When I lived abroad I noticed a big change when the economy worsened. The kids begging on the streets would say "thank you" for donations. That meant that a sector of society which trained their children in basic politeness was in deep economic distress. In normal times, children begging in the streets were from deeply disfunctional families and had not been trained to say "thank you".
It takes a lot of repetition and training for children to learn even perfunctory language like "please" and "thank you". How much more to learn basic morality and practice painful things like telling the truth and turning away from temptation.
But that basic, repetitive moral training isn't done in public schools anymore. Most children no longer get religious training from churches and synagogues. And it isn't done in most homes.
How many parents, even those who are religiously committed, take the time to talk to their children once a week, or even once a month, about the importance of truth telling, not taking things that aren't yours, or the need to show mercy and forgive those who have wronged you? A once a year talk when a child is caught lying or stealing isn't going to do it. Without daily or weekly family "devotions", only an institution with a core curriculum based on moral teachings bangs that message home consistently enough to have a real impact.
The political theory of the founders of American democracy required some means to instill morality and tame strong human passions that under other governmental forms were kept in check by top down governmental power or tyranny. Our Founders saw the necessary discipline and character development coming from a people with deep religious commitment. The Founders “created a country that . . . relies on faith as an indispensable support.” (Sarah Palin, America by Heart, p. 183)
America's elites, in giving up religious commitment and training, have also given up a moral and democratic society.
James Russell Mead weighs in;
"The religion gap between the elite and the rest of the country is a big part of the problem — and in more ways than one. I can’t help but notice that the abandonment of serious religion by most of the American elite has coincided with a massive collapse in both the public and private morality of the American establishment. Kids who weren’t raised in church or synagogue or mosque, who were taught that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were simplistic categories in a complex moral world of shades of gray, who were told that their highest moral duty was to be true to their inner passions, who were the first generation in American history to be raised in a Scripture-free educational medium, turn into self-indulgent, corner-cutting, self-centered adults.H/T National Review's Jim Geraghty (Morning Jolt e-mail)
"What a surprise! We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street. We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can."