Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is the modern world really that bad?

In Mormondom, you here a lot from leaders, local and higher up, that the world is getting worse with time. Our modern days are some of the wickedest ever seen, they'll warn. Something like that.

President Monson said in the latest edition of the Ensign (the July one):
"In the decades since the end of World War II, standards of morality have lowered again and again. Crime spirals upward; decency careens downward. Many are on a giant roller coaster of disaster, seeking the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. Thus we forfeit peace."
Now, I'm not going to say that all of this is utterly false. I'm sure in many ways the world has gotten much worse. But I don't think things are as bad as they seem. I think to some of the leaders of the Church (especially the older ones), our present-day situation appears to be a lot worse than it actually is.

Here are some reasons I've come up with for why things SEEM worse, but aren't necessarily:

  1. Crime rates have gone up. This is in part because more laws and decisions have been made, creating more crimes. For example, up until relatively recently, it was still legal for a man to rape his wife. Nowadays we realize that marriage does not give you permission to force someone into having sex with you. 
  2. Crime rates have gone up. This is in part because our forensic sciences and technology has improved immensely. Go read a crime novel written in the 1920s (Dashiell Hammett is the big one). Now go watch an episode of "Castle," "Bones," or "Criminal Minds." There is a GINORMOUS difference in how these detectives solve their crimes - Hammett's characters mainly had to piece together circumstantial evidence and witness testimonies. They didn't have fingerprinting, security cameras, medical technology, or any of the other things we take for granted on our modern-day crime shows (admittedly, some of the stuff Angela does on "Bones" can't be fully realistic, but that doesn't take away from the fact that we have made huge strides in our technology). This all leads to more arrests, more convictions, and more people with jail time. (Admittedly, this does not change the statistic of actual crimes as much as it affects the statistics of criminals. Still, I see those numbers going hand in hand when we mourn the state of this world.)
  3. As our world becomes more globalized, we will hear more and more about horrific events and crimes that happen further away from us. Back in the 1950s, we weren't able to Wikipedia the youngest murderer ever (it's about 8. I checked a few years ago). We didn't have the technology to film or photograph many of the really awful things that happened. Our fiction wasn't even as graphic or imaginative as it is now.
  4. Divorce rates are higher. General Authorities, and for that matter, many of the critics of feminism, love to talk about this one. Lots of people blame feminists for it. But really, why do we assume that all divorce is bad? In the 1950s, a woman could not divorce her husband, even if he was abusive, either because the law was not on her side or because she was not financially dependent. Do we really want to go back to the "good ole' days" of when there was abuse, but it was never reported or talked about? Of course, I'm not trying to trivialize divorce because I know it can have lots of negative consequences for many of the people involved; but I do think we're only looking at the negatives, when in reality, many positive things can come from divorce as well.
  5. Standards are lower. The problem with this is that standards are all relative. For example, it used
    to be scandalous for a woman in the U.S. to show her ankles. Now, we laugh at that. In a hundred years, we may think it's funny that we used to find butts sexually appealing. The LDS church has SOMEWHAT codified their standards, meaning that some of them have not wavered in like, fifty years. At least, we believe that to be true. In actually, many of the more "petty" standards the Church used to promote have changed quite a bit. In the 1950s, the For the Strength of Youth... used to tell young women that it was inappropriate to leave the house with curlers in your hair. I'm serious! Check it out here. So while the Church has never really changed it's position on sex before marriage, it has changed it's position on modesty standards (tank tops used to be okay); alcohol, tobacco, and coffee; polygamous marriages; and many other large and small standards. What I think this proves is ... IT'S OKAY TO BE FLEXIBLE ON
So what does this all mean? While we should continue listening to our ecclesiastical leaders, maybe we don't need to be quite so depressed when they say the world is getting worse. We don't need to feel like we're so much more righteous than the rest of the world. We might make different choices on what we consider is "worldly" or not. 

And, it might make us a little happier living in this world.  

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