Going to Hell in a Handbasket

Perhaps a few of you have noticed a constant trend among some people. It appears often in comments in Sunday School or other lessons. It’s the idea that not only is the world not getting better, it is actually getting worse and worse. Am I the only one this bothers?

It’s not that I’m a pollyanna with rose colored glasses. I think it is more that I’ve read enough history to realize that through most of it life was short, brutal and nasty. Violence was rampant and morality often a distant dream. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to worry about. I had a much rosier view of life prior to 9/11 and the greater fear of terrorism. The danger of avian flu breaking out from Viet Nam, Cambodia or Thailand worries me to no end as well. Having said that though, I think predictions of the immanent collapse of civilization are a tad unlikely.

Here’s my reasoning.

First, are things really getting worse? Well there has been a huge drop in the crime rate the last 10 years. Homicide, burglary and robbery rates have fallen more than 40% to rates not seen since the 1960′s. Admittedly the past two years they have creeped up slightly, but are still amazingly low. Compare it to life from a few hundred years ago and the safety we live under is astounding. Yes, crime is something that could change. But there is wide consensus that fear of crime is dramatically out of sync with actual crime statistics. Many blame the media and the way they report stories.

Consider sexual immorality. Yes internet porn is new problem. But look at the other statistics. Teen sex and teen pregnancy have been steadily declining from their peak 12 years ago. They are now at their lowest levels since the government began collecting statistics. More that half of all high school students say they are virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990. (Ref: New York Times, Mar 7, 2004)

Drug use is declining, especially hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Tobacco use is down. Admittedly alcohol abuse has seen some rise. (From 7.41% to 8.46% according to one recent study. However compared to previous decades we do remarkably well. The actual percentage of teenagers using alcohol dropped from 50% in 1979 to 20% in 2001. Among 18 – 25 year olds the rate has fallen from 75% to 60% (Time, June 18, 2001) So overall substance abuse is far less of a problem than the epidemics from the 70′s through the 90′s.

(Note: thanks to David Bailey for the statistics)

So why do we still cry out about how bad the world is getting? There is less war, less hunger, better standard of living, more morality. We don’t have the threat of a nuclear apocalypse that we had in the 1980′s. That’s not to say things could fall apart quick. Further there are big challenges, such as Islamic terrorism, AIDS, not to mention other diseases. We have social problems such as class disparity, pornography, and a few other things. There are problems such as resource depletion, pollution and climate change. But overall civilization is spreading and improving people.

It’s not that I’m denying hell might be around the corner. Just that by most measures, we’re living in the closest the earth has been to heaven rather than hell in a long, long time. I’ve long noted Bruce R. McConkie’s interpretation of the half hour of silence in Revelation. It was, as with many of his comments, highly speculative. But he thought it would be a few decades of extreme peace before things would start to fall apart. Perhaps we’re in that?

70 thoughts on “Going to Hell in a Handbasket

  1. Well – my marker for how the world is getting is worse is one few members of the church would agree with: The world (and especially the USA) is getting wealthier and wealthier. But that’s a whole nother type of post (read everything Nibley wrote on wealth and he’ll say it better than I ever could).

    But as for the more “common” markers most saints use, I agree with you Clark.

  2. Clark, as you can tell from my Middle East views, I tend to be an optimist. Perhaps excessively so. But on the matter of “the general state of society” there are many reasons to be pessimistic. I think the primary one is the changes in society since the 1960s in what is acceptable and unacceptable regarding sexuality and violence. Movies and TV are the primary culprits. Last night at 7:30 p.m., my wife and I were subject to an episode of “Friends” that spent the entire show discussing how a one-year-old’s birthday cake looks like a penis. And it was a very graphic discussion. I watched this in a kind of dumb stupor. This is what kids and others are seeing in the evening as entertainment? Never in the history of the Earth have peoples’ senses been assaulted by so many images of sex and violence as today. By comparison, the discussions of the 1970s — controversial then — appear quaint and old-fashioned. I think it will be very difficult to overcome the sense of unease that people have about the degredation of our entertainment culture.

    On the other hand, there are some reasons for optimism. Race relations in the United States have never been better. Women are treated better now — and have more freedom — than any time in history. Economically, just about anybody who is willing to work (and doesn’t suffer from severe mental or physical handicaps) can get a job and sustain him or herself. Members of the Church do not suffer from massive persecution for the first time ever. We are basically allowed to express and keep our beliefs.

    I think Latter-day Saints know bad times are coming. Part of the reason they concentrate on them is to help warn the world about trends that might lead to the bad times coming even faster. And one of those trends is the horrible state of entertainment.

  3. Never in the history of the Earth have peoples’ senses been assaulted by so many images of sex and violence as today.

    Sorry, Geoff, but as someone who has to read erotic Sumerian poetry on occasion, this one isn’t correct!

  4. Clark, I agree with your basic premise. I’m always a bit amused when the home teaching message for the month is a reprint of a thirty-year old talk, and the home teachers mention how timely the message is.

    The world has changed, however. We are much more interconnected now than at any other time (a bit of an obvious statement). One consequence is that small changes in one part of the world have the ability to have effects across the globe very rapidly, and localized catastrophes can impact whole civilizations. We may actually be better off now that we were thirty years ago, but we’re also more vulnerable.

  5. Ronan, not to mention the kama sutra in India, among others. But the difference is that in ancient cultures, how many people were able to read? How many actually had access to the extremely expensive books/scrolls/clay tablets that carried the erotica? Very, very few, perhaps less than 1 percent of the total population. One of the dangers of the Baal cult is that it involved sex and violence and was displayed live and in living color. This is why the Bible discusses getting rid of the high places — this is where people went to watch Baal cult performances. But again, this was once a week or once a month at most. Now, the average person even in the poorest parts of the world sits in his living room and is assaulted day and night with endless images of sex and violence through his TV set, in movies and through video games (even the poorest Brazilians, for example, sit around watching sex and violence on TV all day long). The difference could not be more profound. I stand by my comment that this is a new event in the history of the world, and potentially very dangerous.

