail that things are getting better overall, though in many cases they are. Nor does it entail that there are not ever any retrogressions. But it does mean that you can look out over the landscape and detect certain undeniable signs of corporate moral progress.
Alan Kurschner rejected this claim. On his view things are getting worse overall. Reading Alan’s comments gave me flashbacks of reading Hal Lindsay back in the 1970s. Actually I read him in the mid-eighties, but Hal Lindsay began predicting the imminent end of the world back in the early seventies with monumental bestsellers like The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. In retrospect I can understand how Lindsay might have reasonably thought everything was getting worse. Just imagine: one day everyone was listening to the Beatles and driving Camaros and Mustangs. And the next moment they’re all listening to Donna Summer and driving Vegas and Pintos. Brrrr.
But the disco ball now is stored in the attic. And while Vegas and Pintos haven’t been built for thirty years Camaros and Mustangs continue to roll off the assembly line. So how does Alan explain his pessimism? What evidence does he provide?
Sodomy. Alan points out that Canada (our test case) is now more tolerant of sodomy than it was in 1800. Ergo, everything’s getting worse.
So I asked Alan whether he thought homosexuals should once again be subjected to the capital punishment statutes of British common law. He didn’t reply. (In some ways silence is the most disconcerting response of all.)
In this article I’d like to point out to Alan and others like him who seem to equate social progress or regress with respect to a narrow range of sexual ethics that there are other issues to consider. Let me provide one simple case of moral progress.
The case comes from Morocco. In this west African country a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries the girl or woman he raped. Now imagine for a moment that your sixteen year old daughter is raped. What would be your first action as a parent? It probably wouldn’t be to start planning a wedding. But things are different in Morocco. When a sixteen year old was raped last year her twenty-three year old rapist proposed marriage and her parents accepted to save the family’s honor.
So the child was married to the monster … and committed suicide months later.
This horrifying tragedy has been the catalyst for social change in Morocco. Change that is gradual, incremental, and painfully slow. Change that can slowly but surely begin to alter the perpectives of citizens to rethink their attitudes about honor, victimization and gender relations. It began by the revocation of this damned horrid law that allows abusers to marry their victims and thereby victimize them again. But there is still much work to do. For example, the penalties for raping a virgin continue to be higher than the penalities for rape simpliciter. Oh Morocco, where art thou?
Of course this isn’t about Morocco. It’s about the human condition. There will always be more to do both in the hearts of nations and the hearts of the individuals that constitute those nations. But the fact that we will never be done in our striving to become societies and individuals that are more just and compassionate does not mean we can’t and don’t make real progress.