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If It Feels Right


GeorgeW
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David Brooks, a center-right columnist with the NYTimes, has an interesting Op-ed today about the decline of moral judgements among the youth. If anyone is interested:

 

http://www.nytimes.c...s-right.html?hp

 

He concludes with the following:

 

"In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart."

 

This begs the question as to whether the decline in church attendance is related to this phenomenon. In a more secular world, should other institutions fill the void?

 

George

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230 18-23 year olds? To me thats not a very good cross section and i can remember myself at that age. Confused and not yet clear in my values except for some programmed judgements with little thought or thinking done on my own. While there are of course some in that age bracket who really have it together, i see them as a small minority.There is just not a whole lot of that age bracket that has really thought things out yet to anwser some of the open ended questions that appear to have been posed to them. In my experience, that is in general, a very awkward time in ones life.

 

Joseph

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My question is.... Has morality really declined? By whose standard? We may think we were more moral in our younger days because most all attended church but i remmeber those days when it was common to look down on blacks as sub-human and rerquire them to drink from a different fountain and use different bathrooms, beat your wife and kids and police would look the other way, gay bashing was an accepted norm, driving drunk was no big deal, and woodstock values were not limited to that one festival, police took bribes and so did politicians but that kind of news didn't travel fast, etc. etc.

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Joseph,

 

I feel like there is a higher level of acceptance of cheating (exams, taxes, speed limits, etc.) and fudging the truth than there has been in the past.

 

I think judgments tend to be more pragmatic (cost-benefit analysis) than principled. And, the cost benefit analysis is at the individual level more than community.

 

George

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George,

 

It does appear that way but even though in my days young people and our parents knew the 10 commandments, all the same things and worse went on, regardless of appearances, at least in my neighborhood, I see the level of consciousness of people now above that which was 40 years ago. Religion itself does not in my view, make people more moral. it only makes them think so. While we as society may have a long way yet to go, i think it is getting better, not worse, as a whole, on an individual level.

 

Joseph

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As for the validity of the study, the standard at most universities for this kind of research is a randomly selected group of at least 200.

 

The results are pretty much as I would expect. In the age group of 18-23, the last of four surges of neuron growth takes place in the brain, this one centered in the regions involving moral reasoning and judgement. A better approach might be a longitudinal study that tracks these same individuals over several decades.

 

Myron

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Morality is a system of principles that guides us to survive and thrive as individuals. Life is the primary value that it achieves, with all other values subservient to that. Individually, it seems to me, we each place our own life at the apex of this hierarchy of values...

 

Perhaps the writers conclusion "Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart." may be an accurate accessment.

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I have to agree with Joseph and Myron about the unreliability of the studied age group as any indicator of society as a whole.

 

And i have to both agree and disaggree with both Joseph and George...I think the areas of expression of strengths and weakness of morality in the two eras compared are more "different" than more or less moral.

 

As for pragmatism, cost vs benefit analysis, being more in evidence today than a few years ago, again i think we are looking at simply difference, rather than a more or less thing. First, I think what often passes for pragmatism, in the past and the present, is less an actual cost vs benefit analysis, than it is a rather short-sighted instant gratification judgement. Whether today or half a century ago, common behavioral choices conform to what seems most advantagous to our personal desires at the moment. In the past, social conformity had a much greater obvios pay-off than it does today. The long term or far reaching consequences are seldom considered, I think.

 

As to whether any of this relates to declining church attendance, I don't think we can escape that it does, but not neccessarily connected to 'declining' moral values. Again, I see more a difference in nature than decline/increase in values. The cultural trend away from the importance of conformity and acceptance within "group" seems to me must affect such things as concern for any group connection, including church.

 

What has brought this trend away from the importance of connectedness within group has been shifts in many areas, that are part and parcel with modernity. People are not so much tied by practical elements to dependence upon group, whether its family, church, or community. In our society today, people no longer routinely continue to live out their lives, generation after generation, within the same small community or region. Extrended multigenerational families no longer remain in "blocks" within a close area, with close and regular personal contact and interaction.

