I have read several things recently decrying the current state of morality among the youngest generation that is finishing high school and entering college. Meeting with the Inspiring Youth Initiative for my local school has also got the old brain thinking as I am considering ways that our community (and church) can inspire youth to good decisions.
I have begun to consider what causes people to make “good decisions and the even more basic question, what constitutes a “good decision?” Clearly it is difficult to define “good” without some semblance of absolute, but this is where Christians often get carried away, implying that there is no basis for “good” without God. Now in the ultimate sense, this is true, but for the sake of practical everyday living, it seems that my non-Christian colleagues are willing to at least establish America Law as the absolute. So what we are most concerned about is activity that breaks the law of either the school or the state. Now that is setting the bar fairly low, but at least it is a starting point.
But the deeper question is to consider what can we hold out to MOTIVATE young people to keep from breaking the law? What hope do we hold out to a child that is going to keep them from getting drunk at their best friends party at the age of 15? How are we to motivate them to believe that having sex before marriage is dangerous, or even wrong? What reason to we give them for saying no to a joint? Cocaine? Meth?
I have thought about some potential motivations but all of them come up very short in my mind. We could hold out hope for a future family. In essence saying, if you want to have a great family, and a happy and healthy life, then drugs and promiscuity are not going to get you there. The problem with this, is that many of this generation are cynical. They have seen mom and dad divorce, or stay together in a gridlock of anger and frustration. Holding out hope for a good family to this generation will not have the power to cause conformity to a set of moral guidelines.
What about money? Couldn’t we motivate them with aspirations of a successful future. Get a good education, make good decisions and you will make lots o money and live the good life! Money is a horrendous motivator because for every difficult and lengthy legitimate way to get money, there are dozens of illegal and corrupt ways to get money quicker. If money is the end goal, selling drugs could grow in its appeal!
What is most interesting is the motivation I have heard from those non-Christians I have asked directly. They say that the motivation that they offer young people to be upstanding citizens is their own happiness! I cannot think of anything more shifting and inconsistent than my own happiness! I am convinced that most people get drunk out of some sense that it gives them “happiness”. Sure, the hangover has to be tough, but I believe that most people who drink to get drunk, do so out of a desire to escape, because that escape is happier than their reality.
The irony in motivating youth to obey out of their own happiness, is that it can never lead them to the conclusion that obeying laws is better than disobeying laws. Those who serve their own happiness are by necessity, slaves to their own desires. I am very glad that some find happiness acts of kindness, but anyone who is intellectually honest must agree that kindness need not be the logical conclusion to a world-view centered on one’s own happiness!
Maybe I am blinded by years of reading the Bible. Maybe years of Christian faith have tainted my ability to reason in the realm of the world’s logic. But having spent a few weeks wrestling with this concept of ultimate motivation for “good” behavior (or moral living), I cannot conceive of anything aside from the Glory of God that has the lasting power to move a kid to say no to a joint. If you read this entire thing, you are a trooper! Let me know if you Can think of any consistent and powerful motivation to help kids do right when the pressure is on?