The mob that hounded [Google engineer James] Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses. We all have our theories about why these moral crazes are suddenly so common. I’d say that radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general is producing intense anxiety. Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos.
I find this insightful and accurate. There is an absolutist moralism in the social media air in which my generation (and those behind us, such as college students) live which doesn’t jive well with the laissez faire relativism they otherwise embrace.
It is customary to call people who embrace absolutist morals “fundamentalists” (David Brooks has done something like it himself). But let me observe something about the Christian fundamentalists I have known: the mature ones have thought carefully, over years, about where to stand under pressure and where to give a little. Or even a lot. It is precisely my access to an ultimate standard in Scripture that gives me that freedom, because that standard is not equally specific regarding every moral question: men are told not to lust after women (I’d say that’s specific), but they are given pretty wide latitude as to which women they can marry (following certain general principles). The Bible also weighs different commands differently: justice, mercy, and faithfulness are more important than giving God a portion of your spices (Matt 23:23). A wise Christian decision-maker has his or her “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14).
I know the delicious moral feeling of purging evil from my community; but I’m not drunk by it (and I don’t say it’s a good thing) because I also by God’s grace know the painful moral feeling of purging evil from myself. I will sometimes stand firmly on certain points where my culture is demanding I give (the immorality of homosexual acts and desires); I will sometimes see both sides of an argument my culture demands I stand firm on (my current position, barring further research, on anthropogenic climate change). All because I don’t need a moral crusade to give me the illusion of solid ground. I have a firm foundation.
SJWs are like my little girl, at age four and one week, riding her two-wheeler bike for the first time. She’d gotten it on her birthday and one of the training wheels had fallen off. I noticed she was riding just fine, so I took off the other one. It was crazily hilarious to watch this tiny person barreling around the driveway with wobbly joy. But in order for her to stay balanced she had to ride fast—no, faster. That’s the feeling I get from the Evergreen State College students and other SJWs: they can’t pause to ask what the effects of their actions will be on themselves and on their beloved institutions and ideals; they’ve just got to keep going lest they fall over and lose the comforting sense of moral balance a headlong righteous crusade gives them. I don’t read anything from the alt-right; I don’t get them at all. But I wonder if the same thing isn’t going on in their world: they are desperate to find a group, a cause which will give them identity and purpose. In place of Christianity in America has arisen not a world of light and freedom but of rival religions.
Good old Chesterton will take us out today:
The nineteenth century decided to have no religious authority. The twentieth century seems disposed to have any religious authority.