This Could Take a While

Thanks to another newer reader, Lois, for sending me the link to this short essay.  It was published a few years ago, but it remains dead-on in it’s assessment of our current philosophical and ideological climate.  I’m a big fan of Francis Shaeffer’s  thinking, even if I find his actual writing to be more or less atrocious.  

I’m currently teaching an upper division Intro to Ethics course.  One of the six students began class in his introduction by asserting that “nothing in this course could cause him to change his mind or thinking about anything”.  Wow.  How nice it must be to have so completely learned everything that you need to learn that you are no longer open to learning anything or changing your opinion about anything.  How incredibly frustrating it must be to pay hundreds of dollars to take the class and get your degree, when you have avowed not to learn anything in the process!
I’m in arguments with other students in the class already over their insistence on asserting that morals, ethics, and values are all individually determined.  There is no broader platform from which these things derive.  Every person must decide for themselves on these things.  It sounds interesting, so long as you don’t ever get out of bed or think about anything or do anything for your entire life.  It falls apart completely the instant you begin interacting with the world around you, and particularly when you take the time to think through the ramifications of your assertions.
When I ask for them to provide examples that back up their assertions on this matter, they simply reiterate their assertion.  They have no basis for their assertion, and no examples of why their assertion is true.  I provide several examples of what are widely considered universal moral principles that exist in all peoples, cultures, lands, and times (it is wrong to kill an innocent person, it is wrong to be dishonest, etc.).  So far, no intellectual effort to defend their position – but they are convinced that they are right.
This is the condition of our culture today.  It’s what is being drilled into children in school, on television, from every conceivable angle.  Truth is completely relative.  You are the center of the universe.  Nobody has the right to question anything about you or what you think or do.  What are the ramifications of this?  What are the ramifications of a young person who asserts that it’s insulting and offensive to claim that an action can be deemed morally right or morally wrong in any absolute sense, since it might be determined to be just the opposite at some point in the future?  How does a society sustain itself when there is no ability or even desire to act and think with certainty – and to go through the hard work of constantly trying to make sure that you are acting consistently with what you believe to be true?  
Teaching people how to think in absolute terms is absolutely what needs to be done.  But it’s going to take a long time.  I pray I have the patience for it, and that you do as well.

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