Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Moral Muddleheadedness of Most Americans

Two noted sociologists who study religion have each just released a distressing study about the moral muddleheadedness of most Americans, especially the young.

Christian Smith, in a study of youth, found that when faced with a moral dilemma, most had no standards, stories, or virtues they could articulate to guide their actions. Instead, they said “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.”

George Barna, in a study of American Christians (that is, most Americans), summarizes the view of most people thus: "People say, 'I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want.'"

I do not think that people are actually so mush-headed in what they believe. I think they have learned the lesson of tolerance, relativism, and not-judging so well that they have no way of talking about how they actually make judgments for themselves. I think people are actually more consistent in their actions than they can explain. And that most people consistently act in accordance with traditional virtues.

Still, if the only theory that people have is that they should act on their current feelings, then the long-term commitments that structure our lives and our societies, like mortgages and marriages, are undermined.

I think every healthy society lives by a narrative of virtue. The narrative of learning not to make judgments is way too thin to live by.


Diane M said...

I agree. The desire to never, ever judge anyone goes too far in contemporary American culture. At the same time, most of the people who believe that judging is the worst evil, do it all the time, although they don't always recognize what they're doing.

Maybe we need to go back to the idea that you can love the sinner but hate the sin. Maybe part of the problem is that people are afraid that if they judge the action as wrong, it means the person is just plain bad.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Well, it certainly is a great virtue to not judge people for doing things that have no impact on your life, or anyone else's. But it is just as silly to not take into consideration the unhealthy choices of others when considering who to put energy into, and surround yourself with, in your life.

Diane M said...

Is there something you can do that has no impact on anyone else's life?