 

In some ways, it can be hard to tell if corresponding changes within churches and church communties have come about merely as a consequence, or if church has actually contribuuted to these changes. I know that as a child, the prevailing concept of family as extended family was very much evident within church as I experienced it, as well. Today, the prevailing defining view of family in the church is that of "one man, one woman, and their offspring." The prevailing view even within the church seems to have shifted from "extended family" as the "unit" of what we call family, to that of the isolated "one man, one woman" unit. Children growing up in these isolated "one man, one woman, and their offspring" family units are surely not going to develop the sense ofconnectedness within or importance of "group", of those a couple generations ago.

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As someone whose research was often reported and commented on, I would have to read the original research before reaching my own definite conclusions. Reporters, who are supposed to be neutral, generally aren't and will report things out of context to prove a point. That was my experience.

 

Having said that, however, I can only – again – comment on this from my experience. First of all, I agree that the 18-23 age group can be kind of, shall we say, strange in their views on morality. B) I think that is especially so for college students because they are suddenly bombarded with new information as well as being immersed in the campus culture, making decisions on their own without parental guidance. Also, most college students I knew had a crisis of faith at some point during those years.

 

Secondly, if I compare my 6-12 education with that of my older siblings, I know I was not taught to think and reason the same way they were. I won't say one way is better than the other.

 

Finally, our culture in the U.S., especially the media directed toward this age group, portrays a decidedly amoral “ideal”. TV shows like “Bad Girls Club”, “Bridezillas”, and a host of other so-called reality shows seem to hold up for applause behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing, physical violence, and a plethora of misbehavior, and its called entertainment.

 

Is the next generation becoming immoral or amoral? I really don't think so. Having worked in higher education for years (and recently), I saw students whose behavior and values ran the gambit from borderline psychopath to Ghandi-esque. The same behaviors and probably in the same proportions as I see in the older adult population. Young adults are just slightly more obvious about it. :P

Edited by Yvonne
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Two very good points, Yvonne, even more so that young people in that age group are not representative of the population as a whole, neither are college students representative of the whole of that age group.

 

And there can be no discounting the influence and effects of what is in media and entertainment-- tv, movies, music, etc- and that is very definitely different, vastly, from what someone in my own or even my children's age group were exposed to and influenced by. There does of course arise the question, is tv movies, music etc, mirroring culture, or is culture mirroring them...I tend to grant more to the latter.

 

Jenell

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My question is.... Has morality really declined? By whose standard? We may think we were more moral in our younger days because most all attended church but i remmeber those days when it was common to look down on blacks as sub-human and rerquire them to drink from a different fountain and use different bathrooms, beat your wife and kids and police would look the other way, gay bashing was an accepted norm, driving drunk was no big deal, and woodstock values were not limited to that one festival, police took bribes and so did politicians but that kind of news didn't travel fast, etc. etc.

Joseph,

 

These are good points. It is clear that social awareness and acceptance of the Other is higher today than in the past: Racism is much less prominent, homophobia is in retreat, there is less sexism. These are definitely positive trends.

 

On the other hand, basic values like honesty are, I think, less influential in society. I think there is also, as suggested by Brooks, more individualism and less communitarianism.

 

George

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As someone whose research was often reported and commented on, I would have to read the original research before reaching my own definite conclusions. Reporters, who are supposed to be neutral, generally aren't and will report things out of context to prove a point [. . .]

 

 

Finally, our culture in the U.S., especially the media directed toward this age group, portrays a decidedly amoral “ideal”. TV shows like “Bad Girls Club”, “Bridezillas”, and a host of other so-called reality shows seem to hold up for applause behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing, physical violence, and a plethora of misbehavior, and its called entertainment.

Yvonne,

 

These are good points. One should read the study rather than accept or reject it based on reports about it.

 

Also, I think the media does present more bad behavior in an acceptable light than in the past. The White Hats and Black Hats are not so clear. There may be a dynamic in which entertainment both reflects and influences cultural values.

