R.C. Sproul, the prominent Protestant pastor and theologian, thinks the Terri Schiavo case marks a huge, perhaps irreversible, moral decline:
"Many years ago, Harold Lindsell described America's culture after the revolution of the 1960s as 'neo-pagan culture.' I think now what Terri Schiavo's death marks is the transition to a neo-barbarian culture," Mr. Sproul said.
Democrats (and more than a few Republicans) think the GOP stepped in it by intervening in the Schiavo case. They cite polls that indicated between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans disapproved of the bill Congress passed to permit the federal courts to take a second look at the facts in the case of the brain-damaged Florida woman.
I think both those who think America is going to hell in a handbasket and those who think Democrats will benefit from the Schiavo affair are mistaken.
America has far more to be proud of than any other nation. But we've had a lot to be ashamed of, too. Slavery was legal until 1865, segregation until 1964. Our treatment of Native Americans was always unfair, and often genocidal. Abortion and euthanasia are moral abominations. But are they worse than slavery or massacres of women and children?
Polls by ABC and Gallup indicated a large majority of Americans thought Terri Schiavo should be "allowed to die." But the poll questions asserted Terri was in a permanent vegetative state, and implied she was on artificial life support, such as a ventilator or a dialysis machine.
John Zogby took a more recent poll. He asked questions that more accurately reflected the facts. Among them was: "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?" A whopping 79 percent said they should not be denied food and water. Only 9 percent said yes. I suspect our elites won't fare well when they stand before the Almighty, but ordinary Americans are as moral as we've ever been.
The fallout from the Schiavo affair has made Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist skittish about changing Senate rules to put an end to Democrat filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominees.
Conservatives warn of "judicial tyranny" if the rules aren't changed. Liberals fret about "theocracy" if they are. Both sides imply that America is at a crossroads unprecedented in our history.
But we've been at this crossroads before. Most of the great events in our history have followed religious revivals.
The Great Awakening, triggered by preachers Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, and (especially) George Whitefield, likely provided the spark that ignited the American Revolution.
A second Awakening led to the antislavery movement, the formation of the Republican Party, and the Civil War. A third religious revival spawned the Progressive movement.
University of Chicago economic historian Robert William Fogel thinks we're in the midst of a fourth Great Awakening. As a liberal, he's concerned about it. He'd like the energy being poured into spiritual renewal to be applied to more secular concerns.
Judicial imperialism has long been the last refuge of a political establishment that is on its way out. Judicial review is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. It was invented by Chief Justice John Marshall, an arch-Federalist, to handcuff President Thomas Jefferson, who had thrashed the Federalists at the polls.
As more territories entered the Union as free states, the South lost its grip on Congress. It tried to preserve through diktats from the Supreme Court what slavery was losing in elections.
FDR trounced the Republicans in 1932. But conservatives on the court hampered him by invalidating New Deal legislation on specious grounds.
We're headed for another titanic battle between a religious populace and a secular elite, between the peoples' elected representatives and the courts. What is past isn't necessarily prologue, but it is comforting to note who won in the earlier confrontations.