How’d It Happen? The Withering of the American Soul

Written by Allan Erickson on July 13, 2014

Nothing is shocking anymore . . .

“I’ve been around that trashy behavior all my life. I’m tired of puttin’ up with it.” 
The Last Picture Show, 1971

The character was addressing a group of boys who’d taken a handicapped individual to a prostitute.  They had humiliated the handicapped boy, all for entertainment. The man was telling the boys he wanted nothing more to do with them.  If the same thing happened today, people would laugh.  It would be played up on Letterman.

There was a time in America when right and wrong were clearly defined, when doing wrong was punished, sometimes severely.   Today, it is a vastly different story, and we are paying a price for it, a very high price.

Ignorance and violence are among those high prices.  Without some order in the classroom, learning is virtually impossible.  American graduates have become some of the most illiterate students in the world.

From indications, about half the people in this country don’t know why we celebrate the 4th of July. 

During this recent July 4th weekend, in Chicago, there were 82 shootings.  Fourteen people were killed, one of them a pregnant mother of four.  

It is argued Chicago has the highest murder rate in the country.   This is the Chicago dominated by Democrats, liberals, secularists and radicals like Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, Arnie Duncan, Valerie Jarrett, Bill Ayers, Saul Alinsky and armies of leftist bureaucrats.

According to the CDC the homicide rate by firearm in the U.S. generally in 2010 was 3.6 per 100,000 people.

It is said the homicide rate by firearm in downtown Chicago runs about 18 per 100,000 people, roughly four times the national rate.   Chicago ranks right up there with some of the all-time record setting countries in Central America.

Chicago also has some of the toughest gun control laws found anywhere.

We know most homicides are committed by young men, and most of the victims are young men.  We also know the majority of homicides are gang-related and that most of those murders are committed by Black and Hispanic young men.  Most of the victims are Black and Hispanic males as well.  

Victims and perpetrators are most frequently poor.   For the most part they were and are being raised by single mothers on welfare. They come from fatherless homes, and the levels of related violent crime are also disproportionately high.

The inescapable conclusions are clear: inner city violence and murder and crime are directly attributable to the breakdown of the family, the entitlement/welfare state which encourages dependence and irresponsibility, and the formation of gangs and related criminal activity, especially the drug trade.

Is anything substantive being done to address these situations in Chicago, or in other cities suffering similar difficulties?

Not really. Nowhere is there a focus on restoring the nuclear family. In fact traditional families and marriage are either ridiculed or assaulted. Few in government recommend doing anything about the welfare state. The war on drugs has only kept the price of drugs high, preserving the criminal incentive.

Are we teaching morality, individual responsibility and citizenship in schools? No. Schools have become labs for experiments in revolution, secularism and aberrant lifestyles. 

Role models?  A few sports stars try setting good examples but they are outnumbered many times over by the professional athletes who cheat, steal, commit other crimes and celebrate gangster culture.  Same holds true with entertainment celebrities.   Why should youth of any color believe it’s important to respect the law?  Prominent people break the law every day without consequence.   If you’re a gangsta, you’re a hero.

Why should youth become responsible citizens when they see the federal government fail in enforcing basic immigration law, or when they see a president happy to play fast and loose with the rule of law?

The American soul is withering primarily because we allowed moral decline to encroach, even as far back as the 1920s.  And now, we celebrate it, and by so doing, we promote it.  Why should youth care about moral standards when even in the church, children are victimized, and religious leaders promote homosexuality.  ‘Anything goes’ is the new theology.

Promiscuity and licentiousness overwhelm the entire culture. Men are found killing their own kids.  Women kill their pre-born babies, about 3,000 per day in this country. Children kill children in the public schools.

In America, 40,000 people commit suicide each year.   Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.

Polling data shows we don’t trust our government on any level and we think most politicians are crooks.

Americans generally hold a dim view of religious institutions and we increasingly distrust law enforcement.

But perhaps the most telling symptom of the withering soul of the country: we don’t trust one another like we did in other times, such as the Great Depression, or during WWII.

There is a simple reason for this: we have lost much of the glue that holds culture together.

We used to agree, generally, on important principles promoted by the Judeo-Christian ethic, summed up by Christ in the Two Great Commandments.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

Love God and others?  Shoot, we can’t even tell one another the truth.  We have a president who lies with impunity every week and few seem to care.  The politicians and the courts do their best to rip the Ten Commandments down wherever they appear.  And we wonder why we have moral chaos?

We have moved from being a society inspired by the principles of honesty, service, good will, compassion for the poor, and justice, to a society populated by people mostly concerned with selfish ambition, personal preferences, and self-indulgence.

A society inspired by altruism is moving in a healthy direction.  One shackled by selfish impulse is doomed to extinction.

The famous French observer and writer Alexis de Tocqueville* wrote in the early part of the 19th century that America was great because her people were good, and that her people were good because they were serious about their traditional faith, a faith that has been attacked, marginalized, despised and shredded for decades. 

Is it any wonder then that the soul of the country is withered and dying?

*I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into 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, she will cease to be great.

― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America



Allan Erickson
Allan Erickson---Christian, husband, father, journalist, businessman, screenwriter and author of The Cross & the Constitution in the Age of Incoherence, Tate Publishing, 2012, serves on the board of He is available to speak in churches addressing the topics of faith and freedom. Register & Vote! Contact: