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This year is the 50th anniversary of the Manson murders. While the 1950s ended with the assassination of JFK, the 1960s began with the arrival of The Beatles to the USA in 1964. The 1960s reached their peak with Woodstock and ended with the Manson murders and the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970.
The world was ripe for change. The 1960s did not rise Phoenix-like from some neutral dawn. Decades of a loosely bound civil religion had been steadily unravelling. It was inevitable.
The tipoff was when prayer and Bible reading were removed from public schools in 1962 and 1963.
On June 25, 1962, the United States Supreme Court decided in Engel v. Vitale that a prayer approved by the New York Board of Regents for use in schools violated the First Amendment by constituting an establishment of religion. The following year, in Abington School District v. Schempp, the Court disallowed Bible readings in public schools for similar reasons.
These two rulings did not cause the anchor of moral certainty to lose its hold. Rather, it was a manifestation of decades of plodding and persistent materialism. The court rulings were indicators of the festering disease of moral autonomy because God had been relegated to the corner of irrelevance centuries before. Time magazine had signaled what was coming with this 1966 cover and revealed its consequences more than 50 years later. If God is dead, then everything is dead:
The official pronouncement of God’s death was made with the publication of Charles Darwin’s 1859 On the Origin of Species more than 100 years before.
There had been so much Christian moral capital built up over the centuries that few people saw Darwinism’s dark manifestations. We’re only now seeing the full ramifications of them in the once Christian West.
This brings me to two books I’ve been reading: Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties and Tom Holland’s Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, both published in 2019.
The following is from the dust jacket of Dominion:
‘We are all 21st century people,’ Richard Dawkins has said, ‘and we subscribe to a pretty widespread consensus of what is right and wrong.’ Yet what are the origins of this consensus? It has not remotely been a given, across the reaches of space and time, that humans should believe it nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering, or that people are all of equal value. These are convictions which instead bear witness to the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, a revolution in values that has proven transformative like nothing else in history: Christianity.
Dawkins and his fellow atheists can’t live consistently with their atheism. They are moral capital thieves. Atheists can’t account for “what is right and wrong.” Atheists can reason and moralize because of a worldview they reject and claim does not exist. They can’t account for the mind or morality. A matter-only worldview is devoid of such non-material concepts.
Holland asks, “Yet what are the origins of this consensus?” Exactly. “By what standard?” and “who says?” are the operative questions. For Dawkins, there is only silence to the questions.
It’s the full-on rejection of God that gave justification for the Manson murders. The author of Chaos does not come out and say it, but he does nibble around the edges. Tim O’Neill writes about those who embraced Manson as their leader and imbibed his moral relativism as a new religion:
[T]heir philosophy was gnostic, verging on theological. Time did not exist, they proclaimed there was no good, no bad, and no death. All human beings were God and the devil at the same time, and part of one another. In fact, everything in the universe was unified, one with itself. The families moral code, insofar as it existed at all, was riven with contradictions. While was wrong to kill animals – even the snakes in spiders in their bunkhouses had to be carefully spared – it was fine to kill people, because of human life was inherently valueless. To kill someone was tantamount to “breaking off a minute piece of some cosmic cookie,” as Tex Watson later put it. If anything, death was something to be embraced because it exposed your soul to the oneness of the universe.
Where have these beliefs come from? The murderers had been raised and educated in solid, conventional American communities, but no one wanted to claim them. The family, with its starry-eyed communalism, sexual frankness, and the veneration of LSD, offered a screen onto which anyone could project his insecurities about the era’s politics and pressures. The promise of the hippie movement had been in its willingness to forgo cherished institutions in favor of the new and untested.
Do you see the problem? “The murderers had been raised and educated in solid, conventional American communities….” “Conventional” is the word, and conventional is the problem. There was no solid worldview based on a fixed moral standard in the first half of the 20th century. The remnant was there, but the fixed source had been given up decades ago. So, what did these Gnostics who claimed special knowledge and insight use to justify their actions? They didn’t need any justification because the worldview they were rebelling against offered no sustainable justification for its conventional worldview. Chaos was the new morality of “why not?”
The festering sore of this chaos has given us the deification of choice: choice to kill the unborn and born and the choice to change from female to male and male to female and any of 70 or more gender swaps. Cole Porter (a homosexual) prefigured our day in his 1934 song “Anything Goes”:
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.
When ev’ry night the set that’s smart is in-
Truding in nudist parties in
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
The choice before us is clear: Christ or Chaos?