 

I wonder if there is a change in moral values (and I think there is), if urbanization could be a factor. It could well influence positively our attitudes about others (see race, homophobia, etc.). But, it may also immunize us more against moral transgressions such as dishonesty. An urbanite would not be held up to the same community standards and scrutiny as a ruralite. Reputation would not be as important in one's life.

 

George

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I would agree with much of your observations about the blurring ofthe distinction between "white hats" and "black hats", but I can also see some positive potential in that.

 

Having entered adulthood conditioned on both "white hats"/"black hats". as well as a socio-religious culture of "saints/sinners". I faltered BADLY for my unpreparedness in distinguishing "the good guys" from the "bad guys." I had to suffer the consequences of some awful mistakes in judgement of others' character, and work very hard to learn to see, and accept, others as well as myself as being simply human, all with our own set of strengths and weaknesses, rightness and error, lovable and not so lovable traits and characteristics.

 

I think my own experience in that is one that has affected many, both individually, and shapiing changes in society as a whole. In my own personal working through those things, I often struggled with going off into the opposite ditch, being too accepting, too tolerant, of bad behaviors of others, not taking a stand for my own or other's rights and best interests when I should have. I truly had to struggle with overcoming a very disfunctional set of personal core values in my relationships with others---I had to learn such things as that I am no better than anyone else also means that no one else is any better than I am, others have no right to expect me to accept treatment they would not accept themselves, and that others have no right to do to me or anyone what I would know was wrong to do to them or others. I have also had to struggle with trust issues, the consequences of naive trust, having that trust betrayed and broken, and finding a comfortable middle point between vulnerable naive trust, too-trusting, trusting too easily, and the opposite, becoming suspicious, cynical, even bitter...to be honest, I even still struggle with that. Much of my life others have admired, and I've been proud of, my strength, resilency, and independence...I did not recognize myself until these later years, how much that was rooted in my underlying trust issues. In many of my personal relationnships, I've been very much with one foot in the relationship, the other planted firmly on solid ground outside that relationship, ready to stand on my own, get both feet back under me, and hit the ground running if/when the other lets me down.

 

So perhaps what I had to grow through personally is.a process our society in general is having to grow through. Growth often does comes through a process of struggles through pendulum swings before a point of balance is found.

 

Jenell

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Jenell,

 

What bothers me the most is what I perceive to be a degradation in the basic value of honesty. This is something that I have observed before this article was written, so I may be committing 'confirmation bias,' but I don't think so.

 

I also don't think that this change is limited to the 18-23 age group of college students (an over tested demographic for obvious reasons). I have observed this more broadly. Also, as far as I can tell, the particular study cited (along with the other related studies and books mentioned) did, not compare the results with earlier periods. So, any suggested change in values over time is simply my personal observation. (And, I try to avoid a 'what's-wrong- with-those-kids-today' kind of reaction).

 

As some of you have pointed out, there are broader and more nuanced interpretations of what is occurring in our society which includes some very positive developments. And, some of the White Hats can rightly be challenged as to their moral standing. War heroes, as an example, can be seen as either white hat or black depending on one's perspective.

 

George

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What bothers me the most is what I perceive to be a degradation in the basic value of honesty.

George

 

I agree completely. There is also a tremendous lack of consideration and courtesy. People of all ages, but particularly young adults are increasingly unbelievably rude, boorish, and obscene.

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Finally, our culture in the U.S., especially the media directed toward this age group, portrays a decidedly amoral “ideal”. TV shows like “Bad Girls Club”, “Bridezillas”, and a host of other so-called reality shows seem to hold up for applause behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing, physical violence, and a plethora of misbehavior, and its called entertainment.

