Like most everyone else, my heart was sickened by all the news surrounding Jerry Sandusky. Now that he has been convicted on 45 counts of child sexual molestation, it seems that justice is served. Setting aside the questions of whether Penn State should have done more to ferret out Sandusky, his conviction offers an opportunity to ponder the moral impulse of our society. By and large, the general public is shocked and outraged by Sandusky’s behavior, especially since he was in a position of authority. Pedophilia is universally condemned, and this by people of many different world-views.
The Gospel Coalition blog alerted me to an excellent article in the Catholic World Report that explores why Sandusky is guilty in the public opinion. The answer is Christianity and its effect on our culture and its undergirding of our moral fibers for hundreds of years. Let me excerpt the article and encourage you to go read the whole thing.
This is 2012. Turn the historical clock back 2000 years, and find yourself in the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity arose, i.e., before the Christianization of the West. In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable. To be more exact, homosexual activity was frowned on (but not very diligently) when it occurred between two free-born men, but it was cheerfully affirmed between a master and his slave, and even more, a man and a boy between the ripe ages of about 12 to 17—just the target age of Sandusky. The man generally presented himself as a kindly benefactor to the boy, taking him under his wing, so to speak, and (in return for sexual favors) helping him up the social ladder. Just like Sandusky.
If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.
There is one and only one reason, 2000 years later, that Sandusky is guilty now…Our consciences, our minds, our hearts, our legal system in America have been formed by Christian moral teaching about sexuality. Subtract Christianity from history, and we would be back in Rome. In pagan Rome, Sandusky would be innocent.
The piece goes on to illustrate how natural morality, darwinianism, democracy, psychology and philosophy all fail to lead to a condemnation of the kinds of acts that Sandusky is convicted of. But the article concludes with a warning:
But again, here’s the problem. Our society is being successively and successfully de-Christianized. The moral formation is wearing off rapidly. Now that we’ve answered the why of Sandusky’s guilt, we’ve got one more question to ask: How long will we continue to feel guilty?
That is a good question indeed. But I would demur. We still have many Christian underpinnings in our society, and for that we should be thankful. I often bring up this free attitude toward pedophilia or even ritualistic sex that was so pervasive in Rome and Corinth, and other ancient cultures, when I encounter the widespread Christian pessimism about how bad things are getting today. Christianity thrived in the most pagan of cultures, and it will continue to thrive the darker it gets today. Saving our society and improving our secular culture shouldn’t be the primary focus of Christians. Living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its tranformative moral power should be. May God help us “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:15b-16a).