  6. I submit that a clay tablet is less of a stimulus than full-color HD widescreen… Friends episodes.

  7. Bruce I. -

    There we go! Even our degraded entertainment is more degraded! Ancinet degredation was of a higher quality.

    Guess we really have declined, when even our smut can’t be of high quality anymore.

  8. My perception is that the order of society is upheld mostly by a middle class squeezed between an underclass that is below the demands of that order and an aristocracy that can get away with ignoring them. The existence of American cities where the murder rate is seven times the national rate and fatherhood is an unclear concept makes the existence of such an underclass plain enough. Society seems to be losing an ability to disapprove of underclass behaviour. For example, bastardy or illegitimacy don’t really exist as current concepts to describe creating a child outside the structure of a family.

    I recall an Andre Codrescu line that an AIDS outbreak is what you get when the masses try living like poets and aristocrats. Americans’ finances resemble those of old, spent aristocracies hocking their estates to keep up present spending.

    Are these problems all increasing, or is there just a continual ebb and flow of some problems getting worse and others better? I don’t know about the behaviours, but my sense is that the norms are crumbling, as exemplified by Europe’s move away from (or past?) the stabilizing influence of religion and families. Matters aren’t the same everywhere, though.

  9. Just to add to the notion of the middle class – the middle class is a relatively recent development. For most of history there was no middle class and little like a middle class. What we have is an “ideal” of how things were in the 1950′s that was at best for a small few. We then compare our life to that life and see Friends episodes as more important than say murder, starvation, war, rape, abuse, slavery, racism, etc. That’s not a slam, as I think it very natural. Perhaps the American middle class has regressed slightly (although I’m not even convinced about that – I think it is far too easy to idealize the past in incorrect ways). The point is though that most people are far better off today. More importantly compared to the big changes of the 1960′s and 1970′s, I think even the middle class if far better off and far more moral.

  10. An other statistic that came to my mind was the amount of church going. America is far more of a religious nation today than in the past. Of course Europe has gone the opposite way.

  11. But with Europe’s religious history I have often thought a move away from religion for them is a net gain. In Europe it can be argued that it is a move away from religious war and persecution to an extent not seen in America. Perhaps the religious persecution aspect of Europe is a thing of the past but I think not. In most Europeean countries there is still a state religion. I think a move away from state sponsored religious persecution through forcing the teaching and economic suport of one particular religion over others is a net gain for progress and better morals or at least the opportunity to choose the religion one will follow. Granted few choose anything but the way religion has historical been shoved down Europe’s throat (often with economic or physical threats) it seems a good move to move away from religion before the culture is ready to embrace a religious tradition that allows one to accept a church not sponsored by the state.

  12. How recent is the middle class? Examples in older literature come to mind, such as Huckleberry Finn, come to mind. Pap Finn was an outlaw, someone with no place in society to lose through misbehaviour. Middle-class characters like the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson want to help Huck be a functioning part of society. Lord Jim is about a man who, because he is “one of us,” can’t bear the shame of a disgraceful incident. A visit in the Wright brothers’ home left me with an impression of middle-class citizens being sustained by and sustaining their community. So, no, I am not stuck yearning for 1950, Clark.

  13. Note that I didn’t intend to label or disparage all arguments by the 1950 comment. If it came off that way, I certainly apologize. I tried to include a few counter-arguments in my post. (i.e. internet porn, class distinctions, etc.)

    Having said that, I do think the question about the middle class is a good one. My memory from history class is that the rise of the middle class usually dates to the early to mid 19th century after the industrial revolution really got going. I’d assume that it developed in Europe prior to the United States. So let’s say the 1830′s in Europe and the 1850′s in the US. The term originated in the 1860′s, I believe, to describe those with some wealth in England who weren’t really aristocrats. (i.e. they didn’t fit the traditional class distinctions) Thus it appeared with the real development of doctors, engineers, clerks and other such figures. They in turn had the wealth and to a certain degree security to develop a different psychology than the lower classes had.

    Of course it is dangerous to generalize to all the world from our economic development. But I think it is a natural one. Indeed I think the development of the middle class an important development in civilization that has really let ethics and religion as we understand it flourish.

    That’s not why I referred to the 1950′s though. The reason I referred to the 50′s is because that was considered, in a way, the real expansion of the middle class as almost the majority. (Well, in part tied to the end of WWII) Suddenly the middle class and middle class values become the values of America and becomes the standard. I certainly don’t think that a bad thing.

    The problem with appealing to stories of the 1850′s is one must ask how typical the middle class were. Further one must ask the difficult questions of war, violence, racism, rape, theft and the related problems that were rather ubiquitous in the 19th century.

  14. Just to add to the above. My main argument about the “golden age” of the 1950′s is simply that when we judge the world going to hell in a handcart, we’re really saying something about new problems our relatively local community is experiencing. Thus the negative changes in the late 60′s and 70′s to a certain small (by world standards) community in the US and Canada seem more significant than all the many positive changes to the world as a whole.

    Perhaps my view is biased by my own family. I think of my mother complaining about the world when she is comparing it to a small all Mormon farming village in Southern Alberta. I suspect that were she a black woman who grew up in the south she’d have a very different perspective on whether the world has improved. Were she a woman growing up in Viet Nam, she might have yet an other view. Were she a woman growing up in Bangkok or Shanghi yet an other. Whose view ought we consider?

    The typical view, I think to simply compare the appearance of evil in our communities with the appearance today. So, for instance, the fact we hear about crime more today is taken to mean there is more crime today. But that simply isn’t the case.

  15. After I wrote my post, it occurred that Huckleberry Finn is making one of your points, Clark, in that the moral, upright characters trying to civilize Huck were also upholding slavery. I also feel unable to make any worthwhile guess as to the increasing or decreasing righteousness of the world as a whole. Your hypothetical black woman from the south does make me think of the commentary on the rising generation of the older black man from Philadephia. My reason for bringing up the middle class is just my sense the moral norms of that order are eroding. Even if this is so, it is somewhat independent from the degree to which those norms have been followed.

