You may have noticed all the buzz after all the votes were counted in our recent election. News reporters wanted to know what factors had turned the tide in President Bush’s favor. So they turned to the exit pollsters, the people who question voters about their views once they leave the voting area.
The news people expected voters’ top priority to be either the war against terrorism or the job market. Instead — to nearly everyone’s surprise — it was “moral values” that topped the exit polls as “the issue that mattered most” in the election.
What Was Different This Time?
There have been serious moral issues at stake in other elections, but this time many more people took this into account. The high turn-out of voters in this election also seems to suggest that more people were concerned about the issues involved.
One reason seemed to be the concern many people have about preserving the sanctity of marriage. Protection of marriage was on the ballot in eleven states, and in every one of these states it won by a vast majority. This issue surely gave the voters another reason to pause and consider each candidate’s positions on moral issues.
Another moral issue that people seemed to notice more this time was the attitude of the candidates toward pro-life issues.
A Chance to Help
Nevertheless, the issue of moral values was only a relative winner among the five priorities polled, not an absolute winner. 22% said it was the decisive factor, not 51%. If we are concerned about moral values, it is clear we still have much work to do. Young people have a key role in this work, since so much of popular culture is addressed to them, but we need to understand better what is at stake in order to take a stand ourselves.
What are moral values, really? And, when two people disagree on what makes one choice moral and another immoral — as so many did disagree in the presidential election — how can we know whose values are truly the most moral?
Right vs. Wrong
One definition of the word morality is “in accord with the principles of right and wrong.”
Another way to state that thought might be: Moral values are the deeply held beliefs that guide us when we need to decide whether it would be right or wrong to do something —or not do something.
It might help to illustrate the difference between a moral act and an immoral act by comparing two incidents that were recently in the news.
Last spring, a young lady from Redmond, Washington, wrote a short letter to the business executives who run Nordstrom department stores. Her name is Ella Gunderson, and she was concerned because she had a hard time finding modest clothing choices in their stores.
Ella wrote: “I am an eleven-year-old girl who has tried shopping at your store for clothes (in particular jeans), but all of them ride way under my hips, and the next size up is too big and falls down. I see all of these girls who walk around with pants that show their belly button and underwear. Your clerks suggest that there is only one look. If that is true, then girls are supposed to walk around half-naked. I think you should change that.”
A lot of local and even national publicity followed, including an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” with Katie Couric. The most exciting development came when the Nordstrom executives promised to offer more modest clothing than in years past —leading other large retail-store chains to make the same pledge.
That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for an 11-year-old girl.
From Ella’s experience, it’s easy to identify two ways her moral values made a positive difference in her life.
First, she said “No” to the immodest clothing choices she found when she went to the store. Simply by refusing to purchase the clothes, she made a moral choice.
Then she said “Yes” to doing something to change the situation. It might not have seemed like much to write a short letter, but just look at the results that followed from that one small, morality-based decision.
Contrast Ella’s choices in a tricky situation with a choice made by Terrell Owens, the talented wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles who has become one of the most popular stars in the National Football League.
On Monday, November 15, just before the start of ABC’s Monday Night Football game between the Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, Terrell appeared in a promotional advertisement for ABC’s racy soap opera “Desperate Housewives.”
In the ad, Terrell is in the locker room in his Eagles uniform, about to run out for the start of the game. Suddenly Nicollette Sheridan, an actress on the “Desperate Housewives” show, approaches him. Wearing only a bath towel, she tries to talk him into staying there with her rather than joining his team on the field. When he explains that he has a duty to his team, she jumps into his arms. With that, Owens changes his mind. “The team’s going to have to win one without me,” he says with a smirk.
Time to Speak Up
In the days after the ad ran, there was quite an outcry from the general public and from some influential people in the NFL. “When we turn on ‘Monday Night Football,’ you’re expecting to see football,” said Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. “I want my boys to watch football. I don’t want them to see what they saw.”
Lovie Smith, head coach of the Chicago Bears, added: “I’m a father. I have young kids at home, too. I’m a Christian man. I think it goes without saying that what happened was totally inappropriate.”
And Art Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, called the promotion an “out and out disgrace. This is NFL football. We don’t do those things.”
