The Death of Decency and Virtue

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Wisconsin Republican senator Joseph R. McCarthy rocketed to public attention in 1950 with his allegations that hundreds of Communists had infiltrated the State Department and other federal agencies. These charges struck a particularly responsive note at a time of deepening national anxiety about the spread of world communism.

In the spring of 1954, McCarthy, picked a fight with the US Army, charging lax security at a top-secret army facility. The army responded that the senator had sought preferential treatment for his recently drafted subcommittee aide. Amidst this controversy, McCarthy temporarily stepped down as chairman for the duration of the three-month nationally televised spectacle known to history as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

The army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to make its case. At a session on June 9, 1954, McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. As an amazed television audience looked on, Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” 

Overnight, McCarthy’s immense national popularity evaporated. Censured by his Senate colleagues, ostracized by his party, and ignored by the press, McCarthy died three years later, 48 years old and a broken man.1

Decency is hardly a word much in use anymore in public discourse. 

In fact, decency is almost as irrelevant today as the once famous “tail gunner Joe.” Indeed, the communists—who were very much a real threat in the fifties, have rebounded much better than the threat of being labeled indecent. 

History reveals how a man who set out to accomplish an important task, became obsessed with his mission. In the process, his zealotry detracted from the mission. He lost his credibility, he lost his social standing, and he lost the plot: exposing communism that was already working its way into the Federal government. The irony in this is stunning, because Communists—who were very determined—learned a lesson from this, and employed a different strategy. It was much easier to pick away at the strata of our society by dividing peoples, and inventing false narratives of oppression and power. Communists abandoned the failed idea of economic Marxism, and learned to promote cultural Marxism instead.

What our own body politic learned was to be decent, non-confrontational, and complacent. We trusted these new intellectuals to run our bureaucracies, our schools, our legislatures, and our courts. In time, the greatest irony in the history of great ironies has occurred: The decent have learned to accept—even promote—the truly indecent.

The definition of decency can be found in a number of places, including one important reference to be found in the Bible. Is losing our sense of decency important? Webster’s 1828 dictionary includes one very fitting definition: DE’CENCYnoun [Latin to be fit or becoming; Gr. to be good, or fit for.]

Propriety in speech; modesty; opposed to ribaldry, or obscenity.3

There is though, something far more ominous and threatening to the loss of decorum than fine speech and gentle behavior. The evidence should be all to obvious to anyone: the loss of decency, and other traditional behavior, has led to a complete lapse in moral standards and societal sanity. There is no decency—nor can there ever be—in allowing mining for personal gratification—a child’s innocence and personal safety; the object of physical mutilation to appease some pathological impulse to be someone we are unable to be. It’s made all the more grotesque by the imprimatur of nearly all of our mediating institutions and agencies. Our society has become altogether utterly indecent. Historically, this has always been something of a danger to societal norms, but in America today, these norms have been replaced by the new normal: a cesspool of acceptable licentiousness.4 It’s a sad adjunct to already beleaguered generations of confused, misled, and poorly prepared families and marriageable young adults in the future. Just from a work and career standpoint, Gen Z has been shaken badly.5 Many will confess they are confused—devastated even—from the pandemic lockdown experiment, and very stressed. Do you want to talk about a mission field? There it is. And the irony in this? An older generation, shaped and molded by clear values, wisdom, and faith, and yes, the comfortable fit of the efficacy of decent living, seem, at best, to be detached observers.

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Seventy years, in terms of epochal history, is not all that long a time. Yet, like subjects in a controlled study, younger generations don’t see the reality of it all. They can’t draw on the experiences, the trusted norms, customs, and conventions that took many generations to develop. Think about it, the social media phenomenon was born around the same time they were. 

July 14, 2023, The Family Leader sponsored The Summita conference of Christian and Conservative leaders, including several Republican presidential candidates—with one notable exception.6 It proved to be an enormously successful event. Among the candidates attending, Vivek Ramaswamy, (pictured) and only 37 years old, stood out from the rest of the candidates with his dynamic, articulate presentation of how he would address the biggest issues of our day. Interestingly, he has said more than once, “I share… Judeo-Christian values more so than most self-professed Christians.” Really? Well, perhaps, but his sincere and thoughtful appraisal of our national issues is refreshing, nevertheless. He can be considered to be a decent man.

Western civilization—including this republic—will never see the likes of society that was once Victorian, or even Edwardian England. Yes, they had their seamy side. They were just very good at keeping it under wraps, and out of the public eye. This is something we might have seen demonstrated after the election that swept Eisenhower—McCarthy’s eventual adversary—into power. Eisenhower used restraint and wisdom in dealing with him, and it ultimately proved immensely successful; the “right and proper” and yes, decent way to handle the situation.

Today, everything is in the public eye, including our sexual preferences and appetites. Our children get to see even the most depraved behaviors of grown men—as they humiliate and insult their very mothers with craven caricatures of pretend women. It’s sad, but we are suffering the death of outrage among decent men. Consider the enemy of decency:

  • They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1: 29-32 NIV)

The words, decency and virtue, are interchangeable. The decent, virtuous man of faith can, and should, accomplish a lot in this world—before it’s over. I pray he will.

1. Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations (McCarthy Hearings 1953-54), edited by Donald A. Ritchie and Elizabeth Bolling. Washington: GPO, 2003. S. Prt. 107-84.

2. Onion, Rebecca, Slate, (2018, March 13) The Teacher Would Suddenly Yell “Drop”

3. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, decency

4. Calmatters, (2023, July 18), California Democrats resisted a child trafficking bill — until they couldn’t

5. Carnegie, Megan, BBC, (2023, February 16) Are Gen Z the most stressed generation in the workplace?

6. Blaze Media Presents: The Summit, Hosted by Tucker Carlson,

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

About the Author

Shenandoah Christian Alliance
Shenandoah Christian Alliance is a Christian organization devoted to the promotion and education of biblical truths, faith, and spiritual equipping. We believe in the sanctity of marriage as defined in God’s revealed word. We oppose the practice of abortion, and respectfully object to its funding and facilitation as currently promoted by our elected leaders. We understand homosexuality to be something that God—whom we worship and honor—does not approve among his creation. Our faith in God as revealed in scripture is not something we are ashamed of, or for which we must apologize.