    My wife, Elizabeth, had a question related to yours this week. She wondered how helpful it is to tell the youth so often that they are surrounded by an awful, wicked world. It could leave someone feeling pretty justified in behaving unrighteously if that is being described as society’s normal mode.

  16. One possible source of the view that things are worse now than ever before is the stark contrast between the advance of science and technology and the failure to advance the human spirit or human morality. In other words, it is not that the world is more immoral now. It is that we are comparing the lost and fallen state of humanity (which has been that way since the fall) with striking progress in other areas. In short, the view may come from discouragement bred by the elightenment idea of progress. An interesting source for my thinking here is Erich Fromm (To Have and to Be, The Art of Being). As I understand Fromm, he believes such advance of the human soul is possible and has only been neglected because people are too obsessed with things extenal and technological.

    I can’t agree with Fromm due to my understanding of the fall and human progress in terms of morality. For the most part, I believe that human progess in terms of morality happens within individual lifetimes. As individuals, we must encounter life’s key spiritual challenges (chastity, the law of consecration, etc.) in the space of our own lives. Assuming several consecutive righteous lifetimes, there may be some kind of moral progress over generations. But for the most part, the next generation starts over and must overcome the same moral challenges as the one before.

    In this light, the question of whether things are much worse now can be cast as: (1) are more contemporary people failing the moral challenges that they must face in the space of their lives as compared to people in the past?; or (2) are contemporary people failing more dramatically at the moral challenges that life presents as compared to people in the past?; or (3) is it more difficult for contemporary people to overcome the moral challenges of life now than before?

    I submit that in these terms the world may be worse now than even before. Of course, I don’t have any extremely helpful data relevant to these questions. I am persuaded by some General Authorities’ sense of the situation because I believe they have insight that I may not have access to. But I do note that they also talk about how bad things are now by refering to the past, i.e. Soddom and Gommorah.

    Of course, this view emphasizes the individual and individual morality. Taking ideas like “society” or “the church” that consist of individuals but also much more, I believe there is progress over time. Abolition and civil rights is better than slavery. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is better (more humane, more demanding, more complete and perfect) than living the Mosaic law. I think many of the insights above fit in here.

  17. What is it about the act of clicking “post comment” that causes me to realize what I left out?

    Refering to statements from General Authorities regarding the how good or bad things are today compared to the past: there is a striking contrast (one that I consider a paradox that cannot be dissolved by choosing one side or the other) between statements about the unique wickedness of the contemporary world–and the unique goodness and blessings of the same. As long as I live, I will remember President Hinckley’s optimism about this part of the world’s history–and insistence that we smile!

    I think we should keep both views in sight:
    (a) the dim view to the extent that it puts us on guard against evil and makes any goodness we obtain shine even brighter due to the contrast; and
    (b) the optimistic view to the extent that it reflects gratitude and leads us to take advantage of the freedoms, wealth, and blessings at hand.

    In the end, I think that we right to think like Nephi in Helaman 7:7-9 to an extent:

    “7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—
    8 Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.
    9 But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.”

    But only to a point. Just as there was an upside then (the Savior did personally appear in the area approximately 50 years later!), there are considerable upsides for us today.

  18. One more thought:

    Culture (as in the arts generally defined) is one way in which the world may be worse off now than in the past. I am thinking of Jacques Barzun’s conclusion that western culture is decadent. Of course, Barzun is not completely pessimistic or defeatist. He just believes that for now, western culture has exhausted itself and is due for a resurgence.

    Perhaps we do not worry about this because we have such easy access to much of the greatest art created in human history. In other words, what do I care if there is no living Bach? I can listen to several different recordings of the Goldberg Variations any time I want! Ah yes, in fact right now I think I will go once more with the earlier Gould!

    If you believe (as I do) that much modern art is about chaos–the abandonment of form, narrative, and moral judgments, the obsession with basic components–then we have the stuff from which such resurrgence may come.

  19. Well, Clark, in some ways the world is worse. Than when I was a senior in high school, for instance. The style of dress, the sex and violence in the movies, the drug use, the violence in the world, I can think of a lot of things that have change…

    Then I can think of a lot of things that are improvements, too. I’m very grateful for prescription medication, for instance. Hot tubs, computers, heck, all kinds of great things didn’t exist when I was 17.

    Good and bad. Good food for thought.

  20. I recently had the occasion to read the Jack London book entitled The People of the Abyss, which was a description of the living conditions of the London east end at the turn of the last century – absolutely degrading widespread poverty, in what was arguably the premier city of the world at that time. The general conditions prevailing in Britain at that time were not a whole lot better. There was a very thin line indeed between a nominally comfortable life and a descent into abject misery, and this was for most of the population. The worst of the USA at the time was better than the average for Britain.

    The point is, that outside of politically unstable 3rd world venues such as Somalia, Zimbabwe, N. Korea, Zaire, etc., this sort of thing is much (admittedly not fully) alleviated, compared to where we were a century ago.

    A lot is much better than it was before – but there are new problems to replace the old ones. What’s the net result? Things are progressing, BUT, there are also social, political, and economic seeds that could turn things into a hideously diabolical patter of life, and will possibly do so for much of the world.

    I like the concept mentioned of the “half hour of silence”. That seems right, and somehow FEELS right for the way things are.

  21. Clark,

    I would add that life is much better for women now than it has ever been. (At least in the U.S.) I, too, am bothered when people talk about how horrible society is today compared to times past.

  22. Anne, just a thought, but I think most concede there was more not less sex in movies in the 70′s and 80′s than today. I was just reading an article about Hollywood is now going out of their way to keep nudity out of many movies in aims of better attracting women. Violence I’ll probably concede, if only because of films like Saving Private Ryan. However horror films of today are far less violent and grotestque than in the 80′s. (With reportedly some exceptions) That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rules we could point to. But that’s what they are – exceptions. As for TV, I’ll match Miami Vice against any show on any of the networks right now for violence and sex. Admittedly my favorite shows 24 and Alias come close at times – especially 24. But far less is shown onscreen than I recall from Miami Vice.

