Are heinous crimes rooted to deteriorating moral standards?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-04-03
PNP (Philippine National Police) spokesman, Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, had assessed that the ease with which criminals commit murders these days could be the result of the deterioration of the moral standard in our country.

Cruz was referring more to the audacity and harshness of criminals today.

In general terms, crime stats show a marked decrease over the last two years and an increase in the solving of these crimes. What alarms many Filipinos is how easy criminals would cross that line and take another person’s life. Media that are addicted to showbiz, scandal and crime stories heighten that alarm.

Indeed, there is basis to believe that our moral standard has deteriorated. More people are inclined now to steal, bigger amounts at that, when they land an important public office. Alcohol and drugs are also major contributory factors in the murders that have been reported. Drug addicts will do anything to get the money with which to buy drugs. Population density, especially in the poorest communities, increases the pressure to commit crimes. So where does a society’s moral standard become a factor?

Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen provided some valuable insights in a speech (titled: The importance of asking the right questions) that he delivered on May 16, 2009 at the commencement exercises of Southern New Hampshire University.

Christensen said: “Too often, as a result, we overlook an obvious fact: finding the right answer is impossible unless we have asked the right question.” Christensen then proceeded to illustrate his point by exploring two institutions, democracy and capitalism, which he considers “Americans broadly believe to be the right and enduring answers, seemingly without having asked the salient questions.”

Christensen said: “America seems to have played a role in the ouster of rulers with names like Batista, Duvalier, Marcos, Allende, Ortega, Suharto and others, so that we could help the people in the nations they ruled experience the blessings of democracy and free markets. We have spent trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives trying to bring the freedoms of democratic governments to Lebanon, the Balkans, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Pakistan, Nigeria, and many more countries. We anguish that democracy is giving way to dictatorship in Russia. Trying to make trial-by-jury work in Iraq and Afghanistan is like climbing a mudslide: People are committing heinous crimes at a much faster rate than a legal system grounded in democratic principles can handle. All of these efforts have been built upon an assumption that in every situation, democracy is the best form of government. An important question to have asked, however, is, ‘Is there a situation where democracy won’t work?’”

Christensen continued: “I learned the importance of this question in a conversation 12 years ago with a Marxist economist from China who was nearing the end of a year’s fellowship in Boston, where he had come to study two topics that were foreign to him: democracy and capitalism.” Christensen’s Chinese friend said: “I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy and capitalism.” He continued: “In your past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. These were institutions that people respected. When you were there, from your youngest years, you were taught that you should voluntarily obey the law; that you should respect other people’s property, and not steal it. You were taught never to lie, and to respect the life and freedom of others the same as your own. Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them. Democracy works because most people most of the time voluntarily obey your laws.”

“You can say the same for capitalism,” Professor Christensen’s Chinese friend continued. “It works because Americans have been taught in their churches that they should keep their promises and not tell lies. An advanced economy can function only if people can expect that when they sign contracts, the other people will voluntarily uphold their obligations. Capitalism works only when nearly all people voluntarily keep their promises.”

The Chinese Marxist further observed that unless there was already a strong religious foundation in countries, democracy has failed miserably. Per Christensen, “democracy-enabling religions are those that support the sanctity of life, the equality of people, the importance of respecting others’ property, and of personal honesty and integrity. Those religions also had to be strong enough that they held power over the behavior of the population. People had to believe that God would punish them even if the police and court system did not.”

“Lord John Fletcher Moulton, the great English jurist, who wrote that the probability that democracy and free markets will flourish in a nation is proportional to ‘The extent of obedience to the unenforceable,’ Christensen said.

“The ethic of obedience to the unenforceable was established by vibrant religions. Some of these teachings have become a part of our culture. As a result, today there are many Americans who are not religious, who still voluntarily obey the law, comply with contracts, value honesty and integrity and respect other people’s rights and property,” Christensen added.

That’s something for us to think about this Holy Week.

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must never unwatched go.”

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