Tom Purcell, 6/11/2007 [Archive]

American Morality

American Morality

By Tom Purcell

"I don't see what everybody is so worried about. We should have loosened up our social mores years ago."

"Ah, yes, you speak of Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey. It found that Americans are worried about the state of morality. Nearly 50 percent think our moral values are poor. Eight out of 10 think our morality is getting worse."

"It's the older, church-going conservatives who feel this way."

"The poll did break down along some interesting fault lines. People who attend church are much more likely to think morality is in bad shape than those who do not."

"I figured."

"Whereas 45 percent of Republicans believe moral conditions are poor, only 38 percent of Democrats feel so. The gap widens along ideological lines: 49 percent of conservatives think moral conditions are poor versus 32 percent of liberals."

"Liberals like loose morals -- gives us more to do on the weekend!"

"The widest gap is between young and old. Only 31 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 think moral conditions are poor versus 51 percent of those over 65."

"Older generations always think younger generations are less moral."

"Your point is well taken, but perhaps things really are getting worse. In the 1950s, for instance, older generations said Elvis was vulgar and immoral -- that his music was sexually suggestive."

"My point exactly. Elvis was the greatest!"

"But compare his lyrics to many of today's hit songs and it is clear things have gotten worse. Many of today's lyrics are not about romance but the biological act of sex or cheating or jealousy. They're often misogynistic and demeaning to women. Elvis celebrated love and romance. Too many of today's songs celebrate human nature at its most base."

"You're entitled to your opinion."

"You raise an interesting point. Is morality just a matter of opinion? That's what some would like us to believe. That if it feels good, go for it. That in a world of moral relativism, there are no objective moral standards -- only personal choices."

"That's right. It's a free world."

"Yes, and in such a world, people have lost their ability to discern. They're often unable to say one thing is bad and another thing is good. They cannot say that some of Elvis' music was great and that some of today's rap music is horrible. But the truth is some things are better than other things. Some things are morally better."

"You're treading on dangerous ground, buddy."

"Look, the American Heritage Dictionary says that morality is the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. It is a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct -- VIRTUOUS conduct."

"Yeah, what of it?"

"Greek philosophers had names for virtuous conduct. They believed prudence, temperance, courage and justice were virtues all people should strive to master. By mastering virtue, we become MORAL."

"Sounds like a lot of work to me."

"On the flip side, we should avoid excessive pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. These are known as the seven deadly sins."

"They're also the activities that make up most of my social life."

"It's not complicated, but we've complicated it. It used to be morally wrong for teenagers to do what Lewinsky and Clinton did. It used to be immoral for a man and woman to bring a life into the world without being married, but both are OK now."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Cigarette smoking used to be a vile personal choice, but now it's considered more evil than communism. And whereas traditional sins are considered relics of an unenlightened past, there is no bigger sin than NOT believing humans are causing global warming. Our moral universe is completely twisted up."

"Says you."

"No, says a lot of people. They know that 35 percent of American births are to unwed mothers. They know that our culture has gotten excessively vulgar and cynical. They experience incivility every day."

"You need to loosen up."

"We've loosened up plenty. That's why so many worry traditional morality is in swift decline in America."

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications."

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