Nero read his music by the light of burning Rome and the city itself fell, not because its walls were low, but because its citizens were low. The conservative element in the United States, made popular by Senator Barry Goldwater et al, is predicting a similar, if somewhat more sophisticated end to the United States. That is, unless we again recognize such old-fashioned concepts as sin, sloth, greed, selfishness and dishonesty for what they really are.
One of the most eloquent and frequently quoted messages which falls into this category is an address by Mr. Jenkin L. Jones, Editor of the Tulsa Tribune, which he gave to the Inland Daily Press Association entitled, “Who is Tampering with the Soul of America?”
“Our Puritan ancestors, were preoccupied with sin. They were too preoccupied with it. They were hag ridden and guilt ridden, and theirs was a repressed and neurotic society. But they had horsepower. They wrestled livings from rocky land, built our earliest colleges, started our literature, caused our industrial revolution, and found time in between to fight the Indians, the French, and the British; to bawl for abolition, women suffrage, and prison reform. They were a tremendous people.
“In recent years, all this has changed in America. We have decided that sin is largely imaginary. We have become enamored with ‘behavioristic psychology.’ This holds that a man is a product of his heredity and his environment, and his behavior to a large degree is foreordained by both.
“Well, the theory that misbehavior can be cured by pulling down tenements and erecting in their places elaborate public housing is not holding water. The crime rates continue to rise, along with our outlays for social services. We speak of under-privilege. Yet the young men who swagger up and down the streets, boldly flaunting their gang symbols on their black jackets, are for more blessed in creature comforts, opportunities for advancement, and freedom from drudgery than 90 percent of the children of the world. We have sown the dragon’s teeth of pseudo-scientific sentimentality; and out of the ground has sprung the legion, bearing switch-blade knifes.
“Relief is gradually becoming an honorable career in America. It is a pretty fair life – if you have neither conscience nor pride. The politicians will weep over you…nothing is your fault. And when the city fathers of a harassed community like Newburgh suggest that able-bodied welfare clients might sweep the streets, the ‘liberal’ editorialists arise as one man and denounce them for their medieval cruelty.
“I don’t know how long Americans can stand this erosion of principle. But I believe that some of my starry-eyed friends are kidding themselves when they pretend that every planeload of Puerto Ricans that puts down at Idlewild is equivalent in potential to every shipload of Pilgrims that put into old Plymouth. Nations are built by people capable of great energy and self-discipline. I never heard of one put together by cha-cha-cha.
“Can anyone deny that movies are dirtier than ever? But they don’t call it dirt. They call it ‘realism’…
“And we of the press are a party to the crime. Last year the movie ads in our newspaper got so salacious and suggestive that the advertising manager and I decided to throw out the worst and set up some standards…
“Within a couple of hours the exhibitors were down with much milder ads. How was this miracle accomplished?
“Well, it seems that the exhibitors are supplied with several different ads for each movie. If the publishers are dumb enough to accept the most suggestive ones, those are what they get. But if publishers squawk, the cleaner ads are sent down. Isn’t it time we all squawked?
“I think it’s time we quit giving page 1 play to the extramarital junkets of crooners. I think it is time we stopped treating as glamorous and exciting the brazen shack-ups of screen tramps. I think it is time we asked our Broadway and Hollywood columnists if they can’t find something decent and inspiring going on along their beats…
“We are drowning our youngsters in violence, cynicism and sadism, piped into the living room and even the nursery. The grandchildren of the kids who used to weep because the Little Match Girl froze to death now feel cheated if she isn’t slugged, raped, and thrown into a Bessemer converter.
“Don Maxwell, of The Chicago Tribune, has recently asked his book department to quit advertising scatological literature by including it in the list of best sellers. The critics and the book publishers have denounced him for tampering with the facts. I would like to raise a somewhat larger question: Who is tampering with the soul of America?
“For nations do have souls. They have collective personalities. People who think well of themselves collectively exhibit clan and enthusiasm and morale. When nations cease believing in themselves, when they regard their instructions with cynicism and their traditions with flippancy, they will not long remain great nations. When they seek learning without effort and wages without work, they are beginning to stagger. When they become hedonistic and pleasure-oriented, when their Boy Scouts on their fourteen-mile hikes start to hitch, there’s trouble ahead. When payola becomes a way of life, expense account cheating common, and union goonery a fiercely defended ‘right’, that nation is in danger. And when police departments attempt to control burglary by the novel method of making it a department monopoly-then the chasm yawns.
“Do not let me overdraw the picture. This is still a great, powerful, vibrant, able, optimistic nation. Americans – our readers – do believe in themselves and in their country.
“But there is rot and there is blight and there is cutting out and filling to be done if we, as the leader of free men, are to survive the hammer blows which quite plainly are in store for us all.
“We have reached the stomach-turning point. We have reached the point where we should re-examine the debilitating philosophy of permissiveness. Let this not be confused with the philosophy of liberty. The school system that permits our children to develop a quarter of their natural talents is not a champion of our liberties. The healthy man who chooses to loaf on unemployment compensation is not a defender of human freedom. The playwright who would degrade us, the author who would profit from pandering to the worst that’s in us – these are not friends.
“It is time we hit the sawdust trail. It is time we revived the idea that there is such a thing as sin-just plain old willful sin. It is time we brought self-discipline back into style…
“Let’s quit being bulldozed and bedazzled by self-appointed longhairs. Let’s have the guts to say that a book is dirt if that’s what we think of it, or that a painting may well be a daub if you can’t figure out which way to hang it. And if some beatnik welds together a collection of rusty cogwheels and old corset stays and claims it’s a greater sculpture than Michelangelo’s David, let’s have the courage to say that it looks like junk and probably is.
Give Decency a Chance
“Let’s blow the whistle on plays that would bring blushes to an American Legion stag party. Let’s not be awed by movie characters with barnyard morals, even if some of them have been photographed climbing aboard the Presidential yacht. Let us pay more attention in our news columns to the decent people everywhere who are trying to do something for the good of others.
“In short, let’s cover up the cesspool and start planting some flowers.
“I am fed up with the educationists and pseudo-social scientists who have underrated our potential as a people…
“And again I am genuinely disturbed that to idealistic youth in many countries the fraud of communism appears synonymous with morality, while we, the chief repository of real freedom, are regarded as being in the last stages of decay.
“We can learn a lesson from history. Twice before our British cousins appeared heading toward a collapse of principle, and twice they drew themselves back. The people rebelled. They banged through the reform laws, and under Victoria went on to the peak of their power.
“In this hour of fear, confusion, and self-doubt, let us learn the lesson for America. Unless I misread the signs, a great number of our people are ready. Let there be a fresh breeze, a breeze of new honesty, new idealism, new integrity.”
Dr. Abert Schweitzer in his book “The Philosophy of Civilization” points out that the promoting of Christian virtues has become fashionable in many areas even by those who do not believe in Christ. Mr. Jones’ comment in some ways could fall into this category, since his concern for Christian virtues is limited to what it could do for America rather than the ideal Christian hope that returning to this fundamental ideal would be uplifting to the honor of God.
And once again we see a demonstration of God using all things (even newspaper editors who have very different intentions) to tell His truth.