â€œNot until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.â€
So wrote Alexis de Tocqueville.
Yet, judged by the standards of those old â€œpulpits aflame with righteousness,â€ is America still a good country?
Consider the cases taken up this week by the Supreme Court.
In one, the court is asked to rule on Californiaâ€™s Proposition 8, where voters declared marriage to be solely between a man and a woman. In the second, the court is asked to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids federal support for same-sex marriages.
Whatever their beliefs, the justices, one trusts, will leave this to the states and people. For Roe v. Wade, where seven justices found the right to an abortion lurking in the penumbras of the Ninth Amendment, poisons our politics to this day. We donâ€™t need a re-enactment of that civil war.
Still, what America decides about same-sex marriage will reveal much about what this generation believes to be a moral society.
Traditionalist America has always held homosexuality to be unnatural and immoral, ruinous to body and soul alike, and where prevalent â€“ as in Weimar, Germany â€“ the mark of a sick society.
This belief outrages millions. Yet it is as old as mankind and was held universally in the Christian West until this century. Moreover, it is grounded in biblical truth, tradition, natural law and Catholic doctrine.
Before 1973, the American Psychiatric Association regarded homosexuality as a mental disorder. Most states treated it as a crime.
The new morality argues thus:
For a significant slice of the population, homosexuality is natural and normal. They were born this way. And to deny homosexuals the freedom to engage in consensual sexual relations, or the right to marry, is bigotry as odious as was discrimination against black Americans.
Yet, though gospel to many, this belief has only the most shallow of religious, moral and philosophical roots. It seems grounded in a post-1960s ideology that holds that all freely chosen lifestyles are equal, and to discriminate against any is the true social sin.
Needless to say, the traditional morality and the new morality are irreconcilable.
But if the new morality â€“ that homosexuality is normal and same-sex marriage morally equal to traditional marriage â€“ is true and valid, Frank Kameny was a prophet and Christianity is indictable for 2,000 years of ostracism, persecution and suffering imposed on homosexuals.
Or perhaps we believe that moral truth evolves â€“ that, for example, adultery may be immoral for one generation, but not so for the next.
The issue here goes beyond what the Court decides.
For even should the advocates of same-sex marriage prevail, their victory will not be accepted by believers in the traditional morality, but simply be seen as but another step in Americaâ€™s descent down a slippery slope to hell.
Indeed, for millions of Americans, this society â€“ which has eradicated Christianity from its public institutions and enshrined secularism in its place, which considers abortion a womanâ€™s right, which is blasÃ© about 53 million unborn children destroyed since Roe, which puts homosexual liaisons on the same moral plane as matrimony â€“ is a society that has lost its moral bearings and is rapidly losing its mind.
Which raises a serious separate issue.
If we Americans cannot even agree on what is right and wrong and moral and immoral, how do we stay together in one national family? If one half of the nation sees the other as morally depraved, while the latter sees the former as saturated in bigotry, sexism and homophobia, how do we remain one united nation and one people?
Today, half of America thinks the country some of us grew up in was bigoted, racist, homophobic and sexist, while the other half sees this morally â€œevolvingâ€ nation as a society openly inviting the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah and that is hardly worth preserving.
A common faith and moral code once held this country together. But if we no longer stand on the same moral ground, after we have made a conscious decision to become the most racially, ethnically, culturally diverse people on earth, what in the world holds us together?
The Constitution, the Bill of Rights?
How can they, when we bitterly disagree on what they say?
By throwing out the old morality and embracing a new morality on abortion and same-sex marriage, America tossed her sheet anchor into the sea. And from the turbulent waters we have entered â€“ our illegitimacy rate is above 40 percent, and no Western nation has a birth rate that will keep its native-born alive in anything like the present numbers â€“ America and the West may have set sail on a voyage from which there is no return.