    The violence in the world, despite Iraq and even cases of genocide like Rwanda is still mild compared to what went on through most of the 20th century.

    As for drug use, as I mentioned, drug use is down significantly from the 60′s – 80′s. So is alcohol use.

    Kaimi, I honestly forgot about that thread. (BTW – I filled in the link for you so people could click through)

  23. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” And ever shall it be so, until the Lord returns, I think. I was worrying a great deal over how wicked the world has become, until I found a wonderful quote by Joseph Smith, which I can’t put my hands on just now (but if anyone knows it, please tell me!) that says basically the world is going to keep polarizing, with the wicked becoming ever more wicked, and the good becoming ever better, and-he said-we HOPE it does! Because then, he said, the vast difference between the two will be ever more obvious to those who are sitting on the fence, trying to decide which to choose. So, when I read a passage from a Nova Scotia book used to teach children sex education that says “12 years old is a good time to start having sex, like with a 13 year old friend,” I try not to go ballistic, but to realize that it is only that the wolves in sheep’s clothing are beginning to look ever more like wolves, and that perhaps the most innocent of the sheep will begin to realize the danger. The scriptures teach us that the world will be ever more wicked, and I cannot imagine how people could not see that it is becoming so. Perhaps it is easier to focus on the ways in which the world is improving.
    I am trying very hard to see both sides, and to realize that it is all part of the Lord’s plan, and to trust Him to lead the battle, and I only have to do my very tiny part, and don’t have to afraid or overwhelmed.

  24. Clark Goble wrote:

    As for TV, I’ll match Miami Vice against any show on any of the networks right now for violence and sex.

    Really? There was a lot of violence in Miami Vice, usually with some good guy getting shot at the end of the show, but it all seemed rather cartoonish, nothing like the explict gore seen in any number of cop shows nowadays. As far as sex is concerned, NYPD Blue has shown much more nudity than Miami Vice ever did–Did Miami Vice show any at all?–and the number of sexual comments made in a typical episode of Will and Grace is probably more than there were in Miami Vice‘s entire run.

  25. It bothers me when people mention that the world keeps getting worse and worse because they fail to mention the ways that the world has gotten better. Isn’t it better that fairness regarding race in this country has gotten much better in the last 50, 25 years? Isn’t it better that women are treated more fairly?
    30 years ago kids could run around outside or at the mall without supervision, not because there were no dangers, but because people didn’t know about the dangers.
    THere are definitely things in this world that are worse than before. Our society is forgetting God in so many ways.
    But not everything is worse. And it would be nice for someone to mention that occasionally in a Sunday School lesson.
    Isn’t it great that we don’t send 4 year olds down into coal mines anymore? Isn’t it great that its not legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri anymore? Isn’t it great that people of all races and gender have the freedom go to school, work and live where they choose? Isn’t it great that rapists are prosecuted and victims can get therapy? Isn’t it great that more people can read in this country now than ever before? Isn’t it great that more diseases can can be cured and lives of children, mothers, fathers and your family members can be cured?

  26. The impression I have always gotten from church members is optimism for the world we live in and how much we have improved. Just look at President Hinckley- he never seems to imply or express that this world is somehow worse nowadays than in the past.

    I certainly have not noticed this “constant trend” of pessimism amongst church members generally, however. Sure there are a few naysayers out there- a few whackos who truly think for some reason that things are somehow “worse” now, but they are always in the extreme minority- at least in my wards.

  27. Wow Chris, it’s been a while since you watched Miami Vice! There was a rather infamous scene between Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson where Griffith played a “madam.” It was pretty much R-rated. Likewise there was a lot of blood and violence in Miami Vice, a lot of pretty frank prostitution talk and the like. Michael Mann pretty much did the film Manhunter also as an episode of Miami Vice that was pretty dark to say the least. (That film was recently remade as Red Dragon — the original name of the book)

    I’ve watched NYPD Blue a few times, but other than a bit more butt crack, I don’t think it holds a candle to Miami Vice.

    The latter seasons of Miami Vice apparently were more campy and so forth. But the first season or two were very dark, very violent, and amazingly suggestive. I would be very surprised if the networks would let them get away with it again.

  28. Of course to be fair, now that I think about it on my way to bed, its actually been a long time since I last saw an episode of Miami Vice. Perhaps my memory is from the naiveté of my youth before I became old and jaded?

  29. When home teaching, I’ve been known to bait people into making “hell-in-a-handbasket” type comments (not at all hard), then whacking them over the head with an optomistic quote from President Hinckley. Fun stuff.

  30. No, Clark, I disagree. I remember the movie MASH, was totally shocking, and that movie that Marlon Brando made, shocked us. That was 1969, I think. You can’t just compare one or two decades, either. I would compare centuries.

    And drug use? When I was a senior in high school, alcohol was the drug of choice, a few brave souls used marijuana and/or LSD, but there wasn’t all the rampant use that we have today.

    I ran with a wild crowd, I was the conservative one in the crowd, and they didn’t do half the things kids do today. Television wasn’t anything like it is today. I remember.

    No, you whippersnappers have a lot on us old fogies in the department of sex and violence and drugs. What about child abduction? That was unheard of in my day. Well, in my younger day, this is still my day. All the abuse stuff, well, maybe it happened, I don’t know, but you never heard about it. Maybe today’s people are more open.

    Hmmm…

  31. When I was in high school (80′s) one could easily get coke, marijuana or heroin anywhere around the campus. My statements about lowered drug use are from rather careful studies that show drug use has been decreased. Anecdotal information tells you what is going on in your location where you were, but not what is going on overall.

    Here’s an other discussion of this phenomena. “The smoking rate among younger teens is half what it was in the mid-1990s, and drug use by that group is down by one-third, according to the University of Michigan study, done for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Less dramatic strides have been made among older teens.”

