According to the findings of a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News study, young people two decades ago rated patriotism, religion and raising a family higher than that age group does today. This signals that values that reflect the American character are rapidly changing.
Twenty-one years ago, when a similar poll was conducted, Americans, by a large majority, said that the values that were most important to them were those of commitment to religion, patriotism, hard work and having a family. In the recent survey, hard work still rates high, but the levels of importance on the other three have declined significantly.
In 1998, 70 percent of Americans surveyed said patriotism was very important, but the recent poll found that number is now only 61 percent. Sixty-two percent in the earlier study indicated religion as very important, but only 50 percent register that way now. While 43 percent put a high value on having children now, 59 percent did so in 1998.
The contrasts based on age were substantial. Forty-two percent of members of the Millennial generation and older members of Gen-Z (those aged 18-38) held that patriotism was very important. Fully 80 percent of Americans 55 years of age and older said patriotism was very important. Two-thirds of that older group indicated that religion was very important to them, while less than one-third of those younger persons felt that way.
Pollster Bill McInturff, one of the researchers in the recent survey, said, “There’s an emerging America where issues like children, religion and patriotism are far less important. And in America, it’s the emerging generation that calls the shots about where the country is headed.”
There were some points of agreement among Americans revealed by the study. Substantial majorities of those surveyed rated tolerance for others as a very important personal value. Also, a majority indicated they were very or somewhat satisfied with the economy. However, two-thirds felt that the next generation wouldn’t be better off than the present one.
In regards to race relations, the latest survey reveals that 60 percent of American adults feel that race relations are in a bad state. In the current study, only 19 percent of African-Americans indicate that race relations were fairly or very good. That is the lowest level in the past 20 years of polling.
The recent survey reveals that a deep and troubling divide exists among Americans’ values. If we believers cannot right the ship, the fate of the culture may be at serious risk.
In a recent address to Notre Dame University, U.S. Attorney General William Barr put it well when he said the following about America: “The Founding generation were Christians. They believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man. Those moral precepts start with the two great commandments – to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to love thy neighbor as self.”
Our mandate is clear – to sound the clarion call and redeem our culture as real salt and light.
Larry Page is executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.
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