Excerpt from “What Really Ails America” By William J. Bennett

     There are things we need to realize as citizens of what has always been called the greatest country on earth.  The freedoms we enjoy have been fought for, and others have paid a price for them.  With freedom comes responsibility.  We have a responsibility to use our freedom to build, to make better, to improve, and to help and love people around us.  Our country is great because our people are great, but if our great people do not stand up for what they believe in; if they’re not willing to fight for what’s right, then our great people have ceased to be great, and our country will cease to be great.  You have a question to answer.  Will you be great?  Will you stand for what you believe in?  Will you fight for what’s right? 
     We can no longer afford to be a people who leave it to others to do what we should do ourselves.  You can make a difference.  You have the ability to touch someone with your life.  You can teach, You can inform, You can help, You can love.  You have no excuse.  Will you make the choice to be great?
     We must give voice, hands, and feet to our faith, to our beliefs, to our values every day that we live.  God does not call His people to stand aside, to lay down, to give way to evil without so much as a by your leave, and if you think He does then you had better ask yourself whether you truly know Him or not. 
     The following is an excerpt from a speech that really shows where our country is at.  A line in the sand is being drawn, and our country (Our Great Country) hangs in the balance.  Which side of that line are you going to be on?

Last year I compiled the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a statistical portrait of American behavioral trends of the past three decades. Among the findings: Since 1960, while the gross domestic product has nearly tripled, violent crime has increased at least 560%. Divorces have more than doubled. The percentage of children in single-parent homes had tripled. And by the end of the decade 40% of all American births and 80% of minority births will occur out of wedlock. These are not good things to get used to.

In 1940 teachers identified the top problems in America’s schools as: Talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape and assault. These are not good things to get used to, either.

There is a coarseness, a callousness and a cynicism to our era. The worst of it has to do with our children. Our culture seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young. We have become inured to the cultural rot that is setting in. People are losing their capacity for shock, disgust and outrage…

The ancients called our problem acedia, an aversion to spiritual things and an undue concern for the external and the worldly. Acedia also is the seventh capital sin–sloth–but it does not mean mere laziness. The slothful heart is stepped in the worldly and carnal, hates the spiritual and wants to be free of its demands.

When the novelist Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about America’s future, he answered, “Probably the fear of seeing America, with all its great strength and beauty and freedom…gradually subside into decay through default and be defeated, not by the communist movement, but from within, from weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems.”

I realize this is a tough indictment. If my diagnosis is wrong, then why, amid our economic prosperity and military security, do almost 70% of the public say we are off track? I submit that only when we turn to the right things–enduring, noble, spiritual things–will life get better.

Most important, we must return religion to its proper place. Religion provides us with moral bearings, and the solution to our chief problem of spiritual impoverishment depends on spiritual renewal. The surrendering of strong beliefs, in our private and public lives, has demoralized society.

Today, much of society ridicules and mocks those who are serious about their faith. America’s only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry against religious people. And the only reason for hatred of religion is that it forces us to confront matters many would prefer to ignore.

Today we must carry on a new struggle for the country we love. We must push hard against an age that is pushing hard against us. If we have full employment and greater economic growth–if we have cities of gold and alabaster–but our children have not learned how to walk in goodness, justice and mercy, then the American experiment, no matter how gilded, will have failed.

Do not surrender. Get mad. Get in the fight.

Excerpts from What Really Ails America, condensed from a speech by William J. Bennett, delivered December 7, 1993 at the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., reprinted in Reader’s Digest, April, 1994.

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