    Child abduction is an interesting question. I don’t know the answer to that, although one should not that most child abductions are related to custody battles. So it’s harder to know the statistics for stranger abduction and child abuse.

  32. Hey Everybody, just a quick note on a reply:

    Hugh Nibley died yesterday morning (Thursday) in his sleep. It’s in the BYU Paper today.

    ~The Mirth

  33. Everyone has talked about the symptoms of a society in peril: drugs and alcohol abuse, divorce, murder, sexual sins, etc. All those are merely symptoms, it is the waxing cold of men’s heart that goes to the core of them. We are a nation of anonymous masses. Very little personal thought goes into commerce or everyday business. Customer service is all but unheard of.

    We are even snarky with each other at times. Until a simple morning post/thread calls us to attention and makes it clear how we should approach our days. In prayer and thanksgiving for the blessings we receive. Extending our hand and hearts to serve one another.

    We aren’t getting that message in the business world. It is “be first, be best, no one wants to come in second”, messages that destroy our faith in each other and society as a whole.

    So on one hand we live ina more convenient, healthy and plentiful society. On the other, it is getting worse.

  34. I’ve been thinking a lot about this thread. I wonder if we are looking at some of the wrong indicators to determine whether or not we are hell bound and misinterpreting others.

    For instance, Clark cites a statistic that teen sex and pregnancy have been declining. But what of the notion that teens no longer consider oral sex to be having sex. Studies have shown that among teens many consider themselves virgins even though they participate in oral sex on a regular basis. From my own conversations with teens, sexual activity like petting and oral sex are rampant, even here in Utah. Isn’t it possible that while intercourse and pregnancy are decreasing that perverted sexual activity and whoredoms have increased dramatically.

    Some of you have cited economic improvement, abolition of slavery, womens rights, literacy, technology, declines in war &c. as examples of how things are better, not worse than past generations. In the Book of Mormon it is during times of economic prosperity and peace that the people are most wicked. Under King Noah the people were relatively well off and were at relative peace with the lamanites, yet that is when the Lord sent Abinadi to call them to repentance. Pride is the root of all sin. The scriptures indicate that pride and stiffneckedness are more prevalent during economic prosperity and freedom from suffering. It is also hard to measure. While the freedom we enjoy in our modern era is wonderful, it would be better to be a righteous slave than a wicked freeman. The slavery of the people of Alma in the land of Helam is a good example. While the suffering was greater and they were less free than they had been as citizens of the kingdom of Noah, they were more righteous and heaven bound as slaves than they had been as relatively free people.

    The Book of Mormon also makes it clear that upon adopting some kind of democratic system, the sins of the people were to be answered upon their own heads and not upon their leaders. It would follow that the modern spread of democracy would make the modern generations more responsible for sin in their nations than past generations ruled by kings and dictators. So even if it were true that we are committing the same sins as the past, and in the same quantity, because of our democratic systems we are more responsible and are therefore more hell bound. (Mosiah 29:31-38)

    Even if we sin in the same manner and quantity as those of the past, our attitude toward sin, I think, has changed. People have always aborted babies, but it was not looked upon with approval. People have always committed whoredoms, but I do not think that they have been looked upon with approbation even if they were tolerated by their non-democratic governments. The fact that our democratic system tolerates sin is much worse than its toleration by kings of the past while the population of his nation disapproved.

  35. I mostly agree, Jonathan. I think I said so above in drawing a distinction between the state of the world at the individual level (where the rate and seriousness of sin is, I believe, greater now than in the past) and at the society or church level (where things are very good these days in terms of freedom, wealth, and spiritual gifts).

    Thus, we have reasons to observe just how horrible–and just how wonderful–is the part of world history that we inhabit.

  36. Clark Goble writes:

    Wow Chris, it’s been a while since you watched Miami Vice!

    Well, not that long ago. In fact, a few years ago when I had USA Network on cable, I videotaped every single episode for a cable-less relative who’s a Miami Vice fan.

    [A scene on Miami Vice] was pretty much R-rated.”

    That’s news to me. I can’t find any reference to this on Lexis/Nexis, as opposed to the 184 hits that result from the search for “NYPD Blue” and “nudity”.

    Likewise there was a lot of blood and violence in Miami Vice.

    Cartoonish violence, yes. Blood on the order of NYPD Blue and other current cop shows, I don’t think so.

    a lot of pretty frank prostitution talk

    Nothing in the same category as NYPD Blue.

    Michael Mann pretty much did the film Manhunter also as an episode of Miami Vice

    That may be, but it’s, of course, irrelevant to the question of the content of Miami Vice, the TV series.

  37. So even if it were true that we are committing the same sins as the past, and in the same quantity, because of our democratic systems we are more responsible and are therefore more hell bound.

    This is an extremely important point. Actually, it might even be the case that democratic systems increase the quantity of sins. I expect, for example, that prostitution in Russia is more prevelant now than during the Soviet era. But this is not something to be deplored. Instead of looking at it as an increase in sin and hell-boundedness, look at it is as increase in liberty, which is a necessary condition to achieving a Zion society. That is, after all, why Satan’s plan was rejected.

  38. Jonathon,
    One small point about abortion. There are studies which show it was actually widely practiced and approved in past centuries. Many who have done Mormon history work have found this to be the case. This is not referring to abortion on demand type abortions (which I think have always rarely happened, excpet maybe in France in the 1700s). But unwed teens often got abortions, though euphimisms were always used, same with mothers with health problems, which was a much larger population than today. I have forgotten the euphemisims used but a lot of sings point to it being both widespread and generally accepted. I think the idea of an unborn child being alive is both a modern conception and a western conception. Perhaps another sign that the world is actually getting better–a debate about abortion exists.

  39. The way I understand it, in England at least, for a long time abortion before “quickening,” or feeling the baby move, was acceptable, but that after the quickening it was considered a crime. It was a misdemeanor and so it was not considered nearly as serious as murder which was a felony, but it was still considered wrong. I do not know this subject well enough to know if it was widely acceptable in the way that you say.

