(I use the word "religious" in parenthesis because while I am a devout Christian, I consider my faith to be a relationship not a religion.)
Our discussions were incredibly upbeat and polite. There was no stress on either end. I wasn't judging them, and they weren't judging me. We were simply trying to understand each other and to reflect on society at large.
These are also not ignorant young people. They are attending prestigious universities and have been the top of their class for their whole life. They are a very good representation of our society as a whole and truly have a real understanding of what a millennial is and what it is like to be one.
And what they are telling me has been so interesting!
First, one of them shared an article with me that I found simply fascinating. Here it is:
IT FEELS RIGHT
I really encourage you to spend some time reading this short NYT op-ed by David Brooks. Here is a paragraph that really summarized Brooks' piece. If you don't want to take the time to read it, here are a few selections that will give you the gist of it:
During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth.
Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.
“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.
The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”
Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “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.”
Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”
This has been a fear of mine and many other "religious" people I know who do feel that we have been given a moral code to follow. We feel that our society has been growing more and more secular. And as more things that we consider to be incredibly immoral are "approved" by society, those of us with a moral code are wondering when it will stop.
What these young people have been telling me has been incredibly eye-opening.
For example, while the word "tolerance" is thrown around repeatedly, the truth is, that these young people feel completely unable to share a viewpoint that is not approved by their peers. I'll use the example of abortion for example. One millennial told me that there is almost a commandment at their University. "Thou shall not ever mention pro-life as you are infringing on a woman's rights." This particular individual wasn't even saying he/she was pro-life. However, they were simple explaining that they felt incredibly frustrated that they couldn't even discuss the possibility that the pro-life side had valid points. One young man said anything outside of pro-choice would label him a "male pig." But his peers continued to preach "tolerance."
While some of these individuals were more willing to put themselves out there and say what they felt even if it countered the mainstream, most agreed that there is a code among young people that you cannot break or you are immediately labeled a racist or a pig. And in fact, it was one of these young individuals who shared this link with me to David Brooks' op ed.
The short summary is this: unless you are "religious", there is no moral vocabulary permitted. Parents and teachers don't want to tell anyone what to believe and so we've actually removed the ability to talk about morality. "Sin" and "Grace" could be words used even in a non-religious sense ... couldn't they? But we can't do that because we are then infringing and not "tolerant" of how someone else feels.
There are a few things that people agree are wrong, but outside of those, to share any viewpoint is simply labeled "intolerant." It isn't as much that you are silenced as that you are afraid to speak in the first place.
I continue to be amazed that it is young adults that I currently feel "called" to. I still feel like one myself, when in fact, I am realizing that I am now old enough to have parented these particular young people. (Wow is that crazy!) I am learning so much from them, and I hope they are learning from me as well.
What I am most seeing is truly encouraging me. All of these young people agree that they wish their minds could accept religion, and they continue searching in hopes that they one day might find something they can believe in. They all concur that atheistic societies have proved incredibly dangerous in the history of our world. Religion would answer many of their questions and permits a moral code that society is telling them they may not have.