It's not what the younger generation has wrong that troubles me. What bothers me ever so much more is what the younger generation isn't sure it has right.
Take the general issue of patriotism, for example. I haven't seen any polls recently saying how well we've passed on to our children and grandchildren a sense that America is without a doubt the very best place in all the world to be blessed to live. Compared to 50 years ago, I have no idea how the young people in my orbit might respond to such an assertion.
I do know that even after nominally agreeing with such a value judgment, too big a majority of the young people I know would then hedge their declaration with a simple six-word disclaimer: "But who am I to judge?"
Yes, of course, I believe that marriage is a societal structure best involving one man and one woman. But who am I to judge?
Yes, I believe that sexual intimacy will always mean more if it is deferred until marriage. But who am I to judge?
Yes, I believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life. But who am I to judge?
No, I can't possibly imagine approving of a measure like euthanasia for one of my grandparents. But who am I to judge someone else's situation?
It's been claimed that the best known fragment of the Bible-rattled off by believers and unbelievers alike-is the out-of-context instruction from Jesus: "Judge not that you be not judged." In a society stripped of values, the ultimate value of nonjudgmentalism reigns supreme.
It sounds so modest. No arrogance there. No narrow-minded conceit or self-righteous exclusivism. Just a humble deference to the possibility that someone else might be right and that our orthodoxy might be wrong.
I'm not at all sure when this quiet demurral first set in. On the one hand, it is part and parcel of the onslaught of relativism that so dominates our era. But it is also the altogether natural fruit of the teaching of the Evil One in the Garden of Eden when he asked Adam and Eve, "Did God really say that?"
And by the way, I do believe that Adam and Eve were historical people. But who am I to judge if someone else thinks they were merely a symbolic father and mother?
Indeed, I am a nobody when it comes to making such a judgment. And it's precisely at that point that we need to make a critical distinction as we try to teach the next generation. We need to make sure they know the difference between our saying that something is so and God's saying that something is so.
For example, it is all too easy to put all five of the examples I listed above in the same category. But the fact is that God never said anywhere that America is the very best place one of His children might live. It's OK for me to think that, and OK even to encourage others to be as enthusiastic about it as I am. But I shouldn't represent it as something that God claims as His truth. When I make that claim, it's not just permissible-but actually important-for my children to respond by asking, "Who am I to judge?" It shows they understand the difference between a merely human assertion, on the one hand, and God's eternal truth, on the other.
We do the next generation no favor at all when we blur that distinction-a blurring I fear we conservatives are more guilty of than we may realize. Nor should we blame our children for a lack of courage to proclaim God's truth when we may not have sorted things out as carefully for them as we should have.
But the next time you hear someone ask "Who am I to judge?" summon the boldness to answer: "Well, that all depends on whose assertions and whose truth is being challenged." That should lead to a good discussion.