How Bad Can It Get?

To quote the Preacher:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.—Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

Having been born in 1937, I lived most of my teenage years in the 1950's—which are sometimes referred to as the “Decade of Innocence.” I grew up in a suburb of Cincinnati, and was involved in what would now be called gangs, which were nothing like the gangs glorified in the East End Kids and Bowery Boys movies of the times.

There were prostitution, gambling and other criminal activities, but such things seemed never to intrude into family life. Cincinnati, an industrial city, was tough enough, but the streets were safe then. Cops were tough, and enjoyed more freedom of action than is possible these days. Even today, half a century after I roamed the streets of my hometown, I remember the names of several local police officers who ruled the streets then and made them safe for citizens. They weren't all honest. In fact, it was common knowledge that the chief of detectives operated a betting parlor less than a block from the city hall.

Organized crime, known popularly as “The Mob,” kept a lid on criminal activity so as, I imagine, not to excite the public to demand reform. An uncle of one of my friends, a guy everyone knew as Happy Harry, was believed to be linked with The Mob. Happy Harry built and ran an upscale bowling alley and lounge just across the street from an automobile manufacturing plant in the heart of town. People bowled there, but the fancy art deco lounge seemed always empty. Being friends with Happy Harry's nephew meant that underage kids like myself could sit at the bar in the lounge and drink beer or hard liquor, with full knowledge that the uniformed cop sitting at the other end of the bar would ensure that we were not troubled.

Though crime and corruption were alive and well in the 1950's, some of the things that apparently are endorsed by folks today were kept hidden from public view. The Hays Commission and the Catholic Legion of Decency watched over the motion picture industry to ensure that movies did not assault family values. In real life, I believed that only musicians used drugs, principally marijuana and heroin. In my teenage years, I never met a person who used or had used illegal drugs. Without exception, in my experience, the teenage “drug of choice” at that time was alcohol.

We knew about homosexuality. Homosexual men (the word “gay” had not yet been hijacked as a euphemism for that lifestyle) were sometimes depicted in movies—usually as effeminate comic relief—but who would have thought that there were also homosexual women? Now and then, we would hear parental whispers about some man having been caught in delicto flagrante, but for the most part homosexuality was neither practiced nor mentioned openly.

In my neighborhood, Catholic priests and nuns were authority figures to be honored and respected. Though I lived but a block away from a huge Catholic seminary, the grounds of which were open to us for play, I never heard even a hint that one of the seminarians had made an improper advance to one of us kids. My friends and I occasionally acted as altar boys, spending time in private with the officiating priest before and after Mass, yet I know of no instance when any of those priests was out of line with one of us boys.

How times have changed. Media accounts of charges and trials involving Catholic priests and religious now are so frequent that folks seem hardly to notice. The Hays Commission and the Legion of Decency have been consigned to the dust of history. Now, the entertainment industry assures us that it is monitoring its own output to ensure that public decency not be offended. That is like setting the fox to watch over the chicken coop. Nudity, extreme violence and/or lewdness are sine qua non if a movie and or television series is to be successful. Song lyrics these days often glorify crime, sex and drugs in the filthiest language imaginable. Pornography has been legalized and is for sale at your corner convenience store.. Sexual innuendo by child actors is used to sell such commonplace things as cornflakes these days.

To our eternal shame, our schools seem to have abandoned the teaching of traditional family values and now offer what amounts to training in “alternate life styles”—in particular promoting the gay/lesbian agenda.

Isn't America supposed to be a Christian nation? What have those millions of Americans who claim to be Christian been doing to hold back the miasma of sinfulness? Precious little, it would seem.

The Catholic Church, which professes to be Christian, has become a safe haven and private hunting preserve for those who have foresworn their vow or promise of chastity. The so-called Protestant churches have birthed untold numbers of false prophets and teachers whose acts and lifestyles exhibit greater interest in sensuality and wealth than in proclaiming the uncorrupted message of the Scriptures.

Those of us who lived in America in the 1950's did not live perfect lives, but for the most part we tended to be circumspect in our sinning. The times may be changing but as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes informed, there is nothing new under the sun. Some 900 or so years ago a Cistercian monk, who is now a Doctor of the Catholic Church, lamented the moral state of the world in these words:

You cannot but know that we live in a period of chastisement and ruin; the enemy of mankind has caused the breath of corruption to fly over all regions; we behold nothing but unpunished wickedness. The laws of men or the laws of religion have no longer sufficient power to check the depravity of manners and the triumph of the wicked.—Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted by Catholic priest Raymond K. Petrucci in Media Madnesss Gratia Artis, © 1998-2005, Spirituality for Today

It seems that many Americans no longer consider it inappropriate to express their sexuality publicly. Everywhere we look, we are exposed to behavior that in my day was usually reserved for the bedroom or the back seat of a car. Renting DVDs or watching television no longer is a safe way for a family to pass an evening together. Do they make movies these days that do not involve naked men and women frolicking in bed? Our young people wear clothing that fits so closely one wonders that they are able to breathe or bend over

God help us!

What can we do to change things? Solomon knew, and his words are just as valid today as they were when first written:

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil—Ecclesiastes 12:13b-14

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