Why young Amer­i­cans can’t think morally

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Two weeks ago, David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a col­umn on an aca­demic study con­cern­ing the nearly com­plete lack of a moral vo­cab­u­lary among most Amer­i­can young peo­ple.

Be­low are some ex­cerpts from Brooks’ summary of the study of Amer­i­cans aged 18 to 23. (It was led by “the em­i­nent Notre Dame so­ci­ol­o­gist Chris­tian Smith.”)

“Smith and com­pany asked about the young peo­ple’s moral lives, and the re­sults are de­press­ing . . .

“When asked to de­scribe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young peo­ple ei­ther couldn’t an­swer the ques­tion or de­scribed prob­lems that are not moral at all . . .

“Moral think­ing didn’t en­ter the pic­ture, even when con­sid­er­ing things like drunken driv­ing, cheat­ing in school or cheat­ing on a part­ner . . .

“The de­fault po­si­tion, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a mat­ter of in­di­vid­ual taste . . .

“As one put it, ‘I mean, I guess what makes some­thing right is how I feel about it. But dif­fer­ent peo­ple feel dif­fer­ent ways, so I couldn’t speak on be­half of any­one else as to what’s right and wrong . . .

“Moral­ity was once re­vealed, in­her­ited and shared, but now it’s thought of as some­thing that emerges in the pri­vacy of your own heart.”

Ever since I at­tended col­lege, I have been con­vinced that ei­ther “stud­ies” con­firm what com­mon sense sug­gests or that they are mis­taken.

I re­al­ized this when I was pre­sented with study af­ter study show­ing that boys and girls were not in­her­ently dif­fer­ent from one an­other, and they acted dif­fer­ently only be­cause of sex­ist up­bring­ings.

This lat­est study cited by David Brooks con­firms what con­ser­va­tives have known for a gen­er­a­tion:

Moral stan­dards have been re­placed by feel­ings.

Of course, those on the left be­lieve this only when a writer at a ma­jor lib­eral news­pa­per cites an “em­i­nent so­ci­ol­o­gist.”

What is dis­con­cert­ing about Brooks’ piece is that nowhere in what is an im­por­tant col­umn does he men­tion the rea­son for this dis­turb­ing trend — namely, sec­u­lar­ism.

The in­tel­lec­tual class and the left still be­lieve that sec­u­lar­ism is an un­al­loyed bless­ing. They are wrong.

Sec­u­lar­ism is good for govern­ment.

But it is ter­ri­ble for so­ci­ety (though still prefer­able to bad re­li­gion) and for the in­di­vid­ual.

One key rea­son is what sec­u­lar­ism does to moral stan­dards. If moral stan­dards are not rooted in God, they do not ob­jec­tively ex­ist.

Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are sim­ply a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence. One of the fore­most lib­eral philoso­phers, Richard Rorty, an athe­ist, ac­knowl­edged that for the sec­u­lar lib­eral, “There is no an­swer to the ques­tion, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

With the death of JudeoChris­tian-God-based stan­dards, peo­ple have sim­ply sub­sti­tuted feel­ings for those stan­dards. Mil­lions of Amer­i­can young peo­ple have been raised by par­ents and schools with “How do you feel about it?” as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has re­placed God and the Bi­ble as a moral guide.

And now, as Brooks points out, we see the re­sults.

A vast num­ber of Amer­i­can young peo­ple do not even ask whether an ac­tion is right or wrong.

The ques­tion would strike them as for­eign. Why? Be­cause the ques­tion sug­gests that there is a right and wrong out­side of them­selves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no moral­ity higher than them, ei­ther.

Forty years ago, I be­gan writ­ing and lec­tur­ing about this prob­lem.

It was then that I be­gan ask­ing stu­dents if they would save their dog or a stranger first if both were drown­ing.

The ma­jor­ity al­ways voted against the stranger — be­cause, they ex­plained, they loved their dog and they didn’t love the stranger. They fol­lowed their feel­ings. With­out God and JudeoChris­tian re­li­gions, what else is there?

Dennis Prager hosts a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio talk show and is a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity. He is the author of four books, most re­cently “Hap­pi­ness Is a Se­ri­ous Prob­lem” (Harper­Collins).

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