What Is Wrong With America?
A Nigerian man asks Dr. Craig to reflect on the spiritual state of America
What Is Wrong With America?
KEVIN HARRIS: We have so many questions that are coming in on various topics. It reminds me of some of your public speaking. Whenever you do a Q&A session at the end, it is just a hodge-podge of questions. You never know what someone is going to ask next. This is from Emmanuel in Nigeria.
Hello, Dr. Craig. It is both a privilege and an honor writing to you all the way from Nigeria. Your podcasts and debates have influenced me greatly personally in my faith and in discussions with friends of other faiths. Just like Jude said in his letter, I always long to write to you on certain questions I have. However, at this time, my reason for writing is kind of different. I simply want to ask what has gone wrong with America, morally, spiritually, intellectually, etc? I recently read tweets with a hash tag “#JusticeForHarambe” which I’m certain you know what led to that. How suddenly did Americans think an animal’s life is more valuable than a human’s. I sincerely hope there is an answer to this, because with the trend of things I fear for America. Thanks once again.
DR. CRAIG: It is very poignant getting this email from a man in Nigeria which is a country riven with Islamic terrorism, killing, and kidnapping, and yet he looks at America and says “What’s wrong with America? What has happened to America?” It is so tragic, I think, when you look at the course of the last century to where we are today. Honestly, I don’t feel like I live in the same country that I lived in growing up as a boy. America has changed and I think for the worst in many respects. There is a lot wrong with America that we could talk about today. But I am not sure that he is accurate in pointing to this tweet on #JusticeForHarambe in pointing to that as a symptom of what’s wrong with America. As an animal lover myself . . .
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s remind everyone what #JusticeForHarambe is all about.
DR. CRAIG: It is about this killing in the Cincinnati Zoo of a huge gorilla who had grabbed a little boy that had fallen or jumped into the gorilla enclosure. When you see the video of this, it is absolutely terrifying. The little boy is like a little rag doll in the hands of this monster. The zoo officials decided that an attempt to tranquilize the gorilla would take too long and therefore they reluctantly felt they had to kill it. And they shot it in order to save the little boy’s life. And they did so successfully. This has led to great protest and concern.
As I say, as an animal lover myself, I understand those concerns. When I heard that they shot the gorilla I felt so bad about that – that such a beautiful beast as this should be killed. Before I became a Christian my desire in life was to become the director of a large metropolitan zoo. I love animals. So when I hear about the poaching of white rhinoceri in Africa or about the killing and devastation of the habitat of the gorilla, it does grieve me greatly that these wonderful creatures should be so senselessly slaughtered. But in this case it seems like the zoo officials had no choice. In an instance that little boy’s life could have been snuffed out by this gorilla. So in order to save his life they had to exterminate him. That seems to be justified.
As I understand this hash tag #JusticeForHarambe, they are not protesting over the shooting of the gorilla. What I have here is that the signature urges that the parents of the toddler “be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life.” So they are not protesting that the shooting of the gorilla was wrong or that, as Emmanuel says, that somehow the life of an animal is more valuable than the life of a human being. That is not the way I read this petition. What they are saying is these parents were negligent and criminally negligent in some way. The law recognizes negligence as a form of criminality. You can prosecute people for criminal negligence. But the question is: are they jumping to conclusions here? Were the parents in fact really negligent? Did they have a lack of supervision or not? I don’t know the answer to that question.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is still being investigated at the recording of this podcast. But it has sure caused so much debate. This brings out everyone’s pet political project. I even saw an atheist writer say, Of course the child should have been saved because you don’t kill people. You don’t kill the child. You save a human child.
DR. CRAIG: At the sacrifice of the animal.
KEVIN HARRIS: What does that indicate? Even this naturalist or atheist sees that there is an “ought” here. He said you ought not kill the child. The human is more valuable.
DR. CRAIG: Or allow the child to be killed.
KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, that’s right. Humans are more valuable intrinsically than an animal. You could ask the question – if you really want to get under somebody’s skin – why? Why do you think that? One primate over another?
DR. CRAIG: Right! Slightly more complex electro-chemical machine than the other; on Richard Dawkins’ view, a machine for propagating DNA – you give up one rather than the other. Why do you pick one rather than the other?
KEVIN HARRIS: I guess that is my pet political thing.
DR. CRAIG: It resonates with the old moral argument that there are objective moral values and duties in the world. Boy, this sure seems to show that people recognize that.
But to address Emmanuel’s question more generally, what is wrong with America morally, spiritually, intellectually? That could take a whole dissertation, couldn’t it? I think one of the things that is terribly wrong with America morally is our system of courts. Our courts through judicial activism have taken power away from the people and from the states and have legislated certain views simply based upon their judicial fiat. I am thinking here, for example, of the decision of Roe v. Wade which overturned state laws regulating abortion and virtually legalized abortion on-demand in this country right up through the ninth month of pregnancy resulting in what I think is the American holocaust – the slaughter of millions and millions of unborn babies. Now the more recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges where five lawyers on the Supreme Court found a hidden right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution of the United States. They just invented it out of whole cloth overturning all of the state laws regulating marriage and, again, now saying that people have to recognize these same-sex unions as marriages. This has caused the abridgment of the civil rights of certain people who don’t recognize that.
What is striking to me is that even though this is a kind of top-down imposition from these lawyers that get appointed to these courts, it seems like the cultural influence of this is enormous in that whereas before these decisions were rendered in state after state the opposite was the view of the people. But once the court makes this decision it seems as though people just think, well, it must be right then and this is correct. So they accommodate themselves. This is what the courts ruled, so this is what is in fact right.
KEVIN HARRIS: Norm Geisler said that the law is a great teacher. Once legislation is passed, people tend to embrace it because it is law.
