When I was 3 years old, my great-grandmother, concerned with the fate of my soul, tried to arrange a secret baptism. My grandmother intervened, and that is the closest I ever came to inheriting a religious community.
As someone who grew up in a completely agnostic home, there are many things I would have enjoyed about belonging to a congregation. I would have loved to talk about big ideas and how they relate to my everyday choices. I would have grown immensely from a Rabbi listening to my questions, feeding my intellectual curiosity.
But I felt uncomfortable participating in a religious community based in the idea of a transcendent God, or Truth. At UNC, I have found many students who share this same feeling. And, without communities that share our desire to examine and articulate our values, we have been left out to dry.
In a recent op-ed piece, “If It Feels Right …” New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about us. He argues that as the essential moral unit transforms from the group to the individual, fewer and fewer young people participate in communities that provide standards of morality and meaning. The bottom line is that we lose the ability to articulate common ethics and create shared meaning outside of the self.
But isn’t that what college is for? Isn’t a university setting supposed to provide a liberal arts education that acts as a launching pad for students to hash out values based on their own experience?
Brooks says today’s young people lack sense of shared meaning because there is no standard morality and everyone is expected to come up with their own direction. But our ability to create our own values is the most powerful tool we have. Who is to say that we have to do that all by ourselves or “within the privacy of our own hearts,” as Brooks says?
We, here at UNC and elsewhere, need secular communities that allow us to construct our ethics together. Imagine a community at UNC that organizes itself around a constant communication of values and a collective examination of everyday life.
Together we could produce concepts that might help us solve the problems we encounter — and ethics that inspire positive action.