For decades, some conservative Christians have been riding through the countryside sounding an urgent alarm. Instead of the British, it's cultural decay they're warning us about, and they don't hesitate to use the language of all-out conflict to describe the threat. It's a "culture war," they say, where our values are "under attack" and it's necessary to "defend" treasured institutions like marriage, family and church, and even life itself.
Many of us have responded with a yawn or even derisive laughter to this call to arms, dismissing it as the product of an overactive, apocalyptic imagination or a symptom of repressed sexual urges, but things are getting to the point where all of us are beginning to wonder whether our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to the ethical and moral principles espoused by all the great religions and secular philosophers of ethics.
Let's start with sex. It's too bad that the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson show at the 2004 Super Bowl generated the usual standoff between religiously motivated censors and absolutist advocates of "free speech." Instead we should have been asking ourselves why one of the largest entertainment companies in the world -- Viacom -- would present such a performance.
Was the strategy to "hold" the halftime audience with that hoary crowd attractor -- sex -- and better yet, sex with not-so-subtle overtones of rape? Profit was the goal, and sacrificed on the altar of greed were the dignity of Timberlake and Jackson and the integrity of the message to viewers about what constitutes acceptable behavior between men and women.
That bare breast at a football game wasn't some bold crossing of the Rubicon but yet another small step in the process of devaluing human beings in favor of that root of all kinds of evil: the love of money.
That same lust for gold cares nothing for the loyal employee laid off because the factory where she worked is moved to a country where the company will not have to pay for workers or health care or to obey environmental regulations that prevent the poisoning of the water and air. That debilitating desire for the dollar has no compassion for the children left uneducated or the sick left untreated or the elderly left uncared for because of tax cut after tax cut that leave our communities unable to care for the most vulnerable among us. Where profit is king and human beings are regarded as nothing more than tools to be used for its production, should we be surprised when the niceties of sexual propriety are quickly discarded when there's a buck to be made?
Then there's life. Our modern-day Paul Reveres decry the way our society countenances killing in the name of individual freedom, whether it be a fetus at three months or Terri Schiavo lying in a nursing home bed. Have they detected a strain of thought that one human being has the right to terminate the life of another whose existence has become burdensome? If they have, we must all stand with them in fighting against such an evil concept at the same time as we defend the right of every person to control her or his own body and medical treatment without government interference.
Finally, these Christians complain that religious values are being expelled from our schools and political discourse. Now, the church is in sad shape if it must look to the government to do its evangelizing and catechizing, but it is undeniable that the principles that once united our nation are being replaced by new ones. The God of Israel who formed individuals into a caring community has been usurped by the "Invisible Hand" of the market whose cold, amoral rule is like that of the bad shepherd condemned by Ezekiel:
"You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally."
Our culture is becoming hostile to any values, religious or otherwise, that threaten the preeminent position occupied by money as the ultimate good and determinant of worth. Young girls are encouraged to dress like vamps because our culture sells clothes and makeup to "'tweens." Our young men, fueled by dreams of attaining the kind of wealth and celebrity achieved by a few exceptional athletes, resort to using steroids that will damage their health for life.
One of the seven deadly sins -- greed -- has been redefined as the "good" that drives human progress and achievement. If we would prefer a world that cares more about compassion than cash, it's time to volunteer to go to "war" against a culture that values profits over people.
Rev. Allen H. Brill is a Lutheran pastor (ELCA) and member of the bar in South Carolina, and co-founder of "Why Not, South Carolina?", an organization supporting the work of South Carolina progressives. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.