Plenty of challenges - but not an ethical wasteland

When Stanley Hauerwas casts his thoughts back to his childhood in Texas during the 1940s and '50s, crack cocaine isn't a part of the picture.

Today, however, crack is just one of a list of dangerous lures - from narcotics to the Net - tempting teens. But when the professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., talks about the state of morals in America, he is loath to cast off the '90s as an ethical wasteland.

"If I'd had to confront drugs the way kids have to confront them today, it would have destroyed me," he says. "Frankly, I'm amazed they do as well as they do."

To Mr. Hauerwas, American morality today is a complex issue. While the US may be progressing on some fronts, such as reducing public tolerance of racism, many of the fundamental causes of these problems, such as hypocrisy, have not improved. "It's a mixed bag," he says.

Still, many Americans believe the nation is more morally adrift than in decades past. Much of that perception, Hauerwas says, is the result of technological advances, which have broken down cultural borders worldwide, forcing Americans to reconsider their moral moorings and adding to a loss of identity. "People feel out of pocket," he says. "[They] don't know they're part of any ongoing tradition. History's gone."

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