    You may be right, though the fact that it had to be referred to obliquely by euphemism would seem to contradict the idea that it was publicly acceptable, even if it was privately acceptable.

    The fact that we are as a people, perhaps, more cognizant of the ethical problems with abortion than past civilizations and continue to practice it anyway would seem to make us morally more culpable than those of the past, not better as you suggest.

    Even if the peoples of the past were just as accepting of abortion as we are, it does not mean that the cumulation of our many abominations, including abortion, are not greater, in sum, than theirs, especially considering my point about where the Lord places responsibility for widespread sin in democratic societies as opposed to autocratic or aristocratic ones.

  40. The real problem we are having today is not that the sins of today are radically different from the past, but that our attitudes towards those sins has changed dramatically and therein lies the danger.
    We are now calling “evil” good and “good” evil. Moral values are considered reprehensible because they are restrictive in nature and cause immoral people to “feel bad”, which is of course a terrible thing to do. So we now have the ACLU and Human Rights groups to set us straight and move us to be more accepting of behaviours, that in the past, would have resulted in jail or even death.
    (And when you think about it, most of this occuring in the last 30-40 years. Talk about things happening speedily…)

  41. Larry, I’m not so sure attitutdes have changed very drastically. Or more imprtantly that there is any real way to measure such a proposition. The claim of more wide spread sin I think runs into certain problems. What do we mean by wide spread. There might be more total sin but less sin per person. And which is more important total sin or proportional sin.

    It also seems that much of our measuring of rise in sin is politically tied. For instance, Larry migth view Human Rights groups as leading to more sin but I would guess that groups in Mozambique for instance who have been spared from mass rapings and hangings b/c of the work of Human Rights groups would view them as leading to less sin. Or if you asked a black man in the south whose father was lynched whether the ACLU led to greater or less sin you would probably get the opposite response from Larry’s view.

    On the abortion issue, most of my study of the historicity has been in continental Europe and Mormon history so I can’t speak to England. That euphemisms were used I don’t think is an indication of either prevelance or acceptance but of culture. In France abortion has at times been very widely accepted and practiced. Pioneers who found good medical care hard to find would often turn to abortion to solve health problems that would no longer require abortion. of course, the clear definition of abortion is a new thing.

    On a larger point. I think any measuring of whether sin is greater or less now than in the past is altogether impossible, as others have mentioned. How can yoiu measure such a thing? What would the criteria for such measurement be? Most of what we point to for evidence one way or the other is anecdotal or if we do have empirical data it is national in scope not global which would seem to be necessary when addressing sin in the world as a whole.

  42. A further thought on my “distinction between the state of the world at the individual level (where the rate and seriousness of sin is, I believe, greater now than in the past) and at the society or church level (where things are very good these days in terms of freedom, wealth, and spiritual gifts).”

    This situation (assuming it is correct) may be inevitable in our time. The conditions necessary for the Restoration and the spread of the Gospel throughout the earth (including freedom and wealth) may also be the conditions most conducive to pride and wickedness.

    A possible Gospel source for this line of thinking: the parable of the wheat and the tares (if the refusal to remove the tares for the sake of the wheat is read as a time of freedom to do great good or evil).

    A possible non-Gospel source for this line of thinking: Alan Bloom’s essay on Plato’s Republic, which (as I understand it) argues that Plato’s dicussion of different forms of government was an ironic way of saying that democracy is conducive to many bad things, but that it is good because it gives philosophers freedom to work. In contrast, what many have read literally as Plato’s idea of perfect government (Bloom argues it goes beyond perfect for ironic purposes) would impress philosphers into the service of the state. A result that would be bad for philosophy and government in my view. Adapting this insight to a religious freedom context, I say that the contemporary blessing of liberal political institutions is conducive to many evils. But such institutions are good because they afford Prophets freedom to do God’s work, churches the ability to exist as somewhat independent jurisdictions, etc.

  43. HL

    Good points. My remarks were more directed to here in Canada and the USA. Europe is much further along in some areas – ie. girls hanging nude pictures of themselves in schools with phone numbers attached, Swedish girls wanting sires for their children who will not be their at-home dads, etc., the recent Dutch decision to legalize assisted suicide for anyone feeling life isn’t worth living.
    I should have chosen my words more carefully when I said Human Rights groups because it taints those who really do work to improve the lot of the downtrodden.
    Those groups in North America that don’t have real issues to deal with turn to deviant behaviours and rationalize them. Those are the ones I meant.
    Certainly one could argue on some level that sin is no greater now than it has ever been in the world, but among people who have previously held to a higher standard of conduct, the standard has begun to fall and that is where the danger lies in my opinion.
    Rhetoric has become powerful, and our ability to argue on principle so weakened, that many in the middle ground don’t know where to turn – at least in the public arena – or is that they are kept from the truth because of managed press?

  44. It appears that the Miami Vice episode Clark was referring to is the one that originally aired on March 20, 1987. I looked through the March 15-31, 1987, microfilm reel of the Deseret News to see if there was any discussion of this episode by the TV critic Joseph Walker, or editorials condemning it, or letters to the editor from appalled viewers. The only mention of this episode over this two week span was a medium-length article Walker wrote about it the day that it aired. Walker noted that the episode dealt with prostitution, and that the guest stars included not only Melanie Griffith but also Captain Lou Albano (Did I say “cartoonish”?), but the focus of his article was that the episode was written by a graduate of Salt Lake’s East High. Nothing was said about the episode being particularly shocking or parents needing to exercise special precaution. Quite a different reaction than NYPD Blue was to later provoke in these pages.

  45. Larry,

    Perhaps I’m just kinda slow, but I’m of the opinion that much of what the maligned civil- and human-rights groups do is actually good.

    As you correctly mention, they’ve asked society to be accepting of behaviour that in the past would lead to jail time or even death. . .

    Such as interracial marriage. Just a generation ago, there were still laws on the books making this a crime.

