Why are secular activists increasingly hostile toward those who express moral views?
When you get down to the issue of what really counts in the ethics courses I teach, everyone just burns to be good. If you suggest they are not good, you’ve got a fight on your hands immediately. And when they fail in their own eyes, there is a tremendous sense of shame and loss.
Some secularists suggest that no one should be told that they are wrong.
This happens in the classroom all the time. Anything that calls someone’s ideas or standards into question is immediately responded to as an attack and unfair.
Once I was speaking and used abortion as an illustration of something that no one would regard as intrinsically good. That is, it’s not something that you would be thankful for. No one would say, “Isn’t it wonderful that we have abortions?” One woman came out of her skin and would not let it go. Days after that when I would meet her in the university setting, we went over that again and again because she could not hear anything but that I was condemning abortion. She was so hostile that she couldn’t hear what I was saying or grasp the point I was trying to make.
What ideas seem to be influencing society?
There are only two values recognized in our culture as unquestionable: freedom and happiness. Those are the nice words for it. That translates into impulse and pleasure—doing what you want to, liberation from all restraints that you don’t agree to. When you start fighting the battles over homosexuality and abortion, you have to understand that they go back to these values.
The 1960s were a rebellion against anything other than pleasure. If religion wants back in, it has to come in that way. In earlier times the pursuit of God was part of happiness. It was God, self-denial, discipline. Your feelings and desires were regarded as potentially dangerous and not to be trusted. Now it’s flipped around and they say, “just fulfill them.”
But it doesn’t take long to figure out that you cannot follow pleasure and succeed in life.
Give an example.
There’s a new saying going around—“Follow your bliss.” Well, your bliss will probably destroy you. I have a solution for AIDS. Don’t use drugs, and don’t engage in sex with anyone but a lifetime partner who doesn’t have AIDS. We could shut it out in one generation if people would simple do that. But that’s not the message we want to hear.
Look at our large companies. Of course, much of the failure is a lack of vision at the top of business and government leaders, but it’s primarily a matter of simply not having people at work who put their best into making a product. If you’re pursuing pleasure, you cannot be a person who gives your very best to produce the best product, because that will certainly not be what gives you the most pleasure.
That’s also part of the reason that when you go to prison nowadays, you don’t suffer as much as you used to. You are given things that allow you to carry on with life as usual. We don’t really punish people because punishment itself is bad. Why? Because it’s against pleasure. The infliction of pain is regarded by many people as a horrendous evil.
Even when you evaluate workers at a company, if you say negative things, you are going to inflict pain on them. And if you do that, they may just decide to sue you. So what are you going to do? You’re going to do what a grade school teacher on our news program here said the other day. She said, “I’m not going to give a failing grade to a student who’s apt to come in the next day and shoot me.”
Was last fall’s presidential election any sort of cultural indicator?
Voting is a pretty superficial behavior. When people vote, they do not necessarily follow their deepest convictions. And people are not necessarily going to vote the way they talk. Their vote is based more on the way they are manipulated by the political process. For example, such a big deal was made of the whole business about change. But change is not necessarily good.
What can the church do to help turn things around?
The most important place for the church to start is the basic message of salvation. The reason Christians are vulnerable to the secularized version of life is because they see the gospel as dealing only with death and the afterlife. The message is, “If you will trust Jesus and His death for you, then when you die you will go to heaven.” That is not the gospel that Jesus preached. He preached a gospel for life. He said, Come now and live by faith in Christ in the kingdom of God. We have to have a gospel for life and not just a gospel for death.
The next question is, How do you do it? Here again, Jesus is the teacher. We follow His practices. They are the disciplines for the spiritual life. Jesus spent long times with His Father. He guarded His privacy and stayed out of temptation. His mind was soaked with the Scripture. If just the evangelicals in the country would begin to follow Jesus in His practices, trusting Him in that way, you’d see everything we’ve talked about turn around.
What about politics?
If we can make a difference in politics, we should do it. But we can do more if we also focus on the church, then private associations and professions. We have Christians in the legal system, in journalism, in the arts, in government. They are the ones to lead the way toward righteousness. If that is effectively done, the work that remains, in terms of legislation and political leadership, will be rather small, and we will have the resources to get it done.
How do we clear up the confusion?
We need evangelical truth squads that expose bad ideas and bad reporting. What I’m thinking of here is specialists conducting a high-level kind of investigation. Their work should be as good as 60 Minutes, embarrassing people if necessary if they won’t talk to you. We need writers good enough to be published in Atlantic Monthly.
Our best tool is the truth, but we cannot rely on others to use it. Educational institutions will become increasingly debased. The same applies to the media. It’s up to the church to pursue the truth.