If it Feels Right, and If I Want to Believe It

Brad M. Griffin | Sep 16, 2011

If It Feels Right, A recent Op-Ed New York Times piece by David Brooks, has been raising eyebrows this week. Brooks pulls from the National Study of Youth and Religions work by Christian Smith and others, specifically what the team learned about the moral behavior of emerging adults (18-23 yr-olds).

Here was the researchers problem:

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldnt answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

One young adult is quoted as saying, I dont really deal with right and wrong that often. Doing what feels right to me lives in tandem with withholding any judgment for what seems right to someone else in the hyperindividualistic milieu emerging adults call home. Theyve received it as an endowment from their parents, teachers, and most other adults in their lives. Indeed, as Brooks writes,

Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism of relativism and nonjudgmentalism. Again, this doesnt mean that Americas young people are immoral. Far from it. But, Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources by schools, institutions and families to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.

Heres the kicker, in my opinion. Weve long seen moral relativism growing, so this isnt a huge surprise. But the final statement Brooks makes is this: Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now its thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart. Id argue that we could substitute Faith or Religious Tradition in the same sentence and be accurate:

Christian faith was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now its thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

In other words, is whats happening (happened?) to morality happening at the same rate to faith? In tandem with this NYT piece, USA Today offers the same suggestion this week: More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs. They quote researcher George Barna as saying that America is becoming “310 million people with 310 million religions.” Over the past 20 years, more people say they are Christians, but less people say they are attending any church. Rather than passing along faith from generation to generation, we are encouraging the same kind of individualistic faith as we are a personal morality. Which raises the question, is this all connected with the loss of meaningful community in our culture?

In the midst of this, what do you see happening in your own context? And what thoughts do you have for how the church can be responding in hopeful ways?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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