As we write, there is a growing clamor for President Clinton to leave the Oval Office; but across the country there is a clamor to throw someone else out—in this case, David Cash, a student at the University of California at Berkeley. The latter case, though hardly drawing the same attention, may nonetheless have even graver implications for our nation's future.
The controversy over Cash arises from a gruesome case last year in which a California teenager, Jeremy Strohmeyer, sexually molested and murdered a seven-year-old girl in a Las Vegas casino. Cash witnessed what his friend was doing but did not stop him and later agreed to keep quiet. Just weeks ago Strohmeyer pled guilty to sexual assault and murder. But failing to prevent a crime is not itself a crime, so Cash blithely finished high school and went on to Berkeley.
Today he remains defiantly unrepentant. "Were you appalled that a friend said he had killed a little girl?" the Los Angeles Times asked him. Cash answered: "I'm not going to get upset over someone else's life. I just worry about myself first." Seventy-five outraged citizens gathered outside Cash's dormitory with bullhorns, shouting, "Expel him!"
What most people overlook, however, is that Cash's attitude accords precisely with the postmodernist philosophy propagated by places like Berkeley.
The core of postmodernism is a rejection of universal truth claims and moral principles. And if there are no universal ideals linking us together, then logically all that's left are "tribes": identity groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, or whatever. That's why virtually every state university today has separate dorms for students who are black, Asian, Hispanic, homosexual, or any other group demanding a separate identity. No one is permitted to judge another group's actions or beliefs, because there is no recognition of ultimate truths binding on everyone.
These ideas percolate down from academia to shape our moral attitudes. On a radio talk show, Cash said, "It's a tragic event, okay. But the simple fact remains that I do not know this girl. The only person I knew in this event was Jeremy Strohmeyer." In other words, the victim was not a member of his "tribe," his identity group. Strohmeyer was. His only obligation, he concluded, was to his buddy.
Expel him from Berkeley? No: Make him its poster boy. Cash's moral indifference is the inevitable result of today's trendy campus ideology; his actions are postmodernist logic carried to its grotesque conclusion.
This murder is one more bone-chilling example of teens slaying in cold blood, without remorse or conscience. Over recent months, several children have walked into schoolyards across the country and fired on their classmates—in Arkansas, Oregon, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania. The press and other pundits have cast about for explanations. President Clinton announced that we need stricter gun controls; but in almost every case, the guns were registered. Other explanations offered for crime are poverty or race; but these kids were middle class and white.
What is frightening is precisely how normal most of them seem. In New Jersey, Amy Grossburg and her boyfriend checked into a hotel room, gave birth, and killed the baby. Another teen, the "Prom Mom," gave birth in a restroom, dumped the baby in the trash, and returned to finish the dance. These were normal, ordinary teens—except that they murdered their babies, violating the most primal human instinct.
Reporters have raised all the conventional explanations except one. They could not bring themselves to use the dreaded "m-word": morality. The truth is that Americans are losing their moral recognition of the universal dignity of human life. Like Cash, they dehumanize their victims. In the sentencing of Amy Grossburg, the judge said he was troubled by "an egocentricity that blinded you to … the intrinsic value of the life of the child."
Where are the adults who are supposed to teach these kids "the intrinsic value of human life? Adults who once gave firm moral direction—parents, pastors, teachers—too often buy the myth that they should refrain from teaching kids right from wrong but rather let them discover their own values. Other adults are busy producing and selling entertainment that glorifies violence, teaching kids exactly the wrong things. Strohmeyer told police he strangled the little girl by twisting her neck the way he had seen in movies. We are raising a generation of children conditioned to kill.
It's enough to make one despair of American civilization itself. But as Christians, we should resist that temptation and instead turn social breakdown into an opportunity to make a compelling case for biblical morality. One strategy for evangelism, Francis Schaeffer taught, is to press people to the logical conclusions of their basic presuppositions: to show people that their assumptions, if lived out consistently, would lead to destructive and inhumane consequences. Today people are beginning to recognize the soul-destroying consequences of postmodernism, and now is the time to press them to see the wisdom of biblical truth.
When kids kill kids, people can no longer tolerate the chaos created by moral autonomy.
The bill on postmodernism is coming due. Either we will pay its bloody price, or find our way back to the truths that make civilization possible.
Copyright © 1998 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.