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September 21, 2011

Column #1,569

The Young Have Lost Moral Values

By Mike McManus

            We live in an era of moral debauchery.  Every week we read about prominent leaders in sexual scandals – Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

            Of greater concern is what is happening to America’s youth, who seem to have lost their moral compass according to a new book, “Lost in Transition,” by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith who interviewed 230 adults, aged 18-23.

            They were sexually active, as might be expected, but “What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.  “Moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school, or cheating on a partner.”

            As one young person put it, “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often.”  Another: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt.  I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

            This is moral relativism and extreme individualism that’s surprising given the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans are members of a church and 43% attended weekly in 2010 according to Gallup.

            Barna Polls have long detected this trend.  In 2006 Barna reported that young adults were twice as likely to have viewed sexually explicit videos than older Americans, 2.5 times more apt to have had a sexual encounter outside of marriage, and three times as likely to see sexually graphic material online.

            Just two years later things were worse. A 2008 poll found that those under age 25, which Barna calls “Mosaics,” are nine times more likely than Baby Boomers to have engaged in sex outside of marriage (38% vs. 4%), six times more likely to have lied, and three times more likely to have gotten drunk.

            “We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America,” said George Barna. “Mosaics have had little exposure to traditional moral teaching and limited accountability for such behavior. The moral code began to disintegrate when the generation before them, the Baby Busters – pushed limits that had been challenged by their parents, the Baby Boomers.

            “The result is that without much fanfare or visible leadership, the U.S. has created a moral system based on convenience, feelings and selfishness.”

            Princeton Professor Robert George agrees, “There has been a massive cultural loss of faith and in the power of reason to grasp or attain moral truth.  There is a loss of trust in institutions and in our ideals.”

            Asked how that could happen, given the high percentage of Americans who are active church-goers, he replied, “A lot of churches have reduced theology to a matter of feeling, particularly in liberal churches.  Even conservative churches began moving in the same direction, looking to feeling and emotion as a source of validity for moral judgment.

            “Where one’s feelings and emotions have been shaped by a moral tradition that is decent and sound, one will do the right thing. For a while, we were living on the capital of the Judeo-Christian faith with its rigorous moral teaching. But that capital is being depleted, and what substitutes, is a Hollywood cultural ethos, of non-judgmental moral relativism.”

            Of course this is particularly true of the youngest generation, who denounce advocates of moral absolutes as “rigid, self-righteous and homophobic.”

            What can be done?  Three answers:

            First, remember the importance of intact married families and regular church attendance. Children with married parents are twice as likely as those in stepfamilies to go to college. Adolescents attending church regularly complete more years of school, reports Family Research Council’s Patrick Fagan.  Children of broken homes who don’t attend church are six times more apt to repeat a grade than kids with married parents worshipping regularly.

            Second, all institutions must do better with youth in “getting them interested in making a difference, in seeing how they can be a gift to the culture,” says Barna President David Kinnaman.  “Young people aspire to make a difference In the world. We have to expose them, show how their skills can be used, push them beyond their narcissism.”

            Third, churches must teach that we cannot rely on our emotions, but must recover the teachings of the Judeo-Christian faith.  Robert George warns, “Too many clergy fear giving people meat, and preach against cohabitation, for example. They don’t want people to say, `My daughter is living with a young man, and they are living with integrity.’  They don’t want people to leave their churches.  They must teach counter-culturally, what it means to be disciplined.”

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

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