Like much of the world, our family has been riveted by the tragedies in Japan over the past week, and we’ve been closely following the unfolding disasters. But one aspect of the Japanese reaction to the catastrophes has impressed me deeply.

Now let me jump subjects a bit. A couple of news stories from a few weeks ago caught my eye, a new phenomenon known as flash mobs. In one instance, a group of 30 to 40 teens gathered in a mall and proceeded to create havoc – flipping tables, pushing shoppers, knocking over items. In other more disturbing instances, flash mobs communicate by Twitter and then descend en masse upon a store, where they’ll scream, knock merchandise over, grab items and run. With such large groups, the store’s security personnel are overwhelmed, and most of the teens don’t get caught. “It’s all part of a growing phenomenon,” notes the article. For the most part the teens don’t know each other; they just temporarily assemble to create havoc, cause vandalism and steal.

Let me jump subjects again. Once more there are reports of shocking clothes and toys on the market specifically designed to pre-sexualize young girls to an alarming degree. Someone had to come up with the idea for these items and spend the money designing and manufacturing them, and yet retailers seem surprised at any objections.

Another subject jump. In Cleveland, 18 men and boys have been charged with gang-raping an 11-year-old girl. The lawyer of one of the accused actually said the victim was “seeking attention” because she was wearing a short skirt. What, an 11-year-old child “asked” to be gang-raped by wearing certain clothing?

What do all these unrelated stories have in common? Simple: a lack of shame.

Decades of liberal brainwashing, decades of moral relativism in schools, decades of single parenting with no fathers in the home, decades of mocking the biblical principles that once kept our nation’s citizens in check … these have all combined to rip us loose from the moorings that kept our society civil, decent, respectful and ethical.

These behaviors are NOT an issue of poverty. Please, spare me that old line. It’s an issue of moral, values, cultural standards and ethics. It’s an issue of right versus wrong, of good and evil. Of a refusal to accept the blessing of shame.

In our homeschooling civics studies, we’re examining the founding documents of this nation with the help of an excellent book. A quote from John Adams springs to mind: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Can anyone argue with this? We are endowed by our Creator with the ability to achieve what we can by our own means, as long as those means don’t impinge on the God-given rights of others.

But to enjoy these rights, of course, it means Americans must be a moral people. We must work for what we want to achieve, yes; but it also means that when things go wrong, we must restrain ourselves from indulging in behavior that damages others.

So what’s happening in Japan right now? People are hungry, cold, grieving, scared, injured, homeless and dealing with radiation fears. And yet Americans everywhere (here and here and here) are marveling at the lack of looting and other indicators of moral degeneracy. Despite the rampant opportunities to clean merchandise out of stores or attack helpless and defenseless survivors, the Japanese aren’t doing anything of the sort.

It’s been noted that while corruption and immorality are rampant in the Japanese government, crime in Japan is astoundingly low. To engage in criminal activities would bring shame to one’s family. It appears the Japanese people have something we sorely lack: the recognition that bad behavior reflects not only on the individual, but on his family, his community and his nation as well.

Americans lost our sense of shame when we allowed government to replace God. Generations of entitlements and a “me-mentality” has resulted in people unable to control their animal urges when faced with a child in a short skirt or a store with unattended merchandise. And this is during good times. What will happen when the economy really tanks? What kind of hyena-like activity can we expect then?

Should a series of disasters such as what Japan is currently experiencing strike our nation, there is no possible way we could ever expect the societal restraint the Japanese are demonstrating in the face of tragedy. Katrina showed us that. As a nation we are no longer capable of controlling our animal instincts. That sense of shame is gone.

And here’s the thing: Only we can recapture it for our own person. We cannot impose a sense of shame on anyone else. We cannot infuse anyone else with self-control. By definition, self-control comes from one’s SELF. It comes from within.

Fortunately, self-control is instantly achievable. All it takes is a choice, a decision. Not one of those men who raped that child was forced to do so. Not one of those teens taking part in a flash mob had to partake. Self-control isn’t any “fun” (which is why it is so seldom exercised), but it is honorable, moral and beneficial to society as a whole.

Being American used to be a distinction of which citizens were justifiably proud. We knew we had the ability to be great because we had the roots and moral foundation and heritage to prove it. But where once we built our house upon rock, for the last few generations we have been building upon shifting sand – and we are now reaping the results of those choices.

Now we stand humbled by the behavior of a nation in crisis as we watch traumatized Japanese citizens refrain from indulging in behavior that could further damage their society. They are to be congratulated for their restraint and self-control and for embracing the blessing of shame.

God’s blessings are a gift, and according to the Bible, the first gift was the gift of shame. But like all gifts, it’s up to the recipient to accept or refuse it. Too many people have decided to refuse this gift – and refusing a gift from God is never a good idea.

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