Sunday, November 06, 2011

Looking for moral vacuums

Check the mirror, Katie

The moral of Katherine Kersten's current, venomous and cretinous column in the Star Tribune is that bullying is caused by young people growing up in a moral vacuum:
A new book -- "Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood" -- sheds light on why bullying may be on the rise. In 2008, the authors, sociologist Christian Smith and his team, asked 230 young Americans -- 18 to 23 years old -- open-ended questions about how they make moral decisions and think about the meaning of life.

The answers reveal that many of today's young people live in what amounts to a moral vacuum. The vocabulary of right and wrong, of good and evil, has little meaning for them. On the contrary, they are relativists, who view morality as "a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision," in the authors' words.

Why should we be surprised, then, if our children have no sense of obligation to others, and fail to act with kindness, respect or empathy? Since they have no moral compass, they base their behavior on their personal feelings-- that is, on whether an act seems to enhance their happiness, pleasure or self-interest.
Here, by the way, is what Amazon says about the author, or one of them, anyway:
Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, Director of the Notre Dame Center for Social Research, Principal Investigator of the National Study of Youth and Religion, and Principal Investigator of the Science of Generosity Initiative. His books include Souls in Transition (with P. Snell); Moral, Believing Animals; and Soul Searching (with M.L. Denton).
What we have here -- naturally -- is another one of Kersten's book reports. She uses the book to make the point that we need to return to the timeless precepts of religion, rather than relying on law, to handle the bullying issue.

What makes this particular column so utterly offensive is the kind of bullying she uses as an example: the bullying -- literally to death -- of gay teenagers, or even teenagers suspected of being gay, in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. The school district's "neutrality" policy on gay bullying is well known.

The problem is not a moral vacuum in the Anoka-Hennepin district; the problem is a surfeit of moralism about protecting the right of a teenager to tell his classmate that he is going to hell. And all the people who want to keep it that way are part of Kersten's crowd: the Catholic church and evangelicals like Tom Pritchard, the Holy Bully, and the hair-metal preacher, Bradlee Dean, all opponents of comprehensive anti-bully legislation in Minnesota.

The truth of this was recently thrown into sharp relief in Michigan where the Republican-controlled state senate inserted a clause into an anti-bullying bill:
The bill lays out what exactly constitutes bullying, but in one key part it says that the legislation does not prohibit First Amendment rights, and “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil’s parent or guardian.”
Kersten's exhortation to return to the Bible isn't going to solve anti-gay bullying; it will increase it.

But you see, Kersten believes that the Bible is always the solution, even when it, or certainly a literal interpretation of it, is the problem.

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