As our nation once again reels in shock from the most recent mass shootings, we find ourselves pondering the question, “why?” As we pray for victims and their families, we may feel a sense of relief that it wasn’t our community or our friends and may even find ourselves fighting off that little voice that creeps in saying, “next time it could be…”
Given the current political landscape, of course, the pundits and pollsters quickly turn to “using” these tragedies for political gain, attempting to assign blame to politicians, policies or parties. Being a bit on the cynical side myself, I question the sincerity of many in truly wanting to find solutions as I feel many just want to appear as though they are trying to do so.
Still, the reality is that these events cast shadows of fear. These events further crack the armor of safety we try to surround our children with. These events further confuse and befuddle our young people who already are faced with a disconnected, disjointed and, in many ways, confused culture that seems to have lost all sense of right and wrong. This, I submit to you, is what underlies these tragedies. The moral compass of our society has gone astray. Boundaries of right and wrong have been blurred or eradicated. What was once good and sacred is now the object of scorn and ridicule. What was once forbidden has become celebrated. Our modern society has, to a high degree, adopted the religion of moral relativism.
Moral relativism is the absence of moral norms. Moral relativism gives us terms such as “your truth” and “my truth” as ancient philosophers and theologians roll, collectively, in their graves and our Lord weeps. Moral relativism reinforces the belief that it is in fact my birthright to do “what I want, when I want and how I want.” Moral relativism permits individuals to question any and all authority for, after all, who’s to say what is right and wrong.
This moral relativism, the untethering of culture from any norms of behavior, morality or decency, is what has led us to the devaluing of life. Yes, the proliferation and current celebration of abortion is part of this equation. Moral relativism has led us to reject the theological and biological realities of human identity. Moral relativism has led to the decay of the belief in the sanctity of marriage. C.S Lewis once said, “moral relativism will certainly damn our souls and end our species.” His logic was sound. Without right and wrong there is no sin. Without sin, there is no need of repentance. Without repentance, there is no need of a Savior.
In the midst of this moral quagmire are our children. They should be faced with the simple challenges of adolescence that we faced: “Will I make the team? Will my lab partner be cute? Will I get into my favorite college? Will I get a pimple on picture day?” Instead, they are faced with a culture that questions the very foundations of existence as it casts aside any concept of the sacred or the eternal and focuses solely on the immediate. “I want, what I want, when I want it, without consequence or question.” This is the religion of the day. Add to all of this the pressures of social media, the never-ending quest for “likes” and the perceived need to portray a perfect life, and it is no wonder so many have lost their way and feel more disconnected than ever, despite the ability to communicate globally in an instant. Personal relationships have been replaced by pixels; handshakes have been replaced by hashtags. Friends have been replaced by followers.
The result is multitudes of young people drifting aimlessly in culture that is racing fast towards nowhere. As to shootings, if there is indeed no purpose to life, no right or wrong, nor any inherent value in life, then why not? Thirty years ago, a survey of young people found that the most prevalent life goal was to make a difference. Today, it is to be famous.
What can we do? Who can reverse this trend? Who will stand in the gap? Who will stem the tide of relativism? Who will offer an alternative?
The Catholic school.
Within the walls of the Catholic school there is something being instilled in young people to combat all of this darkness that seeks to surround them: perspective. If there is no meaning to life and if there are no moral norms and if we are just the result of a cosmological freak accident, then we would be right to seek only what we want, and others be damned. But this is not the case.
Students in the Catholic school learn of the unconditional love of an almighty Father. Students in the Catholic school develop and grow in a personal relationship with the Savior that they all need – Jesus Christ. Students in a Catholic school are inspired by the Paraclete – the Counselor – the spiration of the love between the Father and Son – The Holy Spirit. Students in a Catholic school learn who they are and whose they are. They learn that life has meaning. They learn that their lives, individually and collectively, have meaning, dignity and purpose. They encounter the sacred, the holy and the divine. They learn the value of service to others because of our commonality as children of God. They learn that right and wrong do exist, not as ways to cramp a lifestyle but as a roadmap for decency, discipleship and holiness. They learn the value of sacrifice and the grace of suffering. They learn that yes; they are their brother’s and sister’s keeper. They learn the unbreakable bond of our shared humanity as unique creations of a loving God. As a result, they walk confidently, serve graciously, love deeply, live faithfully and treat all whom they encounter as fellow pilgrims on the journey home.
Me thinks the world could do with a bit more of this …
Thomas S. Fertal is principal of St. Mark’s High School in Wilmington.