Belief & Behavior: Lessons from California Universities

From extreme views to the extreme expression of those views, California is a state that breeds extremism. Now I recognize that in saying that, some will be offended by those comments; for some, they will be offended by the mere suggestion of our society being sinful and for others, the greater offense will be that I singled out California. California does not stand alone because apart from Christ, sin is the state of existence for everyone. However, a recent expense of my time in the state was a brought reminder of the consequences of sin in our society, and so from that perspective, I write today.
Standing from the Getty Museum and looking out from ocean to land, across the low tides of boardwalks to the sky reaching buildings of downtown, the view is exquisite, both in its quiet, picturesque ambiance and in its ability to captivate that extensiveness of sin’s impact. In the course of my visit, I took the opportunity to visit two college campuses. One was the Christian campus of my alma mater and the other was an extensive campus of secularism (that I enjoy utilizing as a study spot because of the physical beauty of both the buildings and the foliage). From conversation to conviction the contrast between the two was substantial, so substantial that it pleads for an answer to the question, “Where does this conviction come from?”

This question comes from the contrast between the two campuses. While certainly similar in ‘style’ of conversation and emphasis, each marketed a different atmosphere. Making my way along the paths in search of the library at one campus I had to make my way through what I can only call, ‘activist row,’ an aisle of crowds, tables illuminated with brightly decorated signs and shouting students, each calling attention to whatever cause they were advocating. The other campus was more subdued with an atmosphere that conveyed not one of cultural crises but instead Christlike concern. These differences of belief, behavior, and bold proclamation generate some interpretations, and therefore there are two primary lessons to be learned.

They Are Influential
First, whether one subscribes to the beliefs being proclaimed by either of these universities, one cannot deny their influence, or at least their attempt to influence. We live in a generation of activism. In the midst of this generation comes the encouragement that if you believe something, then believe it loudly and outwardly Sometimes this can be a good mentality and sometimes it can be an ill-advised mentality. Regardless it is the current mentality because it has been taught that to be silent is to be in opposition . . . although that certainly isn’t true as there as silence can be a demonstration of a wise person (consider Proverbs 10, specifically 10:19).

It was no surprise that walking upon the campus of a well-known secular university that I found myself in the midst of students who each had their causes. Many of them were at tables urging people to sign petitions and get involved. The Christian university had no discernible difference in its activism, but only in its methodology of that activism. The former chose meaningless chants and catchy phrases (or simply the call so sign-up because you are my friend . . . certainly, that should be a crucial point in determining the worthiness of a cause, while the other relied upon a real-time conversation about the issues at hand.

Therefore, what we see is a generation that finds themselves the catalyst to social change. Although their views are sourced from different authorities (one being in truth, the other not) they are like the believer who submits to Christ, attempting to be influential in a society they view as lost and in need of rescuing. Certainly, the savior of each group is different, one pointing to humanity while the other to deity, and so in no way am I saying that their influence is correct or worthy of attention. Instead, this is a point to draw attention to the fact that conflict will occur because each sees themselves as having access to the rescuer, but there can only be one.

They Are Influenced
However, not only is the current generation one that is influential, but they are one that is also influenced. They are easily swayed not by truth, but by trends. Therefore they are not transformed but conformed.

It is a notion that seems contrary to the incantation of individuality and authenticity. This is because we live in a culture of shaming and shamming in which people overwhelm and subdue opposition into submission. If there is disagreement, people are given two options: embrace the culture or be exiled from it.

What has developed is a generation that is simply influenced by the world in which they live. A recent article from the Gospel Coalition confirms this very action when writing about the influx of teenagers who are considering themselves ‘trans’ (1). The experience then when asked questions about standards, beliefs, and rationality behind certain positions, those positing them are unable to respond beyond directing people towards emotional or irrational connections in order to ‘prove’ their points. Therefore, lacking an ability to think critically, raise up a level of discernment, and consider the role of logic we have a generation who simply adheres to the cultural trend of the day.

This is a dangerous position to be in: a people who are easily influenced, and yet seek to influence others with nothing more than the espousing of propaganda that they were influenced by. As Christians, this not only raises concern but calls to action. Christian duty, in whatever role we find ourselves (as a parent, a spouse, a single person, leader, attender, Christ-follower, or insert any other role that you embody as a Christian) necessitates action. Yet, that will come on Monday in a follow-up article. For now, take the weekend to consider some of these thoughts.

(1) To read the article referenced at the Gospel Coalition, click here.

Photo “UCLA” courtesy of user Ignacio Andrade and Flickr.