The Trouble with Moral Ambiguity

slipperyWARNING: Rant Ahead!

Every now and again something outrageous happens that pierces the dense layers covering the moral ambiguity of everyday life. An event captures our collective attention and we find ourselves in a daze, wondering, WHAT just happened? HOW did it happen? We are incredulous because the event shocks our sense of balance and justice and even our innate sense of what’s “right” and “just” and “decent”.  Just when we think that nothing would surprise us…

But of course these events don’t “just happen”. They are the result of diverse forces rippling – often – just under the surface of public (and private) life. And once a news story erupts and our attention is drawn to the moral unraveling of our society, you don’t have to be a Pollyanna to confess that much of what seems to be commonplace is actually quite offensive… when we think about it in the light of day.  And if we’re honest, we recognize that the proverbial canary hasn’t been seen outside the mine shaft for a good long time!

The Saint Mary’s University frosh week chant is a case in point. Unless you’ve been in blackout mode or visiting a distant planet over the past few weeks I assume you know what I mean. Videos on tv and the internet capture the moments when frosh week leaders teach this year’s crop of incoming SMU students (freshmen and freshwomen?) through their paces, coaching them in a chant which boldly and proudly promotes non-consensual underage sex… aka RAPE.

You might be among the many millions of Canadians who wondered, is this for real? How could this happen? Who ARE these young people?

I think the answers to these questions are pretty clear. The short answers are YES, it is definitely and sadly REAL. It happens because we have lost our moral bearings. Public (and private) morality is in free fall, untethered from any solid foundation. And WHO are they? These young people are our sons and daughters, our grandchildren – the children of our friends and neighbours. They are our beloved flesh and blood.  If  you think I’m wrong – that your own child would never be part of such a thing – well, I hope that you’re right but I suspect that the parents of those young campus leaders are more than a little bit shocked to see their sons and daughters not only participating, but leading in these activities…

There is a connection between the SMU chant (and not just the chant but the fact that it’s been used for years and that organizers “didn’t realize” that it’s inappropriate!), the tragic deaths by suicide of young people who have been victims of various forms of violence, tv shows like Gossip Girls and Jersey Shore, the youth (alcohol, drug and sex) culture, the break-down of the family, and the obsession our society has with individual rights. All of these are connected.

Of course there’s also what can only be summarized as “the decline of traditional values” where traditional values include such things as respect, trustworthiness, caring, honesty, integrity, purity, loyalty, fidelity, and so on. I know that I’m beginning to sound a bit shrill and, well, old… But frankly, I’m feeling compelled to go down the mine shaft and bring that poor canary out to see if it can’t yet be revived!

And by this I don’t mean to promote a pendulum swing back to a radical neo-conservatism. Let’s remember that prohibition has never been a successful strategy for moral reform. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who had a code of conduct which they thought was beyond reproach but which had no room for God’s grace. So I’m not advocating for a rigid fundamentalism. But surely we’ve lost our way as a society when an assumption of sexual entitlement makes it seem ok for both men and women to accept – and actively promote – a rape culture… and all that goes with it.  And is it possible that our own values – our sense of what is ethical and right – have become skewed by the tremendous pull of so called “secular” values? Have we become a little too comfortable with the patterns of this world?

Lest you think that I’m going too far… hear me when I say that there ARE lots of young people who are not living down to these expectations. I know that there are young men and women who are living thoughtful and authentic lives – young adults who know that this chant and the culture it promotes are totally repugnant.  But moral ambiguity is indeed a slippery slope for any society that loses its way.

What to do? Let’s start by talking about this culture and its dangers for all of us, men and women alike. And let’s model a way of life that celebrates the qualities that we most long to see in our children and grandchildren – starting with honesty and integrity.  There are principalities and powers at work in our world that delight in evil – this is nothing new. Nor is it cause for despair. Romans 12:17-21 gives us this counsel:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Could it be any clearer than that?

Photo Credit: http://i97.photobucket.com/albums/l208/damunky/Fallacies/slippery.gif