NYT columnist David Brooks thinks that the social pressures governing life on American college campuses are overwhelming:
· "When a moral crusade spreads across campus, many students feel compelled to post in support of it on Facebook within minutes. If they do not post, they will be noticed and condemned." (NYT, 3/15/16)
Brooks is convinced that the social pressures are greater when the standards are always shifting:
· "Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along."
Brooks believes that the college student can find a greater measure of stability by basing their identity on values that are “more permanent”:
· "If we’re going to avoid a constant state of anxiety, people’s identities have to be based on standards of justice and virtue that are deeper and more permanent than the shifting fancy of the crowd. In an era of omnipresent social media, it’s probably doubly important to discover and name your own personal True North, vision of an ultimate good, which is worth defending even at the cost of unpopularity and exclusion."
However, on today’s college campus, imbued with moral relativism (MR), this has become difficult. For one thing, MR is attractive for the very reason that it is dangerous. It tells the students that they are in charge – the captain of their own ships. They can decide what is right for themselves. If it feels right to them, no one can objectively tell them that it is wrong. Consequently, the college campus celebrates any and all forms of sexual expression.
Brooks understandably ennobles that idea of finding “standards of justice and virtue that are deeper and more permanent than the shifting fancy of the crowd.” However, he wrongly associates these “more permanent” values with finding “your own personal True North.”
He is sending out contradictory signals – double messages. While on the one hand, he seems to recommend basing our values on what is objective and unchanging, but Brooks then suggests that we have to find our own personal subjective values. If our values are subjective, they will be as flimsy and impermanent as the university values that he derides. Also, they will be no less vulnerable to social pressure than the values they already possess.
Instead, in order to stand against the social pressures, we need to know that our values are objective, coming from above, and therefore are unchanging. It is only when we know this that we can stand against the tsunami of peer pressure and public opinion.
If we are going to resist persecution, it is not enough to know that we are standing upon our own “True North.” Jesus had recently suffered the worst imaginable death and His disciples were brought before the governing body – the Sanhedrin - that had earlier turned Him over to the Romans and demanded His death. Besides, these Apostles were also uneducated men, but when they were commanded to no longer speak of Jesus, they surprised the Sanhedrin with their courage:
· But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32; ESV)
The Apostles were able to withstand the threats and pressures because they were convinced that they were standing upon God’s own “True North,” not on their own values or fleeting sense of dignity.