“Extreme Moral Individualism”


While researching the material for yesterday’s post, I stumbled across an Op-Ed piece from the NY Times by David Brooks entitled “If It Feels Right…”

Brooks discusses the attitudes of today’s young adults regarding morality and their basis for making moral decisions. In the article he cites a study by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith who led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews regarding morality with 230 young adults from across America.

Brooks says “the results are depressing.” The research concluded “not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.”

“It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds,” Brooks opines. “What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.”

One of the problems Smith and his colleagues found was what he called “an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism.” This expression stood out to me because I’ve been preaching and writing about it for a long time.

The mantra of individualism is “I must live for myself.” Individualism says “Be true to yourself.” And individualism believes “I can only know what is right and wrong for me.” It’s really saying that “I’m my own god.” This attitude was illustrated several years ago by a popular sitcom where a mother was advising her teen daughter about becoming sexually active. Her advice? “You will know when it is right for you.” Of course this is nothing new. In the days of the Judges “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25).

Our generation looks at Truth as relative with an attitude of being nonjudgmental. Our secular institutions are not emphasizing and cultivating the Judeo-Christian morality as in years past. In fact, just the opposite. Colleges and universities are filled with professors who smugly proclaim, “There are no absolutes.” And the young people believe it.

In fact, many of our churches are wavering on what is right and wrong, as evidenced in the news of yesterday’s post.

Jesus said, “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32). And what is Truth, as Pontus Pilate asked? Our Lord affirmed that God’s Word is Truth (Jn 17:17). Truth is divinely revealed. And is unchanging, unalterable, and unfailing.

However, if Truth is relative, then morality, as Brooks expressed it, is viewed as “something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.” This observation reminds me two Biblical admonitions. Jeremiah wrote,

O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (10:23). And the wise man warned, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov 14:12)

More than ever, parents, pastors, and preachers must instruct our young people based on Biblical values. Teach them God’s absolute moral standard. Be willing to grapple with their difficult questions. And more importantly, “walk in the way of righteousness” ourselves.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


Filed under Morality

4 responses to ““Extreme Moral Individualism”

  1. rlb

    Amen brother! We (God’s people) must be the greater influence in our young people’s lives.


  2. I beg to differ with your description of professors.
    And, to be honest, by the time kids get to college, those values (or lack thereof) have been fully formed.
    Maybe their parents should study Walt Kelly. You’ve met the enemy. It is us.


    • Roy, I’m not accusing all professors as being liberals who are void of godly values. I know many conservative, God-fearing professors who teach their discipline in the context of a Biblical world view. I agree that often times parents have failed to teach and/or model the values they want in their children. As always, thanks for reading and taking the time comment.


  3. Pingback: Is it Right? Or Just Seem Right? | ThePreachersWord

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