Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be of good courage; be strong.
- I Corinthians 16:13
Like the proverbial pendulum, human thought swings from one side to the other. But those who believe todays pendulum has been stuck on the wrong side for too long, yearn for the day when the swinging comes their way again.
Musicians who play stringed instruments share that wish. Changes in temperature or humidity, or pressure from the hands or bow, can easily send their instruments out of tune. The strings then have to be manipulated until the proper pitch returns. Still, like a pendulum, the pitch doesnt stay that way for long. If youve ever heard an orchestra play, you can remember that dissonant prelude as the musicians tuned their instruments before the concert began, and often between each piece.
But what if musicians lost their tuning obsession and were satisfied with the slightly off-pitch, or conductors allowed less than well-tuned musicians into the orchestra in the first place? What if a builder used inferior materials, or medical schools, out of pity for students who couldnt make the grade, granted diplomas anyway? Too often, as more and more segments of our society operate at less than perfect pitch, underachievement has become the norm.
Its easy to blame the education system for this decline. Its also easy to enact legislation, appropriate money, and pat ourselves on the back for fixing whats wrong. But when we see little improvement after all these fixes, I wonder why we ignore Einsteins famous advice, that to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity. Most of all, I wonder why we dont ask if our educational system could be the result of some deficiency, rather than its cause.
According to a recent survey by one of our leading Christian denominations, the number of high school and college-aged members who do not believe there is such a thing as absolute truth has risen to 91 percent. This news would be unsettling enough if the participants were a cross-section of society. That they represent the church where absolutes have been taught from the time they were born is astounding.
A few years ago someone coined the phrase, The Tyranny of the Majority, presumably the slogan of those who feel disenfranchised by democracy. Lately, after observing the pendulum movement of all that makes up our democracy - politics, education, religion - perhaps we should coin another phrase: The Tyranny of Tolerance.
It was right to outlaw discrimination because of racial, ethnic, or religious differences. But the spinoffs have had a crippling effect on nearly everything else we do. Hiring, firing, renting, exercising our faith, conducting a political campaign, or searching for a terrorist are affected by fear that what we consider good judgment may be interpreted as intolerance by someone else.
But the greatest evidence that this tolerant pendulum has swung too far is in the lowering of standards in our society.
Not long ago someone told me, There are no "shoulds anymore, Barbara. No shoulds, no absolutes? No wonder our students, in and out of the church, have difficulty finding the right pitch for their lives.
The evidence is all around us that a lack of standards breeds insecurity in our young people, conclude the authors of the above survey.
If we who prefer our pendulum swinging one way are supposed to tolerate the no-should standards of the other side, why cant they be just as tolerant when we ask our admittedly absolute God to bless a school function, or display His Ten Commandments on a school or courtroom wall?
After all, as our also absolute guidebook says to students of all ages, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7), and unlike human thought, His "pendulum is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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