A recent op-ed by David Brooks brought my attention to a study conducted by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and some of his colleagues — the results of which have been published in a book entitled Lost in Transition¬†that found that young adults are bad at “thinking and talking about moral issues,” as Brook puts it.

I presented Brooks’ piece to a couple of classes I teach at a small Christian college and asked the students to read it and respond. Without exception, they confirmed Smith’s thesis. Even in their attempts to show evidence that contradicts the assertion that their generation views morality as personal and subjective, based on feeling, and nontransferable to others, the language they used betrayed their foundational belief that morality is in fact a personal matter.

Brooks does not put the blame on young people for this shortcoming, but rather sees older generations as responsible. He writes, “Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions.”

These “institutions” include the church. Evangelicals in particular, and the mega churches their movement spawned, are absolutely guilty of propagating extreme individualism. They “modernized” the gospel in such a way that gave us a “personal savior” found only by praying a “sinner’s prayer.” Now, when I ask students raised in these churches how they make moral decisions, they talk about what feels right or, in spiritual terms, how the spirit leads them.

I intend to explore this a bit more in-depth and publish my thoughts in my Patheos column next week, but I’d be interested to hear what readers think? Do you see this? Do you see a solution?

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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