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The Campus Crisis of Meaninglessness

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The Campus Crisis of Meaninglessnes

by: John Miceli, Masters of Public Policy Student at Georgetown University 

Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most popular books for religious people and secularists alike who are searching for a deeper understanding of themselves. In that book, Frankl pens, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.” The ironic thing about the contrast of this quote for religious people (namely Christians) and the secularists is that this line is what divides us so strongly in matters pertaining both to worldview and the ways in which people within the two groups live their lives.

            This contrast is quite obvious on college campuses. I finished my undergraduate degree in May of this year from one of the most populous colleges in the United States. I was surrounded by college students for the better part of the last three years. My small, Christian high school didn’t prepare me for everything I’d see.

            There was partying going on everywhere. There was alcohol consumed in mass on Saturdays before football games. Almost no one went to church or had a serious religious affiliation.

            I got to know a large number of students from a wide array of backgrounds during my time at this school, but many of them were the same in a lot of ways. They were bold and ambitious, but at a deeper level scared of what their future held and uncertain if what they were planning on doing would bring them the measure of happiness they hoped it would. There was and is, on college campuses, an overwhelming sense that in order to secure happiness, students had to find the perfect internship, which would lead to the perfect career, which ultimately would bring about joy and satisfaction.

            The students I got to know were stressed, bedraggled, and beat up from the schooling process. I hardly ever (if ever) met someone who was eager to study, or excited about an examination. There was a tenseness around grades, grading periods, or final exam week in such a way that made it seem these academic outcomes not only would determine how well students did in a class, but how well they would be seen by others, or better yet, how they’d feel about themselves. There was and is, on college campuses, an underlying philosophy telling students that who they are is how many A’s they can get, and an underlying philosophy telling students that if they fail a class, they themselves are failures.

            The students I got to know often did things my Christian values wouldn’t allow me to get near. I routinely heard about crazy parties – frat or otherwise. I heard about nights getting blacked-out drunk at local bars. I heard about hook-ups as a result of swipes on an IPhone app or people going through a breakup who “needed” a night out to make them feel better, or who, as a result of the breakup, became so self-destructive as to have stopped going to classes. There was and is a sense on college campuses that the longing for love that men and women experience could be preyed upon by anyone who offered kind feelings in one breath, even when they offered veiled threats, harsh words, and abusive language in another. There was and is a sense that alcohol is a means to an end: the means being as much alcohol as one can handle and the end being a perceived bliss, an escape from a reality so troubling and fraught as to be something one needs to leave entirely for a night or two or three. There was and is a sense that every physical and emotional desire one has should be quenched with whatever and whomever is available and that it would bring about not only pleasure, but status and a positive reputation.

            The people I met at college lacked any sense of fundamental meaning. They were, without knowing or acknowledging it, attempting to live out the philosophies they both implicitly and explicitly studied in their classes – pragmatism, naturalism, and hedonism. They found that meaning in grades, success, alcohol, partying, and relationships.

            The search for meaning is a noble one and difficult one though. It is particularly difficult when one is operating within a godless worldview.

            “Meaningless, Meaningless” says the teacher in Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and so say the professors lining the halls of our universities. The students’ actions have thus followed logically then.

            Solomon says of the search for meaning in money, much like the search for meaning through material success in idealized future careers, “whoever loves money never has enough” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Solomon asks of the search for meaning in our labor, much like the strivings of university students attempting to find their meaning in educational attainment, “What do people get for all the toil and the anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?”. I suspect my college friends don’t have the answer, or perhaps not one more accurate than, “All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23). