After the recent news of Detroit declaring bankruptcy, there's been a fair amount of discussion at our house. We say things like, "How did this happen? How did such a big thriving city turn into what it is?" Ben and I spent some time a few evenings ago looking at pictures of some of the iconic buildings downtown, contrasting what they must've looked like even as recently as the 1960s and what they look like now. The place looks like a ghost-town, as if some plague came along and stole away the people right in the middle of their daily lives. There are dentist offices in one of the big empty skyscrapers that still have all the equipment sitting in the fully-furnished rooms, hotel rooms with their furniture still neatly arranged and moldering away like a time capsule of the 50s, giant office buildings with graffiti covering the stairwells and all the wooden handrails lying in a heap on the first floor after the wrought-iron spindles have been stolen away as valuable scrap. There are prairies growing where there used to be neighborhoods and big grand old mansions are falling into heaps with trees growing through the roof. Old apartment complexes sit abandoned with their windows broken out; Ben pointed out one beautiful complex full of interesting architecture and complicated brickwork and said, "I saw these same apartments in Chicago - they were expensive and they were completely occupied. It's so weird to see the same ones sitting empty like this."
There are a lot of reasons why it got this way, of course. The decline of the American car manufacturers, the rise of thoughtless unions, the terrible rift between different ethnicities, the pervasive idea in our culture that government should provide all, the meddling of the "social justice" movement that decided to mix up the neighborhoods instead of allowing people to live where they wanted their children to go to school, the uniquely Detroit concept of forcing people to pay an extra tax for the privilege of working there, the insidious corruption that gradually made it nearly impossible to do work without bribing someone...all this and more. It all adds up.
But there's been one factor that hasn't been discussed much and it's kind of hard to even put into words exactly what it is. It has to do with prosperity and how when people become prosperous, they have a tendency to forget God - to forget what is good. When things are easy, it becomes easy to reject what is good and right. It doesn't mean prosperity is evil, because prosperity is a blessing. But as Moses said to the Hebrew people before they went into the Promised Land, "When you're sitting in homes you didn't build and harvesting from fields you didn't plant, be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God!"
Detroit became a very prosperous place. At one time, I believe it was the fifth most prosperous city in the United States. And if the penalty for forgetting God is that your land becomes cursed...anyone looking at the state the city's in now would be hard-pressed not to think much of it looks pretty cursed.
As a nation, the whole way we tend to think about things and approach them has taken a hugely different path from what characterized our nation even just fifty years ago. It's not too ridiculous to say that these days, what used to be bad is now good and what used to be good is now bad. If a woman promises in her wedding vows to obey her husband, that's bad; but if she wants to marry another woman, that's good (or at least more acceptable). This is exactly opposite from how such things used to be viewed. How does such a huge change happen?
It happened because what people used to call "good" just didn't look very good to their children. The problem today is not that women want to marry each other. It's that those who said they believed in God and the marriage he created between man and woman made that marriage look so terrible that people started looking for alternatives.
Everything began changing in the 60s. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, but it came down to children rejecting the "old-fashioned" ways of their parents. The 50s were marked by prosperity and a seemingly upright moral culture that is pretty widely mocked today, a culture preserved in TV shows like "Leave It To Beaver". Everything looks so stable in those shows, with pleasant stay-at-home Mom in her apron cooking dinner and clean-cut dependable Dad coming home every night from work to his nice suburban home to spend time with his orderly family. Everyone pretty much went to church, children went to nice schools (without fear of being shot and not much fear of being bullied) and everyone had peaceful homes and pleasant childhoods.
But did they?
The truth is - and it's been pointed out many times - that much of the 50s culture was a facade. People did what they thought they were supposed to do to look good but had no peace in their homes. There was alcoholism and broken marriages that just weren't visible because the parents couldn't divorce easily, and a host of other problems. We were prosperous and had forgotten God, even though we were putting up a front of still believing him. And the children of this generation looked at their parents and said, "If this is what 'good' looks like, I don't want to have anything to do with it." So they began rejecting everything their parents said they believed in, even things it really was good to believe in.
In Detroit, that meant there was less and less regard for caring for things or even for people. Everyone was "looking out for Number One". There was less regard for authority - as proved by the riots. And there was great encouragement to rebel against standards and old ways of doing things and do it all a new way.
The problem is that good is still good. If it was good once - if it was ever good - it is still good. "Good" is not subjective. There isn't one good for me and one good for you. Good is good. There is a true definitive standard of good, just as there is definite truth. We may not always know what it is, but it exists. And that is what our society has totally lost sight off. We're swimming around in a sea of relativism, lost in the idea that, "well, that's good for you but not for me and what's good for me is whatever I think is good for me."
If that sounds bad, see my above comment that good is now bad and bad is now good.
As a society, we've abandoned "old fashioned morals". (That's code for abandoning God.) We abandoned them (and him) because the people who claimed to believe in them proved to be fakes. As someone I know said last night, "Children would be better off if their parents were honest about what they believe in, even if they were honest about not believing in moral standards. At least the children would have a chance to adopt those standards themselves instead of looking at their parents' hypocrisy and deciding to have none of it."
This is something that's affecting all of us. Good has been abandoned to the point that many don't even know what it even is. It's affecting all our cities, even those more prosperous than Detroit. And more personally, if Ben and I want Abigail to follow God, then we'd better really be searching for him and not just say we want what is good. Because if our life doesn't bear any desirable fruit, Abigail will abandon it for something better. And if we've had the gall to say we believe something that we don't, we will damage her ability to ever see those beliefs truthfully so she can at least succeed where we've failed.
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Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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