 

 

I don't see how the media on American TV is any less immoral than previous cultures. Is some of it trashy? Sure, but all times and cultures have had their "trashy" entertainment and their "wholesome" entertainment. In ancient Rome, they had the coliseums where audiences cheered as people fought for their lives. In the middle ages, Christians had Passion Plays which would encourage Christians to go out and beat up the Jews for committing "deicide" against Jesus. The content of the bible isn't much cleaner than anything on MTV and if I was given a choice between Britney Spears or the pro-genocide passages found in the bible, I would say the latter is more trashier than the former. And I think compared to the coliseums in Roman culture, we've come a long way with how trashy our entertainment is. Also, one thing I've noticed about American culture is that there's a double standard set towards sex in the media that isn't applied to violence. Like when Brokeback Mountain was released in theaters, Christian fundamentalists railed against it for promoting sexual immorality yet they went out in droves to see the Passion of the Christ which essentially turned the crucifixion of Jesus into a snuff flick. Also, speaking as an anime fan, if we compare American TV to Japanese TV, Japanese TV is far more relaxed on their ratings than American culture is. Like in Japan, it's not uncommon for children's anime series to feature violence and death and brief nudity and sexual innuendo. Ironically, Japan is considered to be one of the top most peaceful nations in the world whereas America is much further down on the list even though America's media is still pretty conservative compared to Japan's. Actually, I feel like America could stand to be a little less strict on their entertainment. I find it ridiculous for example that even though nobody bats an eye on seeing black characters in children's cartoons in American TV, there's still tons of outrage at the mere inclusion of gay characters on children's cartoons.

 

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.”
Speaking as the resident young college person here, why is rejecting blind deference to authority a bad thing? It's because people blindly follow their preachers without thinking for themselves that gay rights continues to be an issue in America or why women are having their abortion rights stripped away from them. In fact I think more people should question authority instead of just blindly accepting whatever Jerry Fallwell or whoever says about gays. Imagine if people thought for themselves instead of blindly following Bush when he chose to invade Iraq and what kind of mess we could have avoided. I also don't know why it's wrong to make moral judgments based on whether or not it makes you feel good. Whether we realize it or not, I think most everybody makes moral judgments based on whether or not it makes you feel good. You don't refrain from touching a hot stove because God told you it was a sin. You don't touch the hot stove because it would burn you and hurt you painfully if you touch it. The whole principle behind the Golden Rule is you don't treat others badly because you wouldn't like it if they treated you badly and Jesus said the Golden Rule was more important than all the laws and the prophets. Even fundamentalist Christians make their moral decisions because they want to get into heaven because they don't want to feel pain in hell. I think part of why we have so many problems in society is because we try to over-complicate morality to justify our own prejudices instead of simply putting ourselves into the other person's shoes and considering how we would like it if other people discriminated against us. Maybe there are some complex moral issues that require more thinking beyond the Golden Rule like the trolley dilemma or something, but I think those cases are rather pretty rare and most of our moral choices we make on a daily basis are a lot more simple than we try to make them out to be. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Neon,

 

I would not presume to speak for Yvonne, but when she said "so-called reality shows seem to hold up for applause behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing, physical violence, and a plethora of misbehavior, and its called entertainment," I didn't interpret this to be just trash aversion.

 

Also, I don't think behavior in the Roman Coliseum is a good standard for the level of morality in American entertainment. I would hope we would seek to achieve a much, much higher level. No one is claiming, that all people in the past were paragons of moral behavior. But, some, including me, think there has been a degradation in honesty and the type of behaviors described by Yvonne.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Of course the Roman coliseum isn't exactly the same as American TV but I think the general point remains that all cultures and times have had some form of immoral entertainment and in comparison to what people thought was entertaining in the past, I think we've come along way in progress. And speaking as an 80s baby, the cartoons and kid's movies I grew up with were far more darker and violent than the cartoons on today. Like compare The Secret of Nihm to Spongebob Squarepants for example and which one is more adult?

