I suppose that it has been going on since the beginning of human existence, but I have a suspicion that it has accelerated since the beginning of the Renaissance/Reformation and subsequent Industrial Revolution. Change, rapid change, changing more rapidly as each year passes. Of course, technology has highly influenced the way we interact with the world and with each other, this has become blatantly obvious since the advent of the smart phone, which I still mistakenly refer to as a "cell phone."
The technology of mass media in the form of radio, TV, cable, internet and social media has radically sped up social change. Huge companies, particularly in the media, sports, retail and entertainment industries have learned to use their influence to normalize for one generation what was unacceptable to a previous one. In the '60s and '70s it was TV shows as seemingly benign today as "Bonanza" and "The Brady Bunch." And with those that were a little edgier such as "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons." This continues with shows such as "Modern Family" and "Black-ish."
Some things need to be normalized, and some things do not. There will always be present norms that future generations will look back on and either laugh or be aghast. Sometimes the changes improve society and sometimes they do not.
I am being ambiguous here because the problem is that we disagree on which is which. Even something as universal as love generates debate. Faith and other core beliefs play a role so that two people may have perfect clarity, but in different directions.
Normal may make life comfortable for one group of people but make it hell-on-earth for another. So, some feel compelled to normalize a group, a lifestyle, or a behavior and why so many of us confuse self-righteousness with morality. This is not a fault restricted to the religious among us. When we use ourselves as the measure of moral and normal, we will always have a reason to feel superior, or slighted, or entitled.
The problem with making a set of rules or "law" the measure of one's righteousness is that is will fail. There is no doctrinal statement I can sign, no way I can dress, no way of worship, no amount of study, no vocabulary that I can do to make me righteous. All these things do is remind me that I am not. The best they can do is to let others know I am trying. At worst they make us into pretenders and users of religion.
The reason for this is because nothing has been normal since Adam and Eve ate that "fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil." I don't know what the fruit was, and I do not argue too much with those who don't believe it happened. What I do know is that the Bible speaks of it as an event that happened and uses historical language. So, for those who take the Bible seriously, the original situation in the Garden of Eden was normal. That is how the universe was created, and everything that has happened after they ate the fruit is a result of things gone wrong, not normal.
Nothing since then has been "normal" in the sense of how things are supposed to be. The laws given in the Bible were there because of the hardness of our hearts. In Jesus' day, divorce was "normal." The question was not whether it was allowed, but under what circumstance was it allowed. Jesus' answer teaches that the rules (in Deuteronomy 24) were there, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (Mt. 19:8).
I suggest that what Jesus says of this could be applied to all the stuff that society allows, but then produces laws to keep us from damaging each other too much. It is just that our hearts are so hard that we then fuss over what the laws mean. There is the summation of the law to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself," the second of which all of us could attempt.
C.S. Lewis, in his book "The Weight of Glory," reframes our relationships with each other this way, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption."
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.