Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cutting Through A Teen's Moral Fog

It's been a while since I've posted a log from my archive of online exchanges. Here's one from a young person (whose screen name I've changed) who used to frequent an atheist chat room. It was obvious from interacting with her over time that she was confused about what she believed about life and was hoping that being a regular in the atheist chat would help her figure things out.

I wonder how many thousands of American teens she represents - both outside and within the church. Concerning the latter, I wonder if much has changed since Francis Schaeffer penned the following assessment of the evangelical church over thirty years ago in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century:

We already are, of course, losing many of our young people, losing them on every side. It would be impossible to say how many have come to L'Abri from Christian backgrounds. And these young people have said, "You are our last hope." Why? Because they are smart enough to know that they have been given no answers. They have simply been told to believe. Doctrines have been given them without relating them to the hard, hard problems which these young people are facing. Those who come to us and say something of the nature that we are their last hope usually then speak of two things which discouraged them. First, they have not been given reasonable answers to reasonable questions. Second, they have not seen beauty in the Christian group they were in. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 4, pp. 69-70.

Did you ever read any Carl Sagan?

KP: Yes, only a little. I've heard and seen him on television too.

YMIHere: He was in the Catholic newspaper my parents get, it was an argument whether he claimed God existed or not before he died. I don't like the newspaper, it's not the most tolerant paper I've read. It tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch! I think that's sort of weird.

KP: I doubt that that newspaper tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch. It probably reviews movies based on their moral content and makes recommendations based on that. And speaking of tolerance..you don't sound very tolerant of that paper and its views. ;-)

YMIHere: Well, it's really weird. It has these lists of movies and says which ones are ok for Catholics. I mean, they gave the movie "Clueless" a bad grade or whatever. They said it was indecent. It was a pg-13 movie for kids! lol, I am tolerant, i just don't agree with what they say. I try to have tolerance for the Catholic religion, but I think it's not really good for people. I was taught the strangest things in Catholic school.

KP: Why is it that if you don't agree with what they say and how they think, it's just a disagreement but if they don't agree with the contents of particular movies they're intolerant? What kind of strange things were you taught in Catholic school?

YMIHere: I don't know, that paper just makes me angry and I don't know why. Christian sexual education was taught, and I never agreed with any of it. Also, the pro-life stand that Catholics take on abortion.

KP: And why is that strange?

Tulipstem: Like a religion should tell women they don't have a right to choose to have a baby or not. That's just strange. And I never understood why people would want to do that. And Christian sexuality was against sex before marriage which was very confusing. I think it just confuses kids.

KP: The real issue isn't one of women's rights at all. The real issue is whether or not one can take the life of another innocent being. To make women's right the focal point is mistaken. Christians believe that sex is to be reserved for a monogamous, life-long marital commitment. What's so confusing about that?

YMIHere: What do you mean? She's the mother. It 's her right to take the life (if you think it is a life at all).

KP: Oh, so her being the mother gives her the right to take the life? On those grounds, then your mother has the right to kill you anytime she wants, right? After all, she IS your mother.

YMIHere: No. People who recognize that the baby is not life until a certain period of time believe in the right to abort a child. This, I guess, has to do with when the law recognizes a baby as being officially life. I haven't decided when I think this is but I have no problem with abortion being legal. My mother can't legally take my life. There's the whole legal difference.

KP: So whatever is legal is morally right?

YMIHere: No. It's acceptable.

KP: Well, the abortion debate isn't over what is acceptable, is it? I thought it was over what is morally right. In some South American countries it is both legal and acceptable for men to beat their wives. A few hundred years ago it was both legal and acceptable to own slaves and to treat them as property.

YMIHere: I don't know. I don't spend much time debating abortion. Yes. It's also legal in Peru for women to be forced to marry men who raped them and the men won't be charged with the crime. Sick, but it's how some cultures live. Things changed for the better, didn't they?

KP: In Hitler's Germany it was both legal and acceptable to kill Jews.

YMIHere: Yes. And things changed. It makes you think "what a screwed up" world.

KP: Is all you care about what is acceptable in the eyes of the majority? If morals are relative as you say they are, then one can't say that things changed for the "better." One can only say that things changed. "Better" implies some fixed and objective standard of what is good or right. Of course, you can say that things changed for the better in a very subjective sense - meaning that they changed to suit your personal preference.

YMIHere: Yes, if I lived in a society, I would live by the accepted rules. If it was Nazi Germany and I didn't agree with their society, what am I supposed to do? The Germans went by Hitler's society, as messed up as it was, because they had no choice. It's really depressing, but that's the way it is sometimes. I have to live by America's society and so do you.

KP: Well, I'm glad that not all had your compliant attitude. Otherwise, we might still be enslaving Blacks in this country.

YMIHere: And who changed things? The society itself?

KP: People within the society who were convinced that the law was wrong. The Abolitionists, for example, in the case of slavery. But according to what you're saying, one should never oppose the prevailing idea of what is "acceptable" and therefore social reform becomes impossible.

YMIHere: I don't agree. Societies can change what is acceptable in a society. Look at America, that's what politics is about. Sometimes the country goes through conservative periods (the Reagan era) but things change and the majority of people just go along with it.

KP: Furthermore, according to what you've said, there can never be such a thing as an unjust law since what is legal is all that matters. Since you do not hold to any moral order above human legislation, you have nothing to appeal to in order to make a judgment that a law is just or immoral.

YMIHere: I have a question. Do morals matter that much? What happens when there are no morals? What happens to people and society?

KP: Of course morals matter. Without them, chaos results.

YMIHere: how do you know this? Can I have an example?

KP: If there is no moral authority and therefore no accountability to anyone other than the person or group with the most power, then all sorts of atrocities can take place such as Hitler's Germany, Stalin and Lenin, and the late Romanian leader whose name I can't spell.

YMIHere: Hitler had no morals? No morals whatsoever? He wanted a society without morals?

KP: No, that's not what I meant. Of course no one is devoid of a moral system or a system of values. The real issue is what that system is based on. For example, it could be that my moral system is that anything that deprives me of pleasure is wrong and anything that gives me pleasure is right. If everyone operated accordingly, what would the shape of society be?

YMIHere: So what moral system should everything be based on?

KP: Our moral system should reflect the revealed character of God. He is the transcendent and absolute measure of what is objectively good and evil.

YMIHere: ok.

KP: I'd love to continue this but I have to get going. If you'd like, we can pick this back up when next we're on.

YMIHere: OK. I'd like to continue too. Bye.

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