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If you’ve lived a few years as an adult, you’ve likely noted how many things once considered wrong, are now considered acceptable. So, what is contributing to this redefinition of poor choices?

Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #120 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.

Defining Deviancy Down is “an expression coined by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993…The senator applied his slogan to the ‘moral deregulation’ that had eroded families, increased crime, and produced the mentally ill ‘homeless’ population” people were observing in America.

We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” said (Senator) Moynihan, a Harvard professor of education and sociology and then U.S. senator, in his celebrated 1993 American Scholar essay “Defining Deviancy Down.” The nation had been “redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.”

Senator Moynihan’s “thesis was that American society since the 1960s had undergone a shift in what it understood as deviant behavior. As a result, society was beginning to excuse actions, attitudes, and lifestyles once understood to be bad for social cohesion. Thirty years later, the refusal to define deviancy is as strong in progressive circles as it was in Moynihan’s time. But now, there are almost no Moynihans on the left willing to heed his obvious lessons. The results have been predictable.”

“The insane and wayward—increasingly freed from stigma and shame—today terrify functional America even more so than in his time, on account of their shamelessness as well as increasing prevalence.”

Violent music, video games, and depraved entertainment are cash machines. Electronic tools provide America’s youth—and their parents—with easy, possibly irresistible portals to the dark side. The weakening of families and religion-based communities contribute to the void. So do social media and porn. 

Unstable adolescents, if they are identified and treated, get medicated on the chance that anti-depressants or uppers will do their mood magic. Drugs—legal and illegal and everything in between—are palliatives for Americans of all ages.”

Think about this short list of behaviors once considered morally deviant:

  1. 1973, the US Supreme Court approved abortion in Roe v Wade. In 2022, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, contrary to what the prochoice lobby says, the Court did not make abortion illegal but simply turned it back to the states to decide. America continues to eliminate its future in the name of privacy, women’s freedom or healthcare, convenience, or simply sex without consequences.
  1. Gambling had been decriminalized, beginning in 1988 with the Federal Indian Gaming Act, then in 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed national sports betting in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. The result:  professional sports have invested significantly in gambling so that now you can’t watch an NFL game without being periodically reminded to get on Fan Duel to place your bets. 
  1. In 2015, the US Supreme Court said in Obergefell v Hodgesthat same-sex marriage was a fundamental right found in the US Constitution. Also in 2015, former Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner came out on the cover of Vanity Fair, “Call me Caitlyn,” as transgender. I’ve often thought that Satan could not have chosen a better poster child for transgender ideology than Bruce Call-me-Caitlyn Jenner. Think about it, a gold medalist in the decathlon so he’s considered the “world’s greatest athlete,” a handsome, “hunk” kind of guy who dated models and eventually married Kris Kardashian. Then he’s part of the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” TV reality program, fathering two of the younger sisters, making a total of five Kardashian-Jenner clan who along with their mother are now worth multiple billions of dollars and count among the highest social media followers. Then there’s Bruce in the middle of this, increasingly emasculated, a caricature of his former self, deluded, emotionally twisted, and finally coming out as a trans woman. Why did Satan use him? Worldwide fame.
  1. Marijuana has been gradually decriminalized. “Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuanafor recreational use in November 2012…Other states have since followed their lead. This includes Alaska and Oregon (both in 2014) and California and Massachusetts (both in 2016). Now, at this time, 23 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana possession in small amounts. Each state sets the age for recreational possession and use at 21.”
  1. Politics has always been rancorous, but like standards in the 50s-60s for what could be said or acted on television, there were certain political mores or parameters beyond which most politicians would not go. Now, like television where almost anything goes, so too in politics where elected officials lie with impunity, unilaterally ignore the law or don’t do their jobs, act with an increasing hubris or narcissism, demagogically make reckless speeches aimed at advancing themselves at the expense of democratic institutions, or simply serve not the people but ideology. And the populace puts up with this in both political parties.
  1. If we had time, we could talk about more than changes relative to sexuality or We could talk about mainstream media that no longer presents objective reports on “the news,” but rather have given themselves over to advocacy, partisanship, ideology, and an ends justify the means mentality that allows them to lie or misrepresent and feel good about doing it. We could talk about how with COVID and the subsequent Black Lives Matter-juiced reaction to the death of George Floyd, we got a societal disavowal of law and order and criminal justice, and a rejection of police in the foolish “Defund the police” movement.

“Deviancies defined down aren’t only in the realm of criminal behavior. In Senator Moynihan’s original report, he noted that the proportion of white children born to a single mother had increased from one in 40 in 1962 to one-fifth 30 years later. For black children, the increase was from one-fifth to two-thirds. Today, one-fourth of white children and two-thirds of black children are born to single parents. Yet outside of conservative circles, there is little push to reduce the number of single-parent households. Instead, the solution since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs has remained the same: more federal subsidies.”

There are some differences in the deviancies discussed…but the root of each is that some cultural understanding is being changed.” Localities and states changing their criminal codes reveal a willingness to tolerate crime by trying to redefine it away.

A line must be drawn. There is virtue in defining what is and isn’t deviant behavior. It allows us to highlight what is truly good. Preserving civilization requires us to be able to define what it is, and what it isn’t. It is not cruel to say that, (for example), carjackers should be punished, or that drug users should not be tolerated; it is a statement of social understanding that those who do not carjack or abuse drugs are better than those that do. It is not wrong to say that single-parenthood is a social problem, or that government policy should favor two-parent households; it is just, because it recognizes that two-parent households are the best model for families, the core unit of all societies. Without a shared set of social standards, civilization cannot continue. Whether it is being sympathetic to crime or ignoring the virtues of marriage, the Left is determined to undermine those social standards by refusing to define deviancy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan understood the problems of this approach in his time and argued against it.”

Christian Scripture tells us human beings are created in God’s image with moral agency. We have the capacity and the opportunity to choose. Since we live in a fallen world and we have deceitful hearts, we often choose sin. A culture that rejects God and the idea of sin is on the broad road to destruction.

We now see or hear something every day in which deviancy has been defined down.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is 5:20).


Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s 

And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.

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