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In Defense of a Little Judgmentalism

by Joseph D. Hollowell, President of Roncalli

I can’t recall the circumstances that led me there but sometime during my college years I found myself sitting in a class entitled Western Philosophy.  I knew I was in trouble early on as I went to the bookstore to purchase my texts and found that I would get to read such exciting works as “From Kant to Kierkegaard” along with a three inch thick page-turner called “Ethics”.  At the end of the first class my head was swimming in a sea of isms – realism, existentialism, personalism, essentialism, humanism, behaviorism – and one thing was becoming abundantly clear, there were people in the world smarter than me.  I had already instinctively sensed this but the reinforcement provided by this class removed all doubts. By the time we ended the second class, our professor had begun to explain to us how Soren Kierkegaard’s philosophy grew out of his profound feelings of dread concerning his own life.  I left that session convinced it was time to drop the class while I could still get full price for the books I would be returning.

Philosophy and I parted ways for nearly three decades and I can’t say that I missed it.  In all of my years looking for jobs I never once saw an ad reading “Wanted – Philosopher.  Experienced only need apply.” But lately things have changed thanks to our oldest son John.  He is studying to be a priest at St. Meinrad and they immerse these poor fellows in hours upon hours of the study of the human condition which seems to be the subject of many philosophers’ writings and thoughts.  Wanting to be able to have an intelligent conversation with my son from time to time, I have taken up reading some philosophy lately.  Not Kant or Kierkegaard but some reading that might better fit in the “Philosophy for Dummies” category.

My reading has introduced me to a new ism.  It’s called post-modernism and some would argue that it is emerging as the dominant philosophy of the current times.  From what I can tell there are two basic commandments of post-modernism.  See if these sound familiar to you.  

The first is that all cultures are equal.  This is not to be confused with all cultures deserve respect.  Nor is it to be confused with all people deserve respect.  No argument from me on those two.  Post-modernism goes beyond that to suggest that all things that exude from diverse cultures are equal.  An experience related by Indiana University Professor Leon McKenzie in one of my recent readings tells the story.  “One evening I attended a concert on campus that presented the music of a tribal culture.  It consisted of frenzied banging on various drums. ‘Just as grand as Bach in its own way’ was a comment I heard.” And perhaps it was.  Few can deny that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.  

But this first commandment is followed by a second and much more dangerous relative - Thou shalt not be judgmental.  Wrapped up in this second commandment is the concept that there is no right and no wrong.  Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder but so is truth.  Each person defines his own truth.  Lest you think this is some obscure doctrine that is only reserved for study by philosophers and seminarians, I submit to you the now famous words of no less than the Supreme Court of the United States.  In the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision regarding a father’s right to be notified of a pending abortion of his child by its mother Justices O’Connor, Souter and Kennedy wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe and the mystery of human life.”  This is now the law of the land.  At the risk of sounding judgmental, I am very troubled by where we are heading with this.  

Columnist John Leo said of the Casey ruling, “This ‘mystery passage’ can be cited easily next time to justify suicide clinics, gay marriage, polygamy, inter-species marriage (such as marrying one’s dog or cat) or whatever new individual right the court feels like inventing."  

That sums up quite well the fruit of post-modernism.  Nothing is wrong and nothing is right.  Not only should all persons be tolerated but all actions as well.  In the minds of post-modernists the only sin is that of those who are branded as intolerant.  At least the post-modernists have something they think is wrong!

So what does this have to do with your favorite high school and mine?  Everything.  Because our students are bombarded by the fruits of the post-modernist culture.  And it is deadly.  No one here calls it post-modernism but it is alive and well in the world our students are immersed It comes in the form of “Desperate Housewives” and advertisements for “Girls Gone Wild”.  It comes in the form of video games that are designed to give young people the thrill of raping and pillaging villages.  It comes in the form of Supreme Court decisions.  It comes in the form of laws passed that allow the elderly and infirm to kill themselves.  It comes in the lax attitudes towards behaviors once deemed unacceptable but now excused as “that’s just how kids are today”.

From my experience there is one great vaccine against the disease of post-modernism.  It’s called the Catholic Church.  The Church still believes and teaches that there is objective truth that is knowable.  The Church still teaches that there is sin and evil in the world and that not all actions are to be tolerated.  The Church still offers the great hope of eternal salvation regardless of whether or not one has decided for himself that in his own “mystery of human life” it does not exist.  Most importantly, the Church teaches that the Master of the Universe is a loving God who will some day come back personally and restore order to His world.  And He has asked his servants to, until He does return, be about the business of spreading His truth to a world so hungry for it.  This is the heart of our mission at Roncalli. We are the teaching arm of the Church in this little corner of the world of adolescence and young adulthood.

So let us not grow weary in the face of the daunting challenges the world presents us.  We all have a big job to do.  To do it we need each other’s help.  And one day The Judge is coming to ask how well each of us did it.  And, the way I read Matthew 25, He will be acting more than a little judgmental.

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