Discussion and news articles have, as of late, undertaken a debate that addresses a seemingly benign cultural trend in the west: “Is religion necessary to being ‘good’?” The Los Angeles Times rousing debate on Facebook asking this question quickly descended into malice, slander, and judging by the reckless threats messaged back and forth, which would have turned violent had the participants been face-to-face.
The dialogue definitely put a damper on viewers looking for an able defense of that “good” existing healthily apart from religion.
Experts du jour are waxing philosophical about the brave new world of objective agnosticism or humane atheism being a natural by-product in human evolution. Faith and belief in a god or creator is assertively diminished or even derided in schools of higher learning and in much of the current media culture.
While the debate over whether religion is essential to being “good” as the current society deems the definition to be, religious belief has certainly played a central role in history thus far.
Religion and faith has been the primary moral arbiter alongside philosophy in every society, both being used to address the inner man’s desire for, and examination of, a moral construct for the good of society.
Humanism and atheism asserts that goodness and moral care for fellow man is possible without objective truth in God or adherence to the tenets of a religion based on belief in a creator who dictates original truth. Since man makes up a belief in God, he is the one actually creating the moral concept of good and evil.
Cultural traditions of just what is “good” do have their sources, and what society determines as good or bad is the morality that affects and determines culture. Philosophically, the idea of “objective truth” has in the past provided the overarching security-providing framework of non-negotiables.
A universal truth outside man’s subjective nature offered moral certitude that every man could submit to and unite under. Now this concept has been roundly dismissed and diminished in academia and is no longer being taught as a determinate for moral constructs or boundaries.
After all, if there is no God and we are a product of random chance, then there is no objective truth outside obvious large ones; the sun rises in the east, etc.”Truth” is subject to man’s ever-changing whims.
The repercussions of accepting subjective truth as the new moral marker for mankind is predictable chaos. The unifying force of an agreed-upon moral truth has been replaced by a jumble of fractured truths; large-scale consensus deconstructed into small, ever-changing and often conflicting attempts at consensus. And that is the word to describe the self-willed chaos: deconstruction.
Deconstruction is underway, lamented by those original “me generation” deconstructionists who are now experiencing the remorse only someone sitting in the rubble of their own making can understand.
Educators, psychologists, and sociologists are now issuing dire warnings of social ruin that former sociologists and educators advocated as progressive ideologies not two decades ago. Western culture is now seeing a more serious fall-out of the change in perceptions of moral truth.
The concern with the breakdown of societal order has society questioning what is truth and what is moral as it translates to behaviors and how behaviors are being affected by the eroding structure. The changing ideas of morality in the minds where “knowing” (what is right and wrong) is not translating into “doing” (acting upon what you know to be right or wrong) as effectively as it has in the past when moral constructs were more universal and encouraged in developing humans.
Several studies examine this link and the variables involved with the connections between intention and behavior. Haidt (2003) defines moral emotions as those “that are linked to the interests or welfare either of society as a whole or at least of persons other than the judge or agent” (p. 276). Moral emotions provide the motivational force—the power and energy— to do good and to avoid doing bad (Kroll & Egan 2004).
A much more serious level of deconstruction has been achieved, and psychologists are rightly concerned. The connections between “knowing” and “doing” have been all but severed or are manifesting serious interruption in the relationship between emotion and action. Where once the examination was in levels of responses between emotion and action, there is now being noted an absence or critical disconnect.
Humans in western society are experiencing a loss of ability to make moral judgments of critical behavioral actions and, worse, a loss of emotional compulsion to experience empathy or understand it as a connecting emotion needed for positive societal function within groups.
To put it simply, there are no more moral standards understood or comprehended by an emerging group of youth and young adults in order to “know” and “do” in a way that maintains social order.
Is it too late? Spiritually speaking, never. Culturally speaking, maybe. A vacuum has been created by the rejection of external and universal truth. It has not been filled adequately by subjective truth, and moral relativism has not only failed to stem the growth of the black hole that the next generation is being pulled into, it has grown it and deepened its pull.
As the peril sharpens and clarifies the need for a strong moral awakening, the Church, more than ever, needs to step up and share Her stable and unchanging morality based upon love. Love for mankind, a love that grows hearts, retrains minds, and re-establishes timeless truths that offer comfort, direction and a future.
Western society is at a critical juncture that Christ’s followers must, in obedience to His mission, “Be ready” as Paul said, “ in season and out, to give an answer for the hope that lies within” (I Peter 3.15). With western thought’s ideals of virtues now an unknown to many, it is critical that they be re-introduced into society with passion and force.
The challenge that deconstruction is creating to morality’s framework can only be answered now by the church. It is too far gone for frightened relativists to make right, and it is a golden time for the Church to flex her might in leading the way out of the decline and prevent a fall that need not happen.
If the modern Church only grasped the absolute power at her fingertips to transform the world (as the early Church seemed to understand), there would be no time wasted. The Church operates under the authority which has assured mankind that “the gates of hell will NOT prevail.”
She just needs to share it and do so by shouting out Christ’s love from the rooftops and on the street corners. The battle for the souls of men has never been more gripping, more violent, and more precious.