The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code

The Barna Group recently released research on morality in America in a report titled, “The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code”. They found that a large majority of Americans are concerned about the moral condition of our nation, but have much less agreement on what morality consists of. A majority say that morality is personal with 57% agreeing with the statement “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” The majority also thought that morality was a matter of cultural consensus with 65% agreeing with the statement that “every culture must determine what is acceptable morality for its people.” Those who were younger agree more with both of those statements than those who were older. Interestingly, the majority (59%) also agreed with the statement that “the Bible provides us with absolute moral truths which are the same for all people in all situations, without exception,” and the agreement on this was more evenly distributed across all age groups. This suggests some confusion among those responding since some must have agreed with all three statements even thought the statements are not logically compatible with each other. Among practicing Christians 83% agreed with the statement that the Bible provides universal moral truths, but 41% also agreed with the statement that morality is only personal and 60% agreed with the statement that morality is determined culturally.

Americans are confused about the nature of morality with many saying that the Bible provides moral truth, but also focusing on personal and cultural sources of morality. Barna President David Kinnaman argues that a “morality of self-fulfillment” has become the cultures new moral norm. He says “The highest good, according to our society, is ‘finding yourself’ and then living by ‘what’s right for you”. He points to agreement with a number of self-focused statements to back up that idea. However, this is not just a characteristic of secular society. It has also strongly impacted the church. 91% of U.S. adults agree that “The best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself,” but so do 76% of practicing Christians. 84% of U.S. adults agree that “The highest goal in life is to enjoy it as much as possible,” but so do 67% of practicing Christians. While practicing Christians overwhelmingly say that the Bible is the source of moral truth they have absorbed a morality of self-fulfillment from the surrounding culture.

As someone involved in Christian higher education I see this as a challenge to help students understand that the morality of our surrounding culture is not compatible with the moral truth of the Bible and that we need to live our lives by God’s revealed truth and be different from the self-absorbed culture around us.

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