Mothers Reject Moral Relativism and Point Kids to the “Ideal”
In today’s society pointing to anything as “ideal” is politically incorrect. Instead, we must think of all families, ideas, civilizations, cultures, and religions as different but equal. Moral realitvism is the expectation in our postmodern world. There is “his truth” or “her truth” but never “the truth”. Because there is no ultimate truth, it follows there cannot be a superior way to live. Whatever brings you happiness is “your truth” so go for it, right?
Mothers just aren’t buying it- we know our teenage daughters shouldn’t get pregnant and our sons shouldn’t waste their youth on video games. In the trenches of child-rearing you see when your child is not reaching his potential. Jordan Peterson points out that even the phrase “living up to your potential” is dependent on there being a moral ideal – if there is no ideal-self then we have no potential to waste. Jordan Peterson criticized the current moral-relativist standpoint on a recent episode of Joe Rogan, “The whole moral relativism issue for me is a non-starter, it’s just wrong. There are lots of ways of interpreting the world but there aren’t a lot of ways of interpreting it optimally, and you can feel when you doing that, it makes you stronger.” So as parents we need to help our kids recognize transcendent morality and point them towards it.
What is the Ideal?
What is the moral ideal we need to align to? Jordan Peterson classifies Christ as being the “archetypal” ideal. He says “Christ by definition is the best a man can be” and that most myths and stories are based around the same “Logos” archetype. When we read our children bedtime stories of a hero defeating a dragon they are symbols of the same vision –ultimate good versus evil. These stories of good conquering evil will connect them with the hero and they will pattern their lives accordingly.
Having Christ as the ideal can leave us all feeling inadequate. Jordan Peterson says, “every ideal is a judge”, and a harsh judge. Some people would rather not face their own inadequacies in the face of such judgement. Below is a short (4 minute) clip of JP speaking of the danger of simply accepting ourselves as we are, forgoing any attempt to purify ourselves. I found it to be very profound.
I found his Judge/Redeemer concept very enlightening. The way I understand it is that guilt and and hope as two sides of the same coin. We feel guilt when we aren’t following our moral compass; on the flip side, there we experience great hope in our own progression towards redemption.
Encourage the Longing for Greatness
It’s tempting to teach our children they are enough just as they are – and I am not suggesting we focus on our children’s weaknesses over their strengths. I think positive reinforcement is much more effective then negative. But I do agree with JP that pushing the notion of “you are perfect just the way you are” – is not actually an encouraging idea. There is more hope found in the quest for self-improvement, and it brings meaning.
My son is passionate about basketball and wants to be another Steph Curry when he grows up. He sees that he has a long way to go and I am there to remind him of the long hours of practice and commitment it takes to achieve that goal. He doesn’t watch much TV and doesn’t play video games – he would rather optimize his time towards the goal of becoming a great basketball player. As JP said, “if you are going to conceptualize the good and move towards it then you have to separate yourself from all those things that aren’t good and leave them behind.” What I find interesting is that because my son is so focused on that goal I don’t even need to point out when he is slacking; by simply reminding him of his ideal he self-regulates. For example, his soccer coach gave him a little pep talk about how successful athletes avoid sugar. A few days later, at Thanksgiving, when we were eating pie I asked him why he wasn’t having any; he said it was because it makes him weak. He was modifying his behavior and reorienting himself towards the ideal.
My son’s confidence has grown immeasurably as he works towards his goals and increases in discipline. Perhaps children are not content with themselves “just as they are” if they realize they could be something more. Personally I won’t be disappointed if my son never becomes a basketball player. But as children pick admirable heros that suit their temperament and desires, their emulation of those heros will progress them towards the more ultimate ideal – becoming like Christ.
The Power of Mothers Teaching Morality
As mothers, we are in a the position to immerse our children in moral truth and guide them as they strive to reach their ultimate potential; this is where the power of motherhood is exhibited most. With a clear sense of right and wrong, they can navigate the chaos of the world. As we tell our children scripture stories, point out positive examples, and live authentic lives: our children will notice the patterns. They will find strength in the alignment towards good. I believe this moral compass will never leave them. They may wander from the path, but that sense of purpose and truth will be as a “Judge and a Redeemer” calling them back. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6