James Davidson Hunter, the William R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, has written a profound book that helps us understand the impact of language on moral development. In his book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age without Good or Evil, Hunter describes how early education in America was shaped by theological language that created a framework for good and evil and the development of character. With the rise of an atheistic and secular worldview, the language of the national conversation shifted from theistic to psychological, in which there is no longer a concept of real good and evil. Sin has disappeared from the American vocabulary. All problems are now therapeutic. What is needed to solve problems are medicine and counseling. To see the problems of evil as a fault line through the human heart is now passé.
Hunter argues that almost everyone in America understands we have a problem with character formation in our children and citizens. And yet, no one seems to understand how to solve the problem. He contends that even the evangelical church and renown family leaders like Dr. James Dobson have little to say because, like the larger culture, they have abandoned theological discourse for psychology language. And Hunter concludes that it will be difficult to find a solution to the issue of either personal or national moral development without returning to the God of the Bible and re-adopting theological language as the language of our national discourse.
What are we to do? Whether we are from the United States where at one moment in history we were a nation founded on a Biblical worldview and principles, or we are from nations that have never known these foundations, what are we to do? Let’s look at a few ideas on both a personal level and on a national level.
First, on a personal level we need to be people who examine the words we use. Are they reflective of our culture or of Biblical principles and views? We should be people that consciously seek to speak in theological (not religious) language–language that reflects that God exists and that He is the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.
We need to be people who push back against our culture. We can fight for Biblical understanding of the family, of truth, beauty, and goodness. We can be people who “startle” our culture by using Biblical language to define and describe our common life.
Perhaps the most important thing that we can do is live out, that is, give meaning to, Biblical virtues: love, servanthood, thrift, hard work, honest work, and charity. In doing so, these “words” are made flesh and given definition by our lives.
On another level, we need to encourage people who are gifted intellectuals to pursue the best education they can and become those who live in the public arena and consciously seek to influence the universities and various domains of our society.
-Darrow L. Miller