FBI agents had been trying to plant bugs in the home of a reputed mafia boss but with little success. The biggest problem was four ferocious Doberman pinschers that roamed the grounds. Eventually, to distract them, the agents would walk up to the fence at night and throw the beasts Big Macs bought from a local McDonald’s. Before long, the dogs were eating the burgers right out of the FBI agents’ hands and other agents climbed the fence and planted the listening devices.
I don’t know whether the FBI ever solved a crime for their effort, but what’s fascinating about this story is how quickly the animals were acclimated to their environment. The dogs, though trained to attack, through familiarity were literally eating out of the hands of the very people they were supposed to be attacking.
Is it any different with people? Not really. Much of the history of the Old Testament is the story of how the nation of Israel, accustomed to the practices of the people around them, started doing the same things, eventually reaching the point where they were making child sacrifices: “Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind)” (Jeremiah 19:4, 5).*
The new normal
Whole societies can be warped and corrupted by practices and things that at one time might have horrified them but instead have become the “new normal.” Things that were once scandalous, that would have caused people to hide in shame, are now often celebrated.
Who would have heard of Paris Hilton if not for the leaked sex tape that suddenly made the unknown heiress a household name with her own TV show? A year after a known public figure had been arrested for masturbating in public, he received a standing ovation at a Hollywood ceremony! What’s wrong with us?
Of course, mores and social attitudes can change for the better too. After all, who will argue that attitudes toward indigenous populations and other races haven’t improved over the years? Or that the rights of women in the Western world haven’t changed, and for the better? But all too often, things get worse. Sure, it was a bit much 100 years ago when Irish author James Joyce feared that a play he wrote was going to be censored because it used the word garter in one place. But what’s worse, that, or a society where sexting by underage kids has become the new normal?
Of course, for those who know the Bible and what it predicts for the last days, none of this should be a surprise. The apostle Paul warned a young follower that people in the last days “will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2–4).
Talk about the perfect description of our society! For many, the new normal is to deny that there even is a God, much less one we should obey or whom we might one day have to answer to.
However much we’ve gotten used to things that we shouldn’t get used to, we can still be shocked by the violence, the depravity, the corruption and the exploitation we see the world over. Again, this is what the Bible informs us will happen. The verses Paul wrote to Timothy were the apostle’s take on humanity and though his words may seem harsh, are they really?
In addition to that statement on the nature of humankind, he added this indictment, which is accurately reflected in the world around us today: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:15–17, italics added).
In early 2012, as drug wars were going on in Mexico, 45 headless bodies were dumped in a public place. Not only had they been beheaded, but their hands and feet were severed as well. The purpose was to send a strong message to authorities and competitors alike. News commentary reported that such atrocities were commonplace along the border with the United States, with some 50,000 deaths since 2008. Forty-five mutilated bodies—the new normal in Mexico!
In Illinois, a newlywed was found stabbed to death and left in a bathtub. She was still wearing her wedding dress! And the sad thing is that we hear stories like this, or even worse, every day! We shake our heads, think, Tsk, tsk, and then go about our business as if we’d just heard a weather report!
Even the “best” of humankind, given the right circumstances, will resort to the most horrific and violent things if they deem it necessary, in a context where there are no consequences or community condemnation. One of the great heroes of World War II, Winston Churchill, wrote that he was considering bombing Germany with poison gas, arguing that “in the last war, the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It’s simply a question of fashion changing, as she does between long and short skirts for women.”
So is going from bombing cities to gassing them like the change between long and short dresses for women? Of course not. But we’ve talked about peace for centuries and millenniums, and all we do is talk. Yet even in the twenty-first century we still have war after war after war, just as Jesus predicted almost 2000 years ago. He said that near the end of time, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mark 13:8). He never said it would stop before He returned, and it hasn’t.
After the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan, people thought that nuclear weapons meant, finally, the end of war. Why? Because the bombs were so destructive that humans would never think of stockpiling them for future wars! (Interestingly, the same thing was said a few centuries earlier, after the invention of gunpowder.)
The world is in the midst of an epic struggle, one of cosmic proportions. The Bible describes it like this: “War broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought [back]” (Revelation 12:7).
This battle came to our earth and we are all involved in it, as evidenced by the internal struggle we have choosing between good and evil, right and wrong, in even basic matters. And, unfortunately, too often the wrong wins, which helps to explain the pathetic state of today’s society.
And though some struggle with a conscience, others don’t at all—that’s how bad things are. Take the late Edward von Kloberg III, one of America’s more infamous lobbyists. No-one was too despicable for him to work for, provided the pay sufficed. From Saddam Hussein to Nicolae Ceauşescu (former ruthless strongman of Communist Romania), von Kloberg would represent his clients’ interests.
In order to expose von Kloberg, an investigative journalist, masquerading as a neo-Nazi, asked him to represent his organisation, which he said was seeking the German annexation of Poland. They offered to pay von Kloberg one million dollars, if he would help Germany take over Poland—the act that began World War II! Von Kloberg agreed to help. When exposed, the unflappable lobbyist simply responded, “Shame is for sissies!”
The never normal
American humourist and author Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was set in the American South during the slavery era. The main character, Huck Finn, experiences a moral dilemma: he helps Jim, a slave, to escape from a woman who had taken him (Huck Finn) from an abusive home and who had been nothing but kind and generous to him. And now he’s repaying the old woman’s kindness by helping her slave to escape? Talk about morality changing with the times!
So, yes, some moral “principles” do change and become the “new normal.” But some should never change, regardless of time and place. And even with all the talk about moral relativism, postmodernism and cultural tolerance, what postmodern liberal isn’t going to be appalled by the staggering problem of children, both boys and girls, who are sold into prostitution, some as young as 10 years old?
One seven-year old Cambodian girl was sold by her mother to a brothel in Phnom Penh to work as a sex slave, where she was imprisoned, tortured and forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a day. This went on for years until, miraculously, the girl, now a woman, managed to escape.
What kind of parent would do that to their daughter? What kind of person would pimp a child? And what kind of person would spend money to have sex with a child? The Bible has the answer: “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practised deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:13–17).
"The new normal is to deny that there even is a God."
An estimated 12 million people are currently victims of forced prostitution worldwide. The sex slave trade is a $US30-billion a year global business, according to the United States State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons report. And although estimates vary, millions of these unfortunate people are children, including boys as young as seven years old!
Hope amid the madness
There’s no question that our world is a sick place. And according to the Bible, it will stay that way until Jesus comes, becoming worse with each passing year. These terrible things in society are another of the signs of our times.
The good news, however, is that from the moment sin appeared, there was a Saviour. God’s plan of salvation was in place before there was ever a single sin. That’s why Jesus is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
And though we’re horrified by the terrible state of today’s society—the violence, the oppression and the economic inequity—not only have we been warned to expect these things, we’ve been promised that Jesus will return and end them. In fact, we’ve been given these very hopeful words from Jesus: “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
* Bible texts taken from the New King James Version©. Copyright © 1992 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.