Entering the Eternal Kind
Of Life Now
God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique Son among us, so that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God Himself.Life in the Dark
Jesus' good news, then, was that the Kingdom of God had come, and that he, Jesus, was its herald and expounder to men. More than that, in some special, mysterious way, he was the Kingdom.
JESUS: THE MAN WHO LIVES
Recently a pilot was practicing high--speed maneuvers in a jet fighter. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent--and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.
This is a parable of human existence in our times--not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that--but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference--or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.
Rumors from the Intellectual Heights
That suspicion now has the force of unspoken dogma in the highest centers of Western learning. Of course, one has to assume in practice that there is a right-side up, just to get on with life. But it is equally assumed that right-side up is not a subject of knowledge.
Derek Bok was president of Harvard University for many years, and in his "President's Report" for 1986-1987 he referred to some well-known moral failures in financial circles and the political life of the nation. He wondered out loud what universities might do to strengthen moral character in their graduates.
"Religious institutions," he continued, "no longer seem as able as they once were to impart basic values to the young. In these circumstances, universities, including Harvard, need to think hard about what they can do in the face of what many perceive as a widespread decline in ethical standards."'
Bok points out that in other days "the instructors aim was . . . to foster a belief in commonly accepted moral values" (p. 10). Now all is changed: "Today's course in applied ethics does not seek to convey a set of moral truths but tries to encourage the student to think carefully about complex moral issues." One senses that the governing assumption of his discussion is that these two objectives are mutually exclusive.
"The principle aim of the course," Bok continues, "is not to impart 'right answers' but to make the students more perceptive in detecting ethical problems when they arise, better acquainted with the best moral thought that has accumulated through the ages, and more equipped to reason about the ethical issues they will face" (p. 10).
Later he quotes Carol Gilligan to the effect that "moral development in the college years thus centers on the shift from moral ideology to ethical responsibility" (p. 30). One should not miss the point that Bok puts "right answers" in queer quotes, and that Gilligan holds what one has before college to be "ideology"--that is, irrational beliefs and attitudes. They are faithfully expressing the accepted intellectual viewpoint on the common moral beliefs that guide ordinary human existence.
Finally, in coming to the conclusion of his report, President Bok remarks, "Despite the importance of moral development to the individual student and the society, one cannot say that higher education has demonstrated a deep concern for the problem . . . Especially in large universities, the subject is not treated as a serious responsibility worthy of sustained discussion and determined action by the faculty and administration" (p. 31).
But the failure of will on the part of educators that Bok courageously points out is inevitable. Had he strolled across Harvard Yard to Emerson Hall and consulted with some of the most influential thinkers in our nation, he would have discovered that there now is no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based.
There is now not a single moral conclusion about behavior or character traits that a teacher could base a student's grade on-not even those most dear to educators, concerning fairness and diversity if you lowered a student's grade just for saying on a test that discrimination is morally acceptable, for example, the student could contest that grade to the administration. And if that position on the moral acceptability of discrimination were the only point at issue, the student would win.
The teacher would be reminded that we are not here to impose our views on students, "however misguided the student might be." And if the administration of the university did not reach that decision, a court of law soon would.
Of course, if a student seriously wrote on a test that 7 times 5 equals 32, or that Columbus discovered America in 1520, we would be permitted to "impose our views" in these cases. It would not matter by what route the student came to such conclusions because these cases concern matters that--quibbles aside--are regarded as known. That is what marks the difference.
Why Be Surprised?
But if indeed there is now no body of moral knowledge in our culture, then a number of things highly positioned people express surprise about are not surprising at all. Robert Coles, professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard and a well-known researcher and commentator on matters social and moral, published a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "The Disparity Between Intellect and Character."' The piece is about "the task of connecting intellect to character." This task, he adds, "is daunting."
His essay was occasioned by an encounter with one of his students over the moral insensitivity--is it hard for him to say "immoral behavior"?--of other students, some of the best and brightest at Harvard.Continues.