DR. CRAIG: They do, don’t they? They just take it as law. That the opinion of these five judges is correct even though there were four dissenting judges on the same court that said this is crazy. This constitutional right does not exist. I have a friend who once said to me that he thought the American courts were more of a threat to the United States than international terrorism. I said, “What are you saying?” He said, “Think about it. How many people have lost their lives through terrorism? Several thousand Americans have been killed through terrorist activity. But millions have lost their lives because of the Supreme Court decisions.” When you look at it in that light, it seems to me that he is correct. One of the things that is wrong with America is that we have a judiciary that is out of control and is legislating from the bench rather than interpreting the Constitution according to the way the founders intended it.
Spiritually, what has happened in America since the 1950s is the collapse of the mainline denominations. Catholic Church, the traditional mainline churches like the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Methodists, United Church of Christ – these mainline denominations are in free fall. They are losing members in a flood. The growth of the so-called “nones” - those who have no religious affiliation – is primarily from former members of these mainline denominations as they realize they don’t really believe the sort of nominal Christianity that they adhere to. The seminaries of these denominations are shrinking or coalescing. These denominations are in collapse. What has happened as a result is that Christianity, which used to be culturally part of the core identity of America, has now been lost, and the evangelical denominations like the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Free Church of America, Southern Baptists are the denominations that are growing or maintaining their numbers. But they haven’t yet been able to offset the catastrophic decline in the mainline denominations.
At one time I think I probably would have thought it is a good thing that these people in these mainline denominations come to self-realize that they don’t really believe this stuff – that they are just nominal Christians – and they might as well come clean about that and cease to be Christians. That would be a positive step. But I think what I didn’t understand is that the cultural impact of this decline in the mainline denominations would be that now Christianity would no longer be a powerful cultural force in the United States, and we would be allowed to drift. I think that is a large part of what is wrong spiritually in the United States. The hope I have and prayer would be that the evangelical denominations would grow and begin to bring back into American culture that influence from Christianity that the mainline denominations used to exercise and have now lost. But until that happens, the balance seems to be negative and has caused American culture to become increasingly secularized.
KEVIN HARRIS: I mourn that there is just not a sense of patriotism. When I was a child, we were so patriotic when I was growing up. During the Reagan era, we had a kind of resurgence of patriotism about America. Now it is like a bashing of America, and perhaps American exceptionalism, and things like that.
DR. CRAIG: I would say with respect to that question to Emmanuel that one cannot overestimate the impact of the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its effect on American culture. The Vietnam War tore this country in two. Those who supported the war were identified as hawks and patriots. They are the ones who would wave the American flag, wrap themselves in the flag. But for people who opposed the war, who were dovish, you are right – they felt very, very uncomfortable about being a patriot and about supporting the American military. I think that is largely changed, probably just for political reasons. Now the Democrat and the liberals also want to wrap themselves in the flag and say they support our veterans and the American military. I think having a volunteer army that Nixon instituted has done a lot to heal the wounds of Vietnam and bring back support for the military and make patriotism acceptable again. But that long shadow of Vietnam and the sexual revolution, the drug revolution, during the 1960s still, I think . . .
KEVIN HARRIS: Watergate.
DR. CRAIG: Oh, yeah, Watergate as well. Woodstock. Those were cultural shifts in America that were huge. Related to this, as well, I think we have to mention the influence of the entertainment industry.
KEVIN HARRIS: We have to.
DR. CRAIG: The film industry and then the music industry has been permeated by values that are really deeply anti-Christian, I think. Materialism, sexuality, violence on the screen, and violence in music as well – often violence against women. It is really ugly. I remember as a boy you used to see these crime movies – film noir sometimes they are called. In these crime movies they never showed anybody really getting shot. What they would show is the shadows on the wall. And the one man pleading “No! No! Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” And then you’d hear the sound of the gun, and the one shadow would collapse. I remember as a boy I was horrified at these scenes, these shadows of someone being shot. Today with our ability to do computer animation and other sorts of things you have all of this violence depicted on the screen and people revel in it. A sort of voyeurism. This is very, I think, un-Christian. The film industry and the music industry has, I think, made America go wrong. But we don’t want to say it is beyond hope.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to have a positive view of the future. I want my children, too. I’m telling you, they kind of don’t a lot of things. They see a lot of things as very dystopian, my two children. From the science fictions movies I guess.
DR. CRAIG: The future is always bleak in these science fiction movies, isn’t it?
KEVIN HARRIS: Which serves as warnings.
DR. CRAIG: I feel differently about the United States now than I did growing up. I think now this country is just deeply flawed and I feel very sad about the way the United States is. Let me just say one third thing. He asked what is wrong with America morally, spiritually, and intellectually. Intellectually, I think we know the story there. During the early part of the 20th century, Christianity was expelled or retreated from the university system and began to found its own Christian colleges and Christian divinity schools. As a result they vacated the university as a place where the Christian voice would be heard. This has resulted in the university being tremendously hostile to Christianity, to theism. It is only now that we are beginning to claw our way back and to reclaim a proper place for Christianity at the university. This is, of course, where I am speaking of the revolution of Christian philosophy. I think we are seeing also in the hard sciences, in New Testament studies. But there are other areas at the university like sociology, anthropology, psychology, women’s studies, religious studies that remain deeply infected with anti-Christian and secular attitudes. Again, there we are making progress but we have a lot of work to do in reclaiming this country intellectually.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. We want to thank Emmanuel for writing this question. Bill, here is my prediction: this podcast is going to turn the whole country around. [laughter] Maybe?
DR. CRAIG: I’m not laughing.
 Total Running Time: 19:07 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)