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Ooltewah High School sign

When I was in sixth grade, my buddy Mike and I raced back to our classroom after lunch. Flying around a corner, we literally ran into our tall, lanky principal. He had us follow him to the front of the classroom as our classmates filed in and took their places at their desks. He made a little speech about following rules, then gave Mike and I three sharp whacks on our backsides with a huge paddle he carried with him. I was angry and embarrassed — but I never ran on a sidewalk again, nor did anyone in my class.

That memory has come back over the past weeks following the allegations of barbaric sexual misconduct by students in our local schools. How did we get from the days of school administrators like my former principal teaching children like me that their actions have consequences to the tragic situation involving the Ooltewah High School basketball team?

The intelligentsia among us might answer that question with the same rhetorical hash we've heard during the social "enlightenment" of the last 50 years: "Well, that's an extremely complex question that requires input from many fields such as psychology, economics, social science, government, education, yada, yada, yada." Then, we wring our hands, hold meetings, throw more money at schools and hire more administrators. Sadly, nothing changes.

The problem is not complex; instead it is very simple. In our arrogant rush since the mid-20th century to create a society that is based totally on human reason, our society has become totally unreasonable. When God was forced out of schools, discipline and morality disappeared as well. After all, who are we to impose our moral standards on someone else?

Initially, we replaced God with patriotism in schools. While there could be no religious songs or music, no Bibles, no baccalaureate sermons, no prayers before football games, no references to Easter or Christmas, there could be patriotic music, ROTC classes and the Pledge of Allegiance. But the call for good citizenship simply to advance questionable national causes is a far cry from appealing to the better side of humanity.

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The travesty at Ooltewah High School certainly wasn't indicative of good citizenship. The behavior was eerily similar to that by a group of boys marooned on a remote island in the classic book "Lord of the Flies." As they tried to organize themselves for survival, they ran immediately into disciplinary problems accompanying any uncivilized group. Their manipulative leader Jack appealed to citizenship, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything."

Or, as a modern moralist in our country might reason, "We're Americans! We're a model for the world." However, those lofty words ring hollow as our country descends into a decaying moral abyss. A nation without a moral foundation is a model for nothing but despair. Perhaps the scene in the book more fitting for our current society might be where the boys on the island, pursuing an increasingly immoral path, shoved a sharpened stick into the posterior of a wild boar and lustily chanted, "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!"

We are proud Americans and not savages (yet), but there is a foundational element missing. We are a nation that humbly recognized in both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution that we were created by one greater than ourselves. We do not gain our rights from government but from that creator.

Until we forsake our arrogant pursuit of humanism and embrace a God that loves us, forgives us and redeems us, we will continue toward immoral barbaric behavior like that of the Ooltewah basketball team. They are not an anomaly but are a reflection of what our community has become. "They" are us, and in that sense, we are all Ooltewah Owls.

Roger Smith, a local author, is a frequent contributor to the Times Free Press.

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