Moral Ignorance among American Youth

Dennis Prager recently wrote an article on why Americans can’t think morally[1].  He based his article on an academic study by David Brooks.  Brooks surveyed American youth, ages 18 to 23, on the issue of morality.  What he found was young people today make moral decisions based on individual choices; what they feel like doing at the moment.  An objective or universal standard of morality is completely foreign to a majority of this age group.  Whereas, 60 years ago the majority of society believed morality was revealed, inherited, and shared.  Murder, theft, lying, and rape were objectively wrong.   Today these universal morals have given way to personal preferences.  All standards of morality are thrown out and replaced with a subjective choice.  Without a universal standard, transcendent from humanity, there is no way to judge the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Prager believes secularism is to blame.  When God is removed as the foundation of morality then the individual determines what is right or wrong.  Prager writes…

The intellectual class and the left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing. They are wrong. Secularism is good for government. But it is terrible for society (though still preferable to bad religion) and for the individual.

One key reason is what secularism does to moral standards. If moral standards are not rooted in God, they do not objectively exist. Good and evil are no more real than “yummy” and “yucky.” They are simply a matter of personal preference. One of the foremost liberal philosophers, Richard Rorty, an atheist, acknowledged that for the secular liberal, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?'”

With the death of Judeo-Christian-God-based standards, people have simply substituted feelings for those standards. Millions of American young people have been raised by parents and schools with “How do you feel about it?” as the only guide to what they ought to do. The heart has replaced God and the Bible as a moral guide.

And now, as Brooks points out, we see the results. A vast number of American young people do not even ask whether an action is right or wrong. The question would strike them as foreign. Why? Because the question suggests that there is a right and wrong outside of themselves. And just as there is no God higher than them, there is no morality higher than them, either.

Forty years ago, I began writing and lecturing about this problem. It was then that I began asking students if they would save their dog or a stranger first if both were drowning. The majority always voted against the stranger — because, they explained, they loved their dog and they didn't love the stranger.

They followed their feelings.  Without God and Judeo-Christian religions, what else is there?


[1] Prager, Dennis; “Why Americans Can’t Think Morally,” http://townhall.com/ 9/20/11

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