In this article, Ong explores the evolving nature of morality in the United States in 1962, focusing on the American cultural landscape and its ability to support, as well as respect, the integrity of the individual conscience.  This subject is also discussed in his article "Christian Values at Mid-Twentieth Century."  Using historical context, Ong argues that there is no convincing evidence that the population of the United States is, on the whole, morally better or worse than in earlier ages.  He attributes the perception of Americaís declining morality to unfamiliarity with the past, the often higher consequences of moral choices, and the prevalence of media coverage.

Ong examines shifts in moral attitudes and standards between the past and the present.  He illustrates these shifts by pointing out examples in both directions:  the decrease in the stability of marriage and the sacredness of sexual relationships and the increase in social justice and resolution or repression of overt public hostilities.  As he explains the diminution of expressed hatred in public policy, he finds its root in the nuclear family structure which minimizes interaction and conflict with the extended family.

Ong discusses how the differences between the current moral outlook in the U.S. and that of the past are complicated by differences within moral traditions of the present, specifically Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions (Ong discusses this more fully in his article "The Religious-Secular Dialogue").  This leads Ong to acknowledge the present increase in the placement of morality outside of religion, in the form of secularism.  Secularismís relationship with religion varies in degrees; however, Ong maintains that it does not necessarily weaken religion or the individualís relationship with God.  A discussion of secularism and the silence of Godís voice can be found in Ongís article "I Remember Pere Teilhard."

Ong then discusses the mediaís role in and responsibility to human psychological and moral viewpoints through a criticism of the externalization of depersonalization of the media today.  This has also led to a wider discrepancy between the public expression of morality and private moral performance.  This pluralism denies, in part, absolute standards of morality, further focusing morality internally.  Ong claims that this places a burden on the individual conscience to express its morality in the context of the social system, which often is more supportive of moral anarchy than of individual morality and responsibility.

Nicole E. Slade
University of Dayton
 

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