“A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering.”
~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval (June 12, 1816)
The main reason institutions (i.e. the church, academia, charitable organizations, even government) are created is for the propagation and defense of commonly shared beliefs, ideals and actions specific to certain groups of people. They are the result of humankind creating “rules of the road” for teh care and feeding of their civilization.
But humans are undoubtedly the most fickle and feckless beasts of God’s creations – and being a human construction, institutions live and institutions die, history notes that their rise and fall is as natural as the changing of seasons
Institutions fail, not at first because their walls are pulled down from without by an invading horde, they do so because they weaken themselves when they fail to enforce their own rules and regulations. They fall after the rot from within weakens those walls enough that they can be breached – or in many cases, the people behind the wall tear them down on their own,
Institutions are defined by the boundaries they establish and people lend credibility to them when they join and agree to live within the boundaries set by the institution. To gain (and retain) membership, one must constantly adhere to the rules that define the institution or the identity of the institution is lost.
Religion is failing because it no longer enforces God’s Laws. The Catholic Church refusing to excommunicate prominent Democrats who support the horrific institution of abortion (which, in my opinion, is worse than the institution of slavery) is an recent example. Almost every Christian sect is backing away from Holy Law in an attempt to be “modern” and contemporarily “relevant”.
Institutions exist because people believe in what they represent, they choose to live by the specific set of standards the institution represents. Institutions represent a specific pattern of living, they represent a code by which members are identified – but when institutions refuse to live by their own standards, there is no reason reason for people to join or respect them – the institutions lose credibility,
When an institution loses credibility, there is no longer a reason for it to continue to exist. It becomes hollow and meaningless as does membership in it. Perhaps there has never been a better example than what Grouho Marx is alleged to have written to the Friar’s Club:
“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”
No less than Satan’s admirer, the patron saint of political agitation, Saul Alinsky, (and there is literary evidence he did praise the Dark One), recognized in his “Rules For Radicals” that if you can force an institution to break its own rules, you can destroy it.
Rule 4: “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
What protection does an institution provide that no longer respects its own boundaries?
If it no longer protects, is there any reason for it to continue to exist?
No, there is not.
When an any institution fails, it becomes a tool of its enemies, used to further co-opt and corrupt those who foolishly cling to it, not realizing the institution is no longer what it was.
I began this post with the words of Jefferson’s letter to Samuel Kercheval because I consider this letter to be one of the most insightful expositions of human nature and the attempts humans make to overcome it in order to live together in civility and peace but Jefferson also provided a prescription for the eventual failure of that attempt.
Some 40 years before writing the correspondence to Mr. Kercheval, TJ authored another document, one you might have heard of – it is called the Declaration of Independence – and it includes the following passage:
“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Take from that what you will.