Anyone with eyes, ears, and two or more brain cells knows that societal values are changing. However, perhaps fewer realise just how fast the changes are taking place, and even fewer appreciate the implications and outworking of this phenomenon.
NORC, at the University of Chicago, recently conducted a poll that revealed some insight into the current values of those living in the United States of America. Here are some of the results:
The question asked was, ‘How important are each of the values to you personally?
Now, there are a few things to note here:
- Firstly, note the little N=1,019 at the bottom left of the table indicates that just over 1,000 people were polled. The statisticians give the survey a margin of error of just 4.1% at the 95% confidence level. However, bear in mind that the responses of 1,000 people represent a population of about 335,000,000.
- Secondly, all of the responses seem positive – 94% hold that hard work is an important personal value and even a majority (60%) claim that religion is important to them. However, all of these results simply mean that a number of people SAY that certain values are important to them, but behaviours and priorities are the true evidence of value. For instance, Religion was given a ‘very important’ rating of 39 yet 60% of the same responders attend a religious service less than twice a year and half of those never go at all! This is a far better indicator of the true importance of Religion to those polled.
- Thirdly, the numbers give no indication of generational bias. We have all heard the comparisons between Baby-boomers (Those born between 1946 and 1964), Millennials (Those born between 1981 and 1996), and the succeeding Z generation. There is a lot of research showing that these generations generally have significantly different values. I am a 75 years old baby-boomer, and in my opinion, belief in God should be the highest value and marriage should rate higher than money, in the ‘Very Important’ column. However, I know that the average Millennial would probably disagree with me on this.
- Lastly, those polled were Americans and not Africans, Europeans, or Asians. There was a time when American values greatly influenced the values of the average South African, but that day has passed. However, I would be surprised if a poll taken among the middle and upper-income classes in the RSA would differ much from the USA poll.
The differences over time in personal values show up most clearly in the comparisons between yearly surveys in the ‘Very Important’ responses.
For instance, 25 years ago having children was very important to 59% of responders, but in 2023 it is just 30% (no wonder that the USA population is declining). Community involvement dropped from 47% to 27% but the importance of money rose from 31% to 43%. Patriotism dropped from 70% to 38% and Religion dropped from 62% to 39%.
Now I am going to refrain from making value judgements about the average American or Millennials in general, but it must be obvious that values have changed in ways that a follower of Jesus should not approve. But, what are Jesus-based values?
The Values Jesus Taught and Lived
There are many religious people around, fewer church attendees, and even fewer Jesus-followers. To try to persuade the majority of people in today’s society that Jesus’ values should be their values is probably futile.
However, this article is by a Jesus-follower and written for Jesus-followers, and so my position is that what Jesus taught and lived is what we should teach and live. So here are some of his values: Justice, Mercy, Faith and Faithfulness, Love for God and each other, Truth, Service, and so on.
He taught compassion and dignity, but not the ‘Tolerance’ valued as of third highest importance in the poll. In today’s Western cultures, WOKE folk have redefined tolerance as ‘acceptance and affirmation in all circumstances’. Jesus was selfless and taught selflessness, yet 91% of those polled rated ‘self-fulfilment’ as important. The only kind of patriotism Jesus taught was to God and his kingdom yet 73% of poll respondents regard national patriotism as important.
That may be all well and good for us Jesus-followers, but rather unimpressive for those who do not regard the Lord Jesus as God incarnate. For them, the question that determines values is “Is it good for me?” with a few adding, “And is it good for society?” Well, history alone should give the answer to that! What has happened to people and nations who looked only to serve their own wants? What has happened to civilisations that lost their sense of gender distinctions, morals, ethical standards, and so on? What of nations today that are dominated by godlessness and self-serving manipulation of others? The historical record reveals the obvious truth that such people and nations pass ignobly into a dark eternity leaving behind little of enduring value.
I heard a highly-ranked politician in South Africa stating in public that democracy was just about majority votes and had nothing to do with ethics and accountability!
Wasn’t it one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution who observed that democracy would only work if citizens were law-abiding and of goodwill and sound ethics? (I searched unsuccessfully to validate this statement, so here is a chance for you to straighten me out). True democracy is not just ‘rule by majority vote’, it is a value-driven way of living in community.
Society Changes but Do Values Change?
The commonly held belief is that while ‘principles’ remain over time, ‘values’ may not. After all, people sometimes change their values. This must be true if we define a value as a personal judgment of what is important in life. However, it comes down to the old debate about Absolutes versus Relatives. Postmoderns generally believe that truth is relative, changing, and individualistic. Bible-believing Christians, on the other hand, hold that truth is God-given and absolute. I go a step further in affirming that Truth is not just an idea, it is a person… The Lord Jesus Christ (I have written a whole book about this, which you can find HERE). Values, like truth itself, are absolute if viewed as originating from the same source as truth,
God himself. Jesus, God the Son, came to Earth to, among other vital things, reveal himself, his truth, his values, and his priorities. There is no indication in his teachings and example that the values he espoused were generation or circumstance dependent. His way is the way for all people at all times and in all circumstances.
The Best We Can Do
Bearing all of this in mind, the best thing we can do for our families, our societies, and ourselves is to teach and model the values that Jesus embodied and taught, and not the transient values of our time or society. As I have stated so often, it is all about Jesus… it all comes down to Jesus… life, truth, values, priorities, morals, ethics, and everything else. This constitutes the moral and ethical light of our world and the Lord Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:!2)