Ever since they broke with the mainline Protestant churches nearly 100 years ago, the hallmark of evangelicals theology has been a vision of modern society as a sinking ship, sliding toward depravity and sin.
It got me to thinking about this "direction" metaphor as applied to society, and how misleading it can be. If we think something is getting worse, it's "on the decline" or "trending downward" or, if you're an evangelical conservative, moving "left" (the sinister direction). Likewise, "up" and "right" are synonymous with improvement and correctness.
The oversimplicity of this kind of metaphor is dangerous, obviously. The concept that morality is bi-polar is the pitfall of the evangelical mind, just as the concept of the two party system and right/wrong is the hobgoblin of the masses, many of whom actually vote. Trouble is, applying a more complicated metaphor that involves two or even three dimensions fast becomes difficult to visualize and, therefore, understand. But can't a person be for the death penalty but against abortion? Or in favor of gay marriage but against bi-racial relationships? What about the Log Cabin Republicans, or the Democrats like Lieberman who manage to be members of a "liberal" party while steadfastly supporting Bush's policies, including a pointless "war", and are at the same time Orthodox Jews? (OK, this is just Lieberman, but he's such an inviting mass of contradiction it's hard to stay away).
Or maybe the spatial analogy is the wrong one altogether, an example of how language really restricts our ability to think critically about certain issues. Morality is a slippery one to begin with, which is clearly why such simple, grabbable metaphors are appealing, but I'm going to do my best to resist the trap. Why can't morality evolve fractally, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces but never really creating anything manifestly new and unique? Or like a genetic organism, constantly combining and recombining and taking on new material from other sources?
It's important to challenge the language used to talk about emotional topics.