    Thank goodness someone did something about it.

    A host of other reforms in the past 40 years have been very, very good. Anti-discrimination laws in employment — oh, you can’t just refuse to hire Blacks/Jews/Mormons/whatever anymore. Protection for criminal defendants –so you can’t just beat a confession out of people now.

    And they keep moving forward. Now, thanks to human rights groups, we’ve got widespread use of DNA evidence to help keep innocent people out of jail. How is that a bad thing?

  46. And just to put a human face on those awful changes of the civil rights movement and the hell-in-a-handbasket we’re now in, I’ll point you to exhibit A:

    Bryce Inouye.

    Take a look at that family picture — cute kids, nice family, beautiful wife and of course the amazing Bryce himself.

    And then recall that forty years ago, that family picture would be grounds for throwing Bryce and his wife into jail in multiple states.

    Meanwhile today — after a lot of work by civil rights organizations and that awful-activist-Supreme-Court — the Inouye family, and the Burtt family, and every other multi-racial family in America, can travel and visit and exercise their freedom to move and travel, without that fear.

    So we can say what we will about “the world is going to hell” today, but for my money, 1963 America was evil, truly evil, in a way that 2005 America just isn’t.

  47. Kaimi -

    You seem too hung up on the inter-racial marriage debate. In fact, you use it as a sort of reverse straw man argument. You don’t seem to take on the issues at hand, and instead use interracial marriages as a hammer with which to universally condemn the past.

    Perhaps you could refute some of the other points brought up, rather than duck them by condeming something everyone on the board agress should be condemned?

  48. Ivan,

    I’m just responding to what appeared to be a blanket condemnation by Larry of all human rights and ACLU actions in the past 40 years leading to legalization of previously illegal behavior.

  49. Kaimi -
    1963 America was evil, truly evil, in a way that 2005 America just isn’t.

    Goes a bit beyond just refuting Larry. Of course, I agree that in that particular aspect 1963 America was evil in a way 2004 isn’t.

    But there are other specific ways in which it could be argued that 2004 America is evil in ways 1963 wasn’t.

    I think the whole idea of “which is more evil” is beside the point. It seems to me the evil shifts around a bit like a moving target.

  50. Kaimi -
    1963 America was evil, truly evil, in a way that 2005 America just isn’t.

    Goes a bit beyond just refuting Larry. Of course, I agree that in that particular aspect 1963 America was evil in a way 2004 isn’t.

    But there are other specific ways in which it could be argued that 2004 America is evil in ways 1963 wasn’t.
    I think the whole idea of “which is more evil” is beside the point. It seems to me the evil shifts around a bit like a moving target.

  51. Kaimi,

    My sister is married to a Samoan, my brother to a Chinese girl so I don’t need a lecture on inter-racial marriage.

    My point had nothing to do with the issues of the sixties.

    We now have human rights groups pushing agendas that have nothing to do with the issues you raised. I don’t want to hi-jack the thread on topics that have previously been discussed – but all you have to do is look at the preponderance of “minority rights” that are now on the radar screen. They have nothing to do with legitimate rights – they are pushing for behaviour related rights that are not in the realm of true rights.

  52. Ivan, while I think America is has perhaps some evils more widespread, I think that in terms of life and liberty it is unarguable that 1963 was more evil. I’m not sure how to argue otherwise. I certainly agree that pornography and certain other sexual sins are worse now than in 1963, in the sense of being more prevalent. But those classes of sins simply pale beside the types of sins that were accepted in America in the 60′s.

    But many people have raised the obvious point. How do we compare sins? If the murder rate were five times as high, but premarital sexuality was five times as low, would America be better? Exactly how on earth do we make the comparison? More importantly, if America is slightly worse, but the vast majority of the population in Asia and the Indian subcontinent are immensely better, is the world really worse off?

    That was what I was getting at with the notion that we sometimes have a provincial outlook. My mother, who grew up in a small Mormon community may see the world has gotten far, far worse compared to her youth. But is that a fair comparison?

    I also wonder how much worth righteousness is that is only righteousness because of a lack of opportunity. . . I make no claims on that. But we often try to compare peoples are from very difficult cultures and it is hard to make that comparison. For instance, to me the real issue of comparison is less the world of 1950 or 1960, but the world of 1838, or 1492 or even 1240.

  53. Chris, the danger in anecdotal evidence is always the subjective nature of it. I honestly recall Miami Vice being worse than most shows I’ve seen on network TV since. It may well be that this is an incorrect subjective view. It may be that I’m simply jaded now in a way that I wasn’t when I last saw Miami Vice. (Which I must admit is several years ago)

    As for NYPD Blue, I have to admit the same thing. When I turned on during the controversy it always seemed like a faux controversy to me. At worse it seemed that a few inches lower of butt could be seen. But, truth be told, I see worse at swimming pools. But I fully admit that is a subjective view. I honestly don’t recall a lot of blood and guts on the episodes I watched. But I fully admit I didn’t watch it that much.

    In any case, I’m not sure how much butt cheek or how much fake gun shots appear on network TV is a good indicator of the sin level of the country. I tend to think statistics on violence and trustworthiness a better indicator. I recognize that many might not agree with me, however.

    In any case, cable TV changes the rules a lot and most homes have cable TV now. And cable TV shows far worse than network TV.

  54. Clark -

    But many people have raised the obvious point. How do we compare sins? If the murder rate were five times as high, but premarital sexuality was five times as low, would America be better? Exactly how on earth do we make the comparison? More importantly, if America is slightly worse, but the vast majority of the population in Asia and the Indian subcontinent are immensely better, is the world really worse off?

    That’s all I was trying to say. OF COURSE 1963 was evil in the ways described and its a good thing we’re beyond that. I don’t think that means it was considerably more evil than 2004 (looking at every good v. every evil in some sort of zero sum game way) in any quantifiable way.

