The old becomes new again as young people question truth

      My thoughts, here, are anecdotal. Furthermore, my thoughts do not refer to all my students, but I would argue that the majority of my students adhere to these thoughts. Nor am I implying that all students in all places think this way. What follows are my observations after teaching in a Catholic high school in northwest suburban Chicago for 11 years.

      Truth does not exist. Scientific and mathematical laws, since they can be proven, are laws, but they are not truth. Rather, truth is a construct of a culture, and the purpose of this said truth is for the few to possess power and the many to be oppressed by it. Utility is the ultimate virtue. If it cannot be weighed, calibrated, measured, or bring wealth, it is not real, it is only a means of oppression.

      Life has no meaning. Each individual person creates his or her own meaning (Sartre would swoon with bliss!). Furthermore, life has no goal, no end, no telos to which human beings strive. Life is merely a series of events which are endured best by accumulating as much wealth, pleasure and entertainment as possible before death finally takes you away.

      Since truth does not exist, and since life has no meaning, then any action of the State, Church or Culture that infringes on my ability to choose and create my own value system is, by definition, hate.

      “Becoming” is the priority, not “being.” I frequently hear, or read, from my students, “I want to become the best person I can be.” When pressed, however, with what that actually means, the answer always revolves around the aforementioned wealth, pleasure and entertainment, and since this triumvirate is limitless, one can never “be;” one can only continually “become.”

      In a Christian context, “becoming” has value. I’m constantly “becoming” a clearer, more authentic Image and Likeness of God. However, in the world of most of my students, Image and Likeness of God is a fairy-tale used to oppress their freedom.

      There is no metanarrative. Since the very nature of the metanarrative is to give meaning and structure to life and to the questions life poses, then by default the metanarrative is bogus. I will determine my own metanarrative, thank you very much!

      The Catholic Church is hopelessly backward. During our open line sessions in the theology department, where students can ask any question they want in regards to the faith, a frequent question is, “Will the Church ever become more modern?” I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what constitutes “modern” for the students who ask that question.

      The past has no place in the here-and-now except to illustrate oppression. Thus, history is meaningless (except to illustrate oppression).

      None of this is new, of course. Young people, old farts and mid-life crisis people have thundered the above tenets forever. Can you say Epicurus, Marx and Nietzsche? The prophet Isaiah railed against the clay castigating the potter. What is different now is the advent of social media, and the power that media has to disseminate such thinking rapidly and, seemingly, definitively.

      Old as such philosophy may be, though, it still has the same old consequences: anxiety, hopelessness and isolation. Therapy dogs are now standard fare at school during finals week. Cutting is prevalent. Students “melt down” in class and bolt for the school psychologist.

      Lent has begun. I can’t think of a better way to live Lent than to paint a picture, by the way we live, of the joy and hope and meaningfulness of Catholicism. Words, at this juncture, probably won’t work. Young people are visual. They must see Catholics being true, joyful and full of hope.

      I am confident that this tide of nihilism can be stymied and ultimately defeated. But not in my lifetime (I’m 68). This battle is for the long haul. Nothing new about that, either. What is new is that Catholics smell the odor of Satan for perhaps the first time in a long time, and they are repulsed by that odor.

      The first order of business, then, is to immerse ourselves in this holy season. Humility, hope and joy is the antiphon; light, life and glory is the Collect.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .