The Third Great Awakening?

Published March 14, 2022

WORLD Opinions

According to Britain’s Daily Mail, there is apparently a Third Great Awakening underway. Like the previous two, it has a certain popular appeal. Unlike them, however, it has replaced the idiom of old-time religion and the tent preaching of revivalists with those of self-fulfillment and internet postings by self-help gurus. As the Mail uses the term, the Third Great Awakening refers to the phenomenon of people during the time of COVID making the apparently novel and shocking discovery that life is finite and rather short and then embarking on a quest to find deeper meaning in the here and now. And as is the way of the modern world, that means looking after Number One and assuming everybody else will adapt accordingly. As examples, the Mail uses several women who have abandoned husbands and partners and broken up their families in pursuit of this deeper meaning.

Years ago, Anthony Esolen pointed out that pedophilia and the free and easy attitudes toward sex in contemporary society share a common moral structure: both prioritize the sexual desires of adults over the welfare of children. The difference, of course, is that the former is (as of this writing) both illegal and regarded with horror by the wider culture. Examples of the latter, such as adultery, promiscuity, no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, etc., pass without comment and are even celebrated as basic human rights. But as with pedophilia, adult sexual desire makes passive victims of the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

What the Mail article makes so clear is that this logic of desire is not merely or perhaps primarily connected to sex. It is connected to society’s general understanding of what it means to be a fulfilled and happy human being today. Everyone else must accommodate to the individual decision—a decision made before any consideration of obligation toward others. In short, children are just the collateral damage stemming from adults’ selfish desire, whether sexual, professional, or merely (as apparently in these cases) therapeutic.

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Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.

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