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Posts Tagged ‘right and wrong’

It happened several times while I was on my recent road trip.  A decision needed to be made.  Take the interstate and make time, or meander the backcountry road and enjoy the scenery.  Stop two hours earlier and “wind down,” or press on to a further destination.  Stay with a friend or relative another night, or reserve a motel room and get some work done on the laptop.   Relying on my feelings left me hanging in mid-air.  One minute, I felt like exploring the aspen groves and kicking my shoes off by a mountain stream.  But, maybe less than an hour later, I felt like I just wanted to be home.

My feelings changed with my moods.  Refreshed and starting a new day with beauty all around me, I felt adventuresome.  Undaunted.  But, as the sun lost its brilliance and slipped beneath the horizon, I felt like settling some place safe and making my “nest.”  Plans for the day made, I felt like engaging.  Plans changed or unsure, I felt like disengaging.

Feelings are fickle.  They cannot be trusted.

Yet, for a long, long time, I’ve been watching a younger generation make life-altering decisions based wholly on feelings.  The sixteen-year-old knocks at the door of our caring pregnancy center.  “He told me he loved me.  Do you think I’m pregnant?”  The phone rings late at night.  “I felt like moving in with him would secure our relationship, but tonight when I shared my concerns with him, he kicked me out.  Will you come get me?”  Years of separation from God haunt the woman.  “In that moment of despair, I felt like an abortion would make things right again.  But, I never again felt good about myself.  Can God ever forgive me?”  The young man’s shoulders slump under the orange prison garb.  “Pride pumped my ego.   Boundaries were for lesser men.   I felt in control, exhilarated by the risk, and confident in the adulation of others… until they slapped on the cuffs.  Now, my family is paying the price.”

What kind of people do we become and what kind of culture do we build when we are ignorant of “right” and “wrong?”  When we are “self”-guided by feelings?

Some time ago, a sociologist from Notre Dame interviewed 230 young people across the U.S.  The sociologist, Christian Smith, asked questions pertaining to morality.  Smith summarized in his book, Lost in Transition, that the results were “disheartening.”   It isn’t that the behavior of young people today is better or worse than my generation.  The problem is a lack of moral reasoning.  When asked about the “moral dilemmas and the meaning of life,” the young people offered Smith “rambling” replies which testified that “they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary” to even engage in moral reflection.  “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” said one young person.  For these 18-23-year-olds, right and wrong is judged by how a particular action made them feel.  As one put it, “I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

But, asks Chuck Colson, what happens when doing the right thing requires ignoring how you “feel” and, instead, determining actions by an external standard?  In what ways are parents — with the support of the Church — helping the younger generation to think rather than just feel?  There are those who predict that these young people will grow more reflective with age.  But, reflection requires that we have principles and ideals on which to base our reflections.  Young people who are bombarded by messages from the world, deceived by Satan, and influenced by their own fickle feelings and changing opinions will be ill-equipped for ethical decision-making.  Marriage.  Parenting.  Being a good neighbor.

So, what can we do?  There is a practical tool for congregations to use with parents, college students, teachers, and a concerned community.  It’s a DVD series titled Doing the Right Thing featuring a panel of morally academic “thinkers” interacting with an assembly of students.  Panelists include Chuck Colson, Dr. Robert George of Princeton University, and other astute and principled men.  The series is moderated by Brit Hume.  Our son, Jon, purchased the series and our family has viewed it.  We highly recommend it and hope to make use of it in our own congregation and community.  Why don’t you, too?  Doing the Right Thing is available from The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Fickle feelings can’t be trusted.  But, doing the right thing — based on a standard outside of ourselves — can.

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