Edited by Neon Genesis
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I definitely agree on the matter of honesty! Seems anymore I'm finding myself butting heads over it every time I turn around, am deciding I wil do my blood pressure and heart health good, not to mention my mood and attitude, if I start avoiding unnneccesary contact with people of whom I observe seem to not only be dishonest and find it all to easy to let lies fall casually from their lips in any conversation about anything, but who have the attitude I've got a problem if Ihave a problem with it. I sometimes feel "challenged" by such obvious lies, usually of the "serpent's tongue type", a disrespect and slander of someone else on one fork, vain-glory and self- exaltation on the other, that there is a "just dare you to call me a liar" undertone, a belligerance, which of course I usually don't because I figure that's all it would take and the real war would be on and I don't need that to totally ruin my day....and this is as often as not from someone who is the most casual of aquaintance,if even that, all the way to people I've known for years, some I got stuck with by birth-right of my inheritance.

 

But in other contexts, as well, casual openness about cheating, whether on exams or taxes or on their spouse, even, or stealing when they think they can get away with it,...with this "well thats just the way things are", "how everybody is". In fact, I'm learning to pick up that clue, those kinds of words, "well, that's just how people are today", "we all know everybody does it", etc, even when it is not themselves, but others or just things in general they are referring to...what they've just told me is that whatever it is, they are ok with and feel justified doing it themselves..and would just as quick do it to me as anyone.

 

And like the "challenge" I sense mentioned above, about the obvious blatant lies, as if just daring me to say something, call them a liar, a similar attitude related to other kinds of dishonestly. I've had some extremely uncomfortable incidents in which I KNEW someone had stolen, or vandalized, something of mine or another persons, and there was that 'dare you to speak up', dare you to accuse me' attitude...almost as if calling someone out on something like a lie or a theft or something is WORSE than the actual act of the lie or theft! If called out, or reported, THEY are the indignant offended even injured party, and the one that did it out the bad guy...the old school-yard bully thing, you're a "squealer", you "rat people out." When you put it in that frame, it really IS so juvenile!

 

My son observed that the other day, about how terribly so many disrepect and accuse of all kinds of outlandish things with no basis, again mostly obviously absurd lies, President Obama..that it reminds him of a pack of school-yard bullies, and then, others, not wanting to fall under the wrath of the builles themselves, joining in or at least going along with it, or standig back and letting it happen without protest, perhaps pretend they don't see it.

 

I'm suspecting this is just one more manifestation of this wide-spread simmering anger and resentment there seems so much of in our society, just waiting for an opportunity to boil over on someone,anyone.

 

When people I've respected, didn't expect it of, reveal dishonesty, and seem to have a cavalier so-what's wrong with you? defensive posture about it, it is hard for me to know how to react. Some of these actually used to be, or at least I thought they were, pretty decent "normal" people...leaving me to wonder, is this something new in them, or was always there and something has triggered it to become so active now?

 

Jenell

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What does all this mean for Progressive Christians? We have a history. What is the context?

 

I certainly cannot speak for anyone else, but here's my round-about answer to your perfectly good question:

 

When anyone or any group takes steps off the beaten path, whether for better or for worse, people notice and comment. And, not every one who comments agrees on the "for better or for worse" part.

 

Neon, I'm a product of 60's and 70's. Believe me when I say I know the difference between trash and immorality. :rolleyes: I did not always make the correct choices.

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Yvonne wrote: I did not always make the correct choices.

 

I have learned to refer to that as having been blessed with a great many learning opportunities. Sometimes I was pretty dense and slow to get it, had to get the same lessons done over a few times before I got it figured out..

Jenell

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. . . people of whom I observe seem to not only be dishonest and find it all to easy to let lies fall casually from their lips in any conversation about anything, . . . Jenell

This is what I think is so insidious. We, as a society, have come to accept the casual lie. We assume that a company is not telling the whole truth about its product, that a politician is not candid, it is just the way the game is played. How often do ordinary people give a false deadline, a false excuse, make a bogus warranty claim, etc., and do it reflexively without even considering the morality?

 

Yes, I think that personal dishonesty in shading the truth, fudging on taxes and the like is rationalized by the 'everyone-is-doing-it' excuse.

 

This casual dishonesty, I think, erodes the moral fabric of society. As Brooks suggested in the article, morality is often not a factor in the equation.

 

(Sorry for the sermonizing)

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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