The modern world began on May 29, 1919, when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe.
The theory was the Special Theory of Relativity and the theorist was Albert Einstein.
Simply stated, this was the discovery that space and time were relative rather than absolute terms of measurement. The impact on the scientific world was incalculable.
This scientific theory also illustrated the law of unintended consequences.
“At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism” (Modern Times, Paul Johnson, 1985).
As a society, we began to believe that there was no absolute truth; whether a thing was right or wrong depended on the circumstances surrounding the issue.
This is the social milieu where I, as a father of four, dwell. I still recall the Time magazine cover from the mid-eighties after the Jim Bakker and PTL scandal. The caption read, “Assaulted by Sleaze, America Searches for its Moral Bearings.” On the cover was a compass. Instead of North and South, it depicted “Right” and “Wrong.” The needle hovered somewhere in between.
I believe this is an accurate picture of our culture.
One of my great responsibilities as a father is to impart to my children a sense of right and wrong, of moral absolutes.
In his book, “The Moral Compass,” William J. Bennett says, “It makes no sense to send young people forth on such an endeavor (the journey of life) having offered them only some timid, vacillating opinions or options about conduct in the hope that in the course of their wanderings, they will stumble onto some more definite personal preferences that will become their ‘values.’ We must give our children better equipment than that. We must raise them as moral and spiritual beings by offering them unequivocal, reliable standards of right and wrong, noble and base, just and unjust.”
In my profession as school counselor, I often find young people who participate in illegal and/or immoral acts and seem to have no sense of the “wrongness” of their actions. When I talk to them, there is no appeal to an absolute standard of right or wrong. They only have a vague uneasiness about their behavior.
Regarding my children, I do not harbor illusions of their future behaviors. I do not expect them to live perfect lives, but I do expect them to know perfectly well when they transgress. The visibility of the line between right and wrong is the gift I give them, and when they choose to step over that line, it will be a conscious act of will.
This sharp definition of values paves the way to an even greater benefit: If a child sees clearly the absolutes of right and wrong, it opens the door to a deliberate, clear act of repentance. How can a person choose to turn from evil and turn to God if they cannot figure out which is which?
Please send your articles of faith to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us wherever you are on Thursday morning at 8 a.m. for prayer. Thank you for contributing to this column.