Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Morality Obsolete? Egad!

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts,

Once again, I have found something interesting while reading on the internet. Today we take on a short discussion about morality. We know this topic is deserving of more than a single post. I'm simply making a foray into these waters to see what floats to the surface. Check out a recent NY Times article, which summarizes, "If it feels right to me, then it is". In it, columnist David Brooks states that sentiment pretty much sums up the moral philosophy of most young Americans, who have grown up unmoored from any cultural or religious framework for knowing right from wrong. In a new book, Lost in Transition, a group of sociologists documents how people in their late teens and early 20s have come to view moral choices as “just a matter of individual taste,” and seem perplexed when asked to make judgments about behavior that earlier generations would clearly label as wrong.

Cheating on tests? Infidelity? Drunken driving? Brooks continues that in interviews, young people say that decisions about such behavior are “up to the individual.” There is virtually no sense of any overarching value system or obligation to society or to others. “I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it,” is a typical refrain. For this, he says, we can only blame schools, institutions, and families. From blind deference to churches and authority, our society has swung to the other extreme, and now morality is purely “something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.”

I am especially interested in this subject as my husband and I are on different pages from an organized religion standpoint, therefore our children, as yet, have had no formal introduction to that moral framework. Also, we don't come from a particularly strong cultural background; we're just average middle class Joes originally from parts of northern Europe. Like most people in my area I expect. Moreover, my sister is struggling with the morality question regarding her teenage son. Although in no way a criminal, some of his actions have called his moral compass into question of late, making my sister wonder, 'where did this come from'? We raised you in a certain way, with certain, set values, and where are they now? What is happening? She's fearful she and her husband haven't instilled their morals deeply enough onto their children. Which is ridiculous, as her son is a straight A student and is just doing the teenager thing of exploring his boundaries and beliefs. He's not adrift in moral ambiguity. He knows what he's doing is wrong and chooses to do it for completely different reasons. But I digress. That's a topic for another post.

So how accurate is the author of the book and the columnist who wrote about this phenomenon? Have you yourself witnessed or worked with young Americans seemingly operating in a moral vacuum based on 'if it feels right, it is right' mentality? How serious is this? Should I / we be worried?

I'd love to hear you weigh in.


  1. I've witnessed this in our culture. It's called postmodernism, and it appears to be alive and well. I've worked with young people with this view and I've interviewed several young people about it. The idea is that there is no objective moral truth. "What is true for me may not be true for you, but if I believe it, then it's true."

    Christian Smith wrote a book somewhat around this subject called "Soul Searching". You might find it interesting.

  2. Katrina, I'm both glad and a little sad that there is material out there that addresses this phenomena; glad because it helps forward the conversation and sad because it exists in the first place. Welcome to the 21st century I guess. Thanks so much for the referral!