April 1996 Bulletin

Bennett sees change in U.S. culture

The United States is going through a major cultural transformation, with religion as its basis,
William J. Bennett told the Annual Meeting in February.

It is one of what the presidential guest speaker called the "three great arenas right now of thought, reflection, and dispute, which will determine an awful lot about where this country goes."

The former Secretary of Education and Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said, "there is an interest now in the country and in the hearts and minds of men and women about matters of ultimate meaning that we have not seen in some time.

"I'm not saying this is becoming a very religious country and we're going to go through some kind of religious transformation, but it's possible that something major will occur; some signs indicate stirring of a fairly significant source.

"There's a movement called Promise Keepers, which brings men, not women, but men together to talk about their commitments to their families, to their wives and their children. There was the Million Man March, which I think the results still aren't in...but I take seriously the professions of earnestness and commitment made by many of the men who participated in that march."

In the last 30 years there was an embrace of hedonism, and materialism, Bennett said, "and those things seem to be ebbing somewhat and yielding some ground to religion in a variety of forms."

The second arena is what he called the cultural arena. This is the fight for the education of children. The opponent is the offensive messages transmitted by the mass media and its influence on teenagers.

"The mass media, a relatively new invention, has given us something quite new in American history-the capacity to communicate with people, particularly young people on a constant 24-hour basis, unmediated by adult authority of any kind," Bennett said.

"So that parents, teachers, schools, no matter how interested and how engaged, find they are on the sidelines often, while other people, whom you cannot vouch for, whom you did not invite into your house, whom you have not checked out are communicating directly with your children urging them to a particular view of life of self-indulgence, of behavior, of indeed, a theory and philosophy of meaning."

Bennett said the most important fight of the next decade may be in the culture. "It's about television, it's about radio, it's about movies," he said. "It's about what we see in the public square. It's about our classrooms. It's about the signals we send to the young."

The third arena, is the political arena. "I believe the fundamental task is to take down this horribly, large behemoth of a welfare state. I think it is very, very important to delimit government, and re-limit government. We ought to end the federal welfare program, give the money back to states. They should give it to communities and let people have community foundation programs where churches and other organizations can get involved.

"My argument for limiting federal government isn't just that it's too expensive, which it is. It's horribly expensive. And it isn't just that it takes the rights and prerogatives that belong elsewhere.

"There's a third argument that perhaps in the end may be the most important and that is when the federal government tends to take over something, it drives out other things which need to be there.

"The character-forming institutions of society, families, neighborhoods, churches, schools, voluntary associations, the great strength, the great backbone of America…need to be stronger."

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