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Natural Law: The Hope for Solid Footing in a Sea of Objectivity

In his new book Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Christian Smith writes:

“[W]hen we interviewers tried to get respondents to talk about whether what they take to be substantive moral beliefs reflect some objective or universal quality or standard [or] are simply relative human inventions, many if not most could not understand what we interviewers were trying to get at.”

That is, not only are they moral relativists, they can’t conceive of a moral system that does not depend entirely on individual judgments. The implications of this level of subjectivism for American religion and the American republic are significant and disturbing since this makes meaningful consensus nearly impossible.

At the same time, Smith’s research provides critical insights to equip us to bring about change.

In researching the book, Smith, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, and his team conducted thousands of surveys and hundreds of one-on-one interviews with emerging adults, ages eighteen to twenty-four.

Respondents came from a wide variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds yet common traits quickly emerged particularly their extreme subjective individualism. Smith notes that most emerging adults find it “hard to see an objective reality beyond the self.”

Almost every other discovery Smith and his colleagues made about the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults follows from that starting point.

  • When asked for the basis of his religious and moral beliefs, one respondent, expressing a common theme, said, “Myself” it really comes down to that. I mean how could there be authority to what you believe? If nothing is objectively true and you pick and choose what “works for you” from the religious and moral smorgasbord.
  • In the middle of explaining that for religious reasons she does not believe in cohabitation before marriage, a young evangelical woman, who is devoted to gospel missionary work overseas, interrupted herself with this observation, “I don’t know. I think everyone is different so I don’t think [cohabitation before marriage] would work for me, but it could work for someone else.”
  • The majority of those interviewed stated that “nobody has any natural or general responsibility or obligation to help other people.” Taking care of other people in need is an individual choice “…Nobody can blame people who won’t help others. They are innocent of any guilt, respondents said, if they ignore other people in need.

While there is something to be said for consistency, healthy political engagement requires a commitment to a coherent set of ideas and values coupled with a conviction that those ideas are true. If emerging adults lack basic convictions about right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice, they are ill equipped to engage in public discourse regardless of their age. –This excerpt is taken from an article by Dr. James Tonkowich, commenting upon the book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith as submitted here by Mark Zaveson, 4.28.10


For there is no partiality with God.

For as many as have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and as many as have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law (for not the hearers of the Law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the Law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things contained in the Law, these, although not having the Law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

(Romans 2: 11 – 16)


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