On Moral Sinkholes
Imagine you are playing a round of golf with your buddies when one of the group suddenly disappears into the earth. This is not fanciful thinking – it actually happened. It was due to a sinkhole – one of hundreds which open up each year in the United States.
One news report discusses the incident this way: “Mark Mihal was on the fairway at the 14th hole of a southwestern Illinois golf course on March 12 when a pit – 5.5 metres deep and 3 metres wide – swallowed him. ‘I felt the ground start to collapse and it happened so fast that I couldn’t do anything,’ Mr Mihal said. ‘I reached for the ground as I was going down and it gave way, too. It seemed like I was falling for a long time. The real scary part was I didn’t know when I would hit bottom and what I would land on.’ Friends managed to hoist Mr Mihal to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes.”
Imagine that. It seems this is a problem found all around the globe. The article features pictures of various sinkholes, some very large indeed. It mentions a gigantic sinkhole which covered a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City in 2010. Heavy rains caused by tropical storm Agatha were seen as the cause of the crater that swallowed a three-story building. At least three people died in this episode.
The article continues, “While sinkholes are less common in Australia, they do happen. In 2011, at Inskip beach, north of Tin Can Bay, a 100m-wide section of beach was swallowed by a sinkhole. Campers on Inskip Peninsula watched in awe as chunks of sand were sucked out to sea, followed by trees and signs. Gympie police district duty officer Sergeant Vic Tipman said sinkholes – which can swallow portions of beach as big as houses – were common at Inskip….
“Given the frequency of sinkholes – especially in some parts of the US – it’s surprising more people are not killed. The scary thing is these subterranean terrors can happen without warning. One minute you’re standing on terra firma; the next, the earth beneath your feet has disappeared. Across Florida this time of year, it’s the start of what’s unofficially considered the ‘sinkhole season,’ State Geologist Jonathan Arthur said. It coincides with the beginning of the state’s rainy season and usually lasts until the end of the northern hemisphere summer.”
Now as interesting as all this is, I am not concerned here simply to offer a geography lesson. What struck me when reading about this was the clear parallels we find in the moral, cultural and spiritual realms. As I document here on a regular basis – and have been for years now – the West is in a moral free-fall.
All around us people are being swallowed up in moral sinkholes. People are getting trapped in cultural quicksand. Folks are languishing in spiritual cesspools. And much like the physical sinkholes, these can often crop up quite unexpectedly.
Moral decline can often be incremental, imperceptible, and quite deceptive. We often do not even know it is taking place until it is too late. We are often unaware of the imminent danger all around us. We think things are going along as normal, then all of a sudden: death and destruction. As Thomas Sowell put it, “Dangers to a society may be mortal without being immediate.”
Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot, we are not even aware that things are heating up all around us – until it is too late. Sure, if we see the open sinkhole or the smelly cesspool right in front of us, we would leap out of the way of danger. But all the erosion is taking place just underneath the surface.
When the corruption and disintegration reaches a certain level, then in an instant the whole surface area above comes crashing down. Our moral deterioration in the West is so very much like this. And there are some prophetic voices who shout warnings, frantically wave their arms, and do all they can to get people out of danger.
But the prophets are for the most part regarded as nut cases and ignored and/or derided. By the time the sheeple wake up, it is usually too late. The prophets warn, weep, and watch, but mostly to no avail. Yet this prophetic task must continue. We must keep warning and keep sounding the alarm, no matter how often we are ignored, and how much abuse we receive.
And the other tragedy of sinkholes – whether actual or metaphorical – is once a person becomes its victim, it is almost impossible to get out. While the golfer in Illinois was quite lucky to be rescued, most people are not that fortunate. Some of these holes can go down for hundreds of feet.
The moral and spiritual sinkholes can be just as devastating and impossible to recover from. When we allow the wholesale destruction of society to take place – be it the slaughter of the unborn, or the flooding of our lands with pornography of all sorts, or the destruction of the institutions of marriage and family – there is often no turning back.
It is very difficult indeed to recover some of these things once they have been lost. Restoring a lost culture does not happen overnight. While the destruction of a culture may happen quite quickly, its rebuilding may take centuries. Many observers have noted this.
Historian Will Durant put it this way: “From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day.” Or as he and his wife wrote: “Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again.”
Perhaps one of the most trenchant commentaries on the dangers of moral and spiritual sinkholes comes from T S Eliot, the American-British poet and critic. His remarks, penned back in 1948 in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, warn us about what is at stake here:
“If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.”
No responsible community leader will neglect to warn his citizens about possible sinkholes and the dangers thereof. And no responsible spiritual leader will neglect to warn his people – and the world at large – about the many moral and spiritual sinkholes which exist and are so very dangerous.