Many in America today bemoan the lack of principles in our society. In reality though, it’s not an absence of principles that is corrupting our society but rather the prevalence of the wrong kind of principles.
Just to clarify. Values are different from principles. Principles are those things we believe strongly. They are the doctrines of our lives. Values, then, are what flow naturally from our principles. Principles produce values. Values produce behaviors. And Behavior, any and all behavior, is really just the evidence of a set of principles that have been adopted.
So when we talk about the decline of certain kinds of social behavior, or the increase of certain kinds of social deviancy, it isn't the lack of values that is to blame. What we are witnessing instead is the rise of different set of values influencing those changes. But it goes a step or two further than that to really understand what is happening.
If behaviors are determined by values and values are birthed by principles then where do principles come from? They don’t just exist on their own in some sort of moral vacuum. No. Principles come from our fundamental beliefs (not necessarily from what we say we believe but from what we really believe). Where then do beliefs come from? Well, beliefs come from a worldview that has a source of authority.
Those questions can include: How did we get here - the question of origin. What is wrong with us and how do we get fixed- questions about human behavior. Why are we here and where are we going - questions about purpose. What is right and wrong - the question of ethics.
Think of worldview as a filter in which we interpret the universe we live in or a pair of glasses tinted in some way that cause the wearer to see everything in that color. Worldview is the basic assumptions of life.
Take a piece a paper and a pen, draw a line across the middle of the paper. Now draw a stick figure on top of the line and beside the figure write the word Behavior.
Now lets pick a behavior - violence. The act of violence by that stick figure came from somewhere. My point is that all behavior, including violence, is not the result of a lack of values, or principles, but actually the result of a certain kind of values and principles.
That act of violence from the stick figure on your piece of paper could have been brought on by any number of values. Those values we will place below the line. So write the word Values below the line. Values are below the line because they are underneath the surface so to speak but they become very public and visible to all when opportunity (in comparison with the strength of the value held) presents itself to the individual.
The violence of our stick figure could come from a number of values but let’s say that this particular act of violence came from a strongly held value of prejudice. Our stick figure has very strong prejudice feelings and those feelings finally overflowed into a violent act.
Since behaviors are the result of values where do values come from. On your piece of paper write the word Principles below the word value because it rest deeper down in soil of our worldview.
The value of prejudice felt so strongly by the stick figure was most likely influenced by a set of principles. One of those principles could be described as the “survival of the fittest.” A person holding to this principle is convinced that the highest standard of human interest is self-interest. This principle might be described as “do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you.”
But principles, or what I called earlier, the doctrines of our lives, come from somewhere too. They come from our beliefs. Now below the word principle on your piece of paper write the word Beliefs. Here we might say that the stick figure believes in racism and while his actions showed that to be true, racism is really a principle. Evolution, however, may be the belief system personally owned by our stick figure.
Just to clarify. The theory of evolution was directly responsible for the extermination of six million Jews and other minorities is Nazi Germany. Certainly racism and prejudice and hate can come from other beliefs systems including religious beliefs but our example here is good because we have historical evidence that it can also come from scientific beliefs or at least what is thought to be scientific.
Now on your piece of paper, underneath the line, in big bold letters write the word Authority. All beliefs, great or small, have a source of authority. Beliefs, principles, values, that eventually breakthrough the line into reality, into the behaviors of our stick figure and into our own lives, come from a some source of authority. It can be book, a person, a tradition, an object, a scientific theory, a demon or an angel, it doesn't matter. The source of authority is where every person and thus every society develops its worldview.
Everything below the line can be described as worldview. It is what your stick figure is standing on. It is what your stick figure is interpreting everything above the line. It is the source of all behaviors above that line.
Values - prejudice
Principles - racism
Beliefs - evolution
Authority - faulty scientific theory
Here's my point today. Those leading our society, the social elites like educational leaders, politicians, and media moguls, understand that to change a nation’s behavior is to first change that nation’s deeply held beliefs. The culture wars we have been fighting over in this country for the last four decades are really battles over systems of beliefs and not a just set of behaviors. But it is the behaviors we see and it is the consequences of behaviors we encounter on a daily basis. And those Behaviors come with some kind of social cost and almost always a financial cost too.
Bottom line: Beliefs have consequences. Reality is what we make it because reality is the fruit of our beliefs.
There is a great article entitled, Culture and the Barbarians at the Gate By Jon N. Hall. In it he writes,
“When the "crucial glue" of culture no longer holds, anarchy ensues. But what started the collapse of culture is the collapse of people. What's falling apart is people. It is people that were debased first, and now they're dragging their culture down with them. The barbarians at the gate are us. We're vandalizing our children's future and robbing them of their birthright. We are the barbarians we've been waiting for".
I believe that all problems in American society today can be traced back to a faulty theology, in other words, a faulty belief system - the way we think about God, the world, and ourselves and others. The biblical admonition to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind" is not simply a personal call but also a cultural mandate.
We would probably all agree that if we wanted to change a person’s behavior we would first have to change that person’s thinking. The very same holds true for a society. If we want to change a society's behavior we first must change that society’s thinking. We must change the society’s view of the world. We must change worldview.
The enemies of Christianity, filled with the anti-Christ spirit, are working very hard to fundamentally transform our society by destroying doctrines of Christianity that are the foundations of our culture and society. We in the church, who are the guardians of those doctrines, must work equally hard to defend and promote them or we will soon all living in a world with dramatically different view.