Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Sophomoric Relativism of Today's 20-Somethings

In my MCCC Logic class tonight I taught on Vaughn's excellent treatment of the "subjectivist fallacy." I always feel, when I teach this to today's 20-somethings, that I am speaking from another planet. That's because subjective relativism is huge in our culture, and European culture for that matter (see Marcello Pera here).

Now I'm home, and browsing my favorite websites. One is James K.A. Smith's Fors Clavigera. I'm reminded that the best book I've read in 2010 is Smith's brilliant presentation of a pentecostal epistemology in Thinking in Tongues.

Here Smith connects Christian Smith's National Study of Youth and Religion and David Brooks's The Social Animal. J.K.A. Smith writes: "What both [Christian] Smith and Brooks take to be disheartening is the sophomoric relativism of people in their twenties ("That might be true for you, but..."), their functional individualism about morality ("I personally don't think you should..."), and a general loss of virtue." So true...

What's the solution? James Smith thinks Christian Smith's emphasis on more teaching for young people is insufficient. "What is really needed is the education of their loves, and that, as Brooks himself knows, takes practice: it takes the ethos of a community with embodied rituals and practices that inscribe virtue--not just the intellectual capacity to parse some moral dilemma, but the wants that pull us toward ends that are good (see The Social Animal, pp. 111-112)."

I agree.

I just thought of something Linda and I experienced way back in the 80s. I was on a committee at Michigan State University that brought in famous religious authors. One year we had the great Jewish novelist and thinker Chaim Potok. We had dinner with him, and I'll never forget him affirming the Jewishness of Linda. We followed him to East Lansing High School, where he spoke to an auditorium full of students on his writing and more. Potok was talking about the place of ethics and morals in his books. In a Q&A one student asked, "Mr. Potok, I don't have any morals. Where can I get them?" His answer was brilliant: "Find a family that has morals and hang around them." Or, as Smith (via Brooks) says, attach yourself to a community that embodies rituals and practices that inscribe virtue.

Build authentic, value-laden community and invite others in. This is the answer to today's rampant relativism.