Did he miss something?
For his part, Terrell seemed surprised at the moral outrage the ad provoked. He apologized — but not because he agreed that the ad was morally wrong. He said he was sorry only because some people felt upset about it. “I felt like it was clean,” he said. “I think it just really got taken out of context with a lot of people and I apologize for that.”
In other words, he believed the problem lay not in what he had done, but only in how people had reacted to it. This would be like smashing a neighbor’s window, on purpose — and then, when the neighbor came out and yelled at you, you say you were sorry about upsetting him even though you saw nothing wrong in what you did to his window.
You could say that this attitude points out that Terrell’s moral compass is malfunctioning. He doesn’t have a clear understanding of what is right and wrong. His moral values are not consistent with the full truth about God and man.
Standing up for moral values takes courage. To clarify the morality (or lack thereof) of the choice Terrell made, let’s imagine he refused to make the ad or insisted on making the ad in a different way. Imagine if he insisted on telling Nicollette:
“I’m sorry, Nicollette, but I can’t do that. First, you are not my wife. Second, I have a job to do. Third, many kids who look up to me are watching.”
In other words
“It is morally wrong for two people to be intimate when they are not married to one another.
“I have a duty to my coach, my teammates, our fans and everyone tuning in on TV. It’s morally wrong to shirk my duties to others in order to satisfy my selfish desires.
“Being a man implies a responsibility. I have a duty to encourage people, especially young people, to be the best they can be — not to live an immoral and destructive lifestyle.”
Imagine if, after saying that, he turned away from Nicollette and ran out to the field to join his teammates. The ABC network would still have been morally wrong to show a scantily clad woman on TV, especially one who acted the way Nicollette acted with Terrell, but at least Terrell could have held his head high.
Terrell and ABC, you just lost a chance to help people.
The Conscience Clause
Have you ever heard a car alarm go off? It buzzes, it whistles, it screeches like a fire alarm. Your conscience is like that. It should go off when you are about to do something you know to be wrong in all circumstances (such as vote for a political candidate who strongly supports the right of people to destroy unborn babies).
But your conscience does not decide all by itself what is right or wrong. In order for it to guide you to doing the right thing, it has to be formed, because sometimes we can make mistakes, even big ones, especially when things get confusing. Only when your conscience has learned objective right from wrong will it be able to function as a reliable moral compass.
God does not leave us alone to be fooled by our selfishness or the passing fads. He puts his natural moral law into our consciences, and he further helps us with his teaching and grace.
Ever since God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, He has called on the Catholic Church to courageously stand up for what is moral and right in human society — and stand against what is immoral and wrong.
What a tremendous privilege it is to be a part of that Church — and what an awesome responsibility.
Of course, championing morality while challenging immorality won’t always make us popular. But it will always be the right thing to do, and it will always help our friends and our world find the way to real fulfillment.
It’s 2004. Do you know where your moral compass is?
Duty – Conduct based on faithfulness to one’s responsibility.
Conscience — knowledge of right and wrong and the conviction that one should do what is right.
Modest — clean and proper in thought, conduct and dress.
Moral compass — a metaphor for the “internal pointer” in our heart that shows us the way to go in a situation with moral implications.
Moral values — the deeply held beliefs that guide us when we need to decide whether it would be right or wrong to do something — or not do something.
Natural moral law — the standard of right and wrong that can be discerned using human reason and logic, even by people without religious faith or beliefs.
Priority —something coming before another in importance.
Privilege — a right or liberty granted as a favor or benefit.
Responsibility — the force that binds a person to his or her obligations; accountability.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
“Let no one disregard you because you are young, but be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and your purity.” (1Timothy 4:14)
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
1798 A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.
1802 The Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. This is how moral conscience is formed.
Saints and Heroes
St. Maria Goretti was just 12 years old in 1902, when she was attacked by a 19-year-old farm-hand named Alessandro Serenelli. He tried to rape her, but she refused to submit to his advances. She told him what he was trying to do was a sin and warned him that he would go to hell if he did not call off the attack. He stabbed her 14 times. She survived for two days in the hospital, where she forgave Alessandro and asked God to forgive him. She died holding a crucifix and a medal of the Blessed Mother. Eventually Alessandro repented of his sin and even testified at her cause for beatification. (Note: the picture is from a movie about the life of Maria Goretti made by RAI, an Italian television network. The movie broke all records for audience numbers in Italy.)
