Life Challenges

By Michael P. Riccards

There is increasing sensitivity on the part of religiously oriented Americans to what they perceive as a hostile world around them. Perhaps the world is not as hostile as they think, just indifferent. And if so, they should use their religion to give them meaning. Those culture wars are raging in the United States especially during periods of religious revivalism.

But it makes more sense to try and see what the opposing forces are that so threaten people of faith. One such answer is from a Father Val Peter who was for a long period of time the executive director of Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska. He has argued that we face seven great challenges:

1. Diminished respect for authority
2. The widespread belief that one is free to experience everything
3. Cynicism
4. Mistaken ideological beliefs
5. Learned helplessness
6. Anti- intellectualism
7. Political correctness

Interestingly, he defines “learned helplessnesss” as the view that there is nothing we can do to make things better. He sees “mistaken ideology” as everything from totalitarianism, to MTV, and terrorism—a rather broad area with certainly different definitions of ideology.

One may disagree with Peter’s analysis, but he has tried to explore the sources of challenge and discontent that are so frequently spoken of, but not specified. Of course, for so many fundamentalists the real problem is the decline in authority, especially the decline in the church and the view that the Scriptures are true guides for life.

As I listen to discussions about our secular society more and more, I am confused. What are we talking about and how is it prevailing? Does it mean that we are a consumer society, riveted by greed? Or that we like our big screen televisions, and if so does that mean that we are devoid of values? Maybe it just means that we like television. What we see on television is up to us. It is also hard to tell people, in the midst of the worse recession that we have experienced in two generations, that we should not be interested in the material things of life. Recently, a clergyman told me that the collapse of the stock market showed that our true treasures are stored up in heaven. Then two weeks later he sent out a letter to the congregation saying expenses in the parish had increased markedly and so we should increase our giving.

Sometimes when I listen to these professional men of the sack cloth, I think that we are too hard on ourselves. We are a pretty good people, even if we do not at times show a respect for authority.

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