In recent posts we have looked at events such as the passage and subsequent reversal of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. We also looked at the response surrounding Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s view of abortion. If we add these two stories to the growing pile of news stories that demonstrate a national rejection of biblical principals, a common question emerges: How did we get here?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. The lack of honor and respect for the Bible is one factor. Failure to consistently embrace evangelism by the church is another. The embrace of sexual immorality in its many forms, is certainly another. There are countless answers.
Personally, I tend to look for historical trends and sources. One of my favorite historians is Dr. Daniel Boorstin. Boorstin was highly respected as an objective and knowledgable historian. His credentials were impeccable. He won the Pulizter Prize for his three volume set on American History. The third volume in this series is called The Americans: The Democratic Experience. This volume offers some clues as to how Americans have arrived at our current cultural state. Dr. Boorstin was not a Christian. This book was written in 1973. So, we can read Boorstin’s words recognizing that he was not caught up in the current culture wars. His purpose was to provide his reader with a clear, objective view of history. There is a section in the book called Statistical Communities. Under this heading he has a chapter entitled From “Naughtiness” to “Behavioral Deviation”. Following are some quotes regarding G. Stanley Hall. Hall is one of the most important people you never heard of. He is influential in American education. Here is just a small portion of what Boorstin has to say about Hall.
“The Child study movement in the United States was pioneered by G. Stanley Hall, a brilliant combination of priest, profit, poet, and experimental scientist … In 1883 Hall was appointed Professor of Psychology at the new Johns Hopkins University … Hall’s experience abroad had suggested to him that reform of education might be the key to a grand spiritual reform of the United States …
There was something appealingly democratic about Hall’s new scientific faith. Christianity had relied on the ministry of the gospel, of the sacred authoritative texts, and had enlisted faith of the authority and benevolence of a fatherly God. But psychology, in Hall’s vision, referred man to no Higher Authority (except perhaps the Psychologist). It’s sacred text was experience and it made man a rule unto himself … In place of the “Thou shalt nots” of the Decalogue, psychology would substitute open questions: ”What is man?” “How does he behave?” Psychology, the science of uniting the “is” and the “ought”. was the supremely democratic science. For it referred all questions of human behavior not to any higher authority, nor to some traditional scripture, but the normal behavior of men.” The Americans; pages 227-230.
Please remember that Boorstin’s analysis of psychology and education pertains to Hall’s vision of these topics and he is specifically addressing the historical situation in the late 19th century America.
I would particularly call your attention to the shift from Biblical truth and morals to the embrace of statistical norms in assessing the behavior of individuals. Also note that Hall’s vision was seen as a replacement for Christianity. Boorstin is not attempting to revise history, but simply to tell us what happened. As I said, these pages may help us answer the question, how did we get here?