We must return to being a society of shared values 


Photo by    Aaron Burden    on    Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

American values have never been under threat so much as they are now.  

According to a recent NBC/WSJ poll, only 42 percent of Americans ages 18 to 38 believe that patriotism is a “very important” value; a mere 30 percent believe religion or belief in God to be important; and just 32 percent cite having children as being of importance. While the numbers are better among older generations, the polling shows that fewer of us find these values to be as important today as we did only two decades ago—a shocking 48 percent of Americans now believe religion to be very important, compared to 62 percent in 1998.  

So what does this all mean? Americans are becoming decidedly un-American. And with the erosion of our shared values comes the disintegration of our society. 

America is a religious nation. The importance of religion within our society cannot be overstated, although we try. Our currency bears the phrase “In God We Trust,” and the Pledge of Allegiance contains the important line “one Nation under God.” The Supreme Court opens its sessions with the prayer “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Faith is more than an integral part of daily life; it’s central to our society and our republic at large. As John Adams wrote in 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People.” When we abandon faith, we collectively lose our shared sense of morality.  

This would explain our society’s burgeoning proclivity to replace community with government. A majority of young Americans now view socialism positively. Rather than feeling the innate responsibility to care for one another, we designate the government to do so for us, electing officials who promise to spend other people’s money to solve our problems. This frees us up to make bad decisions—the government will fill in for the estranged spouse or absentee parent. This reliance upon large government diminishes the personal responsibility required to maintain strong communities. Lack of accountability breeds entitlement. We feel that the government owes us not merely a job, but also a “living” wage. When we expect more from our country and less from ourselves—antithetical to the famous counsel of President John F. Kennedy—our society loses appreciation for the greatest country on earth.

The founders believed that all men were created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights to be protected by limited government. Our republic provides freedom from tyranny and equal opportunity for all. This is not something to be merely proud of; it’s to die for—and we have believed this for virtually all of our history. Fortunately, the Union Army, the young men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, and the first responders on 9/11 believed patriotism was very important—that America was worth fighting for and protecting.  

America and her founding principles are the result of the single greatest governing philosophy in world history. The founders knew this. That’s why the Preamble of the Constitution states the importance of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” If we want to ensure the perpetuation of our nation, it is imperative that we actually create a next generation—that we understand that this is our greatest calling and dutifully fulfill our obligation.  

These are the shared values which have historically bound Americans together: a collective pride in country, a strong moral code rooted in personal responsibility and community over government, and the feeling of responsibility to have children—a sacrifice which requires others to be put before self.   

How can we trust our future political leaders to have our best interests at heart if they’re not proud of our country? How can we thrive as a society if we shirk our responsibly to produce a better generation than the last? We can always disagree politically, but a moral and religious people cannot survive without shared values.  

As a nation, we’re losing this call to unity—the faith, morals and belief systems which have united Americans from the beginning. We don’t believe in ourselves or in each other. The trust which was shared for centuries is waning as our growing differences replace that which we have always had in common. Pretty soon, we’ll no longer have any shared values at all. And if what John Adams said is correct, then soon thereafter, we won’t have a country, either.

Thumbnail photo by Valentino Funghi on Unsplash

Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.catapano@uconn.edu.

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