Bishop Clemens Augustus von Galen (1878-1946).
Better known as the “Lion of Munster”. During the whole Nazi period in Germany, Bishop von Galen raised his voice in defense of the rights of the Jews, the poor, the sick, and the Church . He energetically opposed the spread of Nazi paganism.
His homilies of the summer of 1941 became famous, which brought him to the brink of being arrested and condemned to death. He will soon be beatified by the Holy Father.
Von Galen’s resistance to the Nazi euthanasia programs was kept up by other priests, among them the priest in charge of the Berlin Cathedral, Father Bernhard Lichtenberg.
Fr. Lichtenberg was arrested, tried and condemned in October 1941. He died in 1943 on the way to Dachau. John Paul II raised him to the honor of the altar on June 23, 1996.
Do you tend to view the popular culture through the eyes of the Church — or are you prone to viewing the Church through the eyes of the popular culture?
In what areas does the popular culture tend to agree with the morality of the Church? In what areas does it disagree?
What are the potential costs of “going with the flow” of the popular culture in deciding what values to live by? What are the benefits of standing with the Church’s values even when those choices make you unpopular?
One of the ways to consider the basis of our own moral values is to think about those times when it would be wrong not to do something. For example, if you came across a lost toddler in the city, it would be wrong not to help the child in whatever way you could — trying to find his mother, calling the police or whatever seemed most helpful and appropriate to the particular circumstance. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it would have been wrong not to take some kind of action? Describe the situation. Tell what you did then, or what you now wish you had done, looking back.
Write a letter to Terrell Davis. Tell him why you think his appearance in the ABC promotion for “Desperate Wives” was wrong. Explain why it was wrong regardless of how he feels about it. Also tell about how morally loose behavior by admired sports celebrities encourages many young people to make bad decisions that can affect their lives in negative ways for years to come.
Go through your music and movie collections. See which of the recordings celebrate immorality as though it’s “cool” or “inevitable.” Consider getting rid of such recordings. With friends develop a collection of music and videos that promote courageous moral or Christian values.
Consider the TV shows you like to watch on a regular basis. Review the programs from the eyes of morality. (For example, does the program show non-married people in bed with each other? If so, consider not watching this program again.
Further Formation: Catechism Tips
Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.
Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.
For the man who has committed evil, the verdict of his conscience remains a pledge of conversion and of hope.
Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.
A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
Conscience can remain in ignorance or make erroneous judgments. Such ignorance and errors are not always free of guilt.
“The talking heads are rushing to interpret the 2004 election as the year of the ‘values voter.’ A little skepticism is in order. Twenty-two percent of the electorate identified “moral values” as the “most important issue” shaping his or her vote. No other single issue garnered an equal or higher percentage. But that hardly yields the interpretation that values were the most important election issue. Even if we assume that the exit polls were completely accurate, the numbers do not add up to a moral-values election.
“I’d love to see the American people say with one voice that they are disgusted with the trash-mouth Hollywood types, the porn industry that invades our computers and our cable channels, the unethical businessmen, the foul reality shows, the abortion mills, kids killing kids over sneakers, the drugs, the child abuse, the shock jocks … well, I have only 750 words so I’ll stop there.
“The point is: We’ve got a long way to go before that day dawns.”
http://www.catholiceducation.org/ The Catholic Educator’s Resource Center, a resource clearinghouse for Catholic teachers and school administrators
http://www.heritage.org/ The Heritage Foundation, a research and education institute (a
“think tank”) stressing the principles of traditional American values
http://www.catholicyouth.org/ The Catholic Youth Foundation, a Catholic source of youth-ministry
http://www.catholics-in-action.org/ Catholics In Action, a group based in Louisville, Ky., that works to restore the primacy of traditional family values:
http://www.sexnot4letters.com/ Sex Is Not A Four-Letter Word, a site of articles, testimonies and links all aimed at encouraging teens to reach for the beauty and rightness of chastity.