  55. But Ivan, you see, I think high rates of murder and crime are far more evil. I can’t make an easy comparison. But I honestly think that we are able to focus on the evils of pornography and premarital sex because most of the other evils that have beset society have been eliminated or at least greatly reduced.

  56. Clark -

    hmm. I agree murder is on of the big sins. Generally, in the heirarchy of sins as Mormons see it, after “denying the Holy Ghost” murder is the biggest sin. But sexual sins are a close second. So I can’t really see how “less murder but more immoral sex” somehow means that the sum total of all evil has lessened (as though it were a zero sum game where if evil increases, good decreases or vice versa).

    But I do agree with the provincial nature of your commentary. I tend to believe that most of the evil today comes from economic exploitation – mostly in third-world countries or inner-city ghettos, and “safely” removed from out everyday experience in the USA (so we don’t have to think about it and become too focused on superficilaities).

  57. One day we ought to have a thread on that ranking of sins where Mormons place sexual sins so much higher than most faiths. I sometimes wonder if the scripture in Alma isn’t more complex than we read it. (Nibley, as many note, asserted it probably related to ritual prostitution in a religious context)

    But you raise a good point. Given the heirarchy Mormons have, my comments are harder to make. If there was widespread slavery and physical abuse and violence, but a relatively low murder rate and low rate of fornication, would that be a better world? It definitely wouldn’t be a world I’d want to live in. I’d 100% rather live today and would rather raise my children today.

    So what makes something worse? (The old question we keep coming back to) I admit that in part I’m judging it in terms of what world I’d want to live in.

  58. Well shoot, Kaimi! If you wanted us to post a statement prominently on our blog declaring that “Kaimi Wenger is going to hell.” We would have been happy to oblige you! :-p

  59. At least he didn’t rig it up to say

    Kaimi Wenger is: Going to Hell
    for: Preparing our Children
    for: Cremation

  60. Hmm, Bryce, I hadn’t even considered multiple comments. But you’re right, there are lots of possibilities. Such as:

    Kaimi Wenger is: Preparing our children
    to start: Going to Hell

    Kaimi Wenger is: Going to Hell
    and: Redecorating

    Lots of possibilities!

  61. Clark, do you really think that Miami Vice is so much more shocking than say, 24 or Law and Order: SVU?

  62. You cannot be serious that M.V. contains more R-rated situations that any show on TV today? C’mon now, what about CSI – any series, L&O – any series, and now for the topper, Will and Grace!! In the 80′s you think we would have seen anything to do with Gay relationships in such as public setting as prime-time viewing where families can sit together and wonder if being Gay is actually alright? It must have worked because Canada has now legalized gay marriage, and not solely because of W&G, but because of the secret combinations of gay rights groups and federal gov’t agencies. You can’t honestly be serious and say that gay marriages may not be the start of the end, can you, and that it is alright to watch openly gay TV shows at 9pm each week!! IF M.V. was on TV today, gay rights groups would have demanded that they be a gay crime fighting duo, and not straight!

    As for people saying the less percentages mean less crime is silly also because although the percentages are down, I would hazard, well not really, a guess that the real crime numbers are up. Remember 10% of 1000 does not and has never ever equalled 10% of 100, and in fact that 10% of 1000 actually is 10 times more than 10% of 100!!

    Less wars? where have you all been since 9/11? In Utah? US vs. Iraqi insurgents, India vs. Pakistan for Kashmir? US vs. Taliban? Keep going…Terrorists vs. World!!

    I would also take a non-hazardous guess that with the billions of $$ invested in the porn industry yearly by consumers alone, that there are actually more people involved in porn from a production point of view which in turn would also imply that there is then more immorality, and in some cases where some Porn Addicts have admitted on this BLOG their issues, they would tell you that this stuff is rampant and unforgiving in it’s approach to get anyone and everyone to particpate or at least view it for that matter!!

    However, does this mean that I am pessimistic about the way life is going? No! I have a good family, my wife and I are happily married, i have employment that pays well, and I serve faithfully in my calling at church, but i am not unaware that there is more wickedness than ever in the world and it is only getting worse because of the one thing that stands above and beyond all things, and that is that people are more and more denying God to simply justify their ways and for this the world is truly going to hell in a handbasket, not because of the different types of wickedness, but because each of this more pervasive and rampant wickedness leads to a single bigger problem of denying God, or the breaking of the first and most important commandment!! See, perhaps you do not see this in Utah as much because the church is much more prevalent and has more say, but what about other places in the US that have almost legalized gay marriages, and other things of that nature, to which you can’t simply say that the world is a better place? See, what happens when gay marriages become legalized and this s the very cause for the constitution to start toward that slippery place of “hanging by a thread” because if they can have rights, then why cannot polygamists, or pedophiles, or any type of relationship be legalized under the premise of law and simply because it is too hard for people to live the very first commandment but instead live in their own ways. When they were about to legalize gay marriae in Canada, the 1st Presidency sent a letter to each unit asking the members to write their Members of Parliament to voice their objection to this evil because this is just not acceptable in God’s eyes and in fact it is more wickedness than ever existed in the 80s. Remember, the Nephies were not destroyed because they “were all alike, strong in their perversion”, but because in the end, they turned from God and actually looked upwards and cursed God!!

    More wickedness, absolutely, better life, even moreso!!

  63. I watched “Soylent Green” a few weeks back. Afterwards I said to my dad that they must have thought the world was going to end by 1980. He smiled. And yes, he did. Just goes to prove my theory, nothing good cam out of the seventies. Well, except for me of course.

  64. Anon (#66), In response to Will & Grace, what about “Bosom Buddies” and “Soap?” By the way, just because it is being shown on TV doesn’t mean it’s accepted by the audience. I remember all of the complaints after the Super Bowl/Janet Jackson fiasco, as well as the Terrell Owens monday night football skit, which was pretty tame compared to a lot that’s out there.

  65. Aw, this was a surely good quality post. In theory I’d love to create like this also – taking time and true effort to generate a good quality piece of writing..
    . but what can I say..
    . I procrastinate alot and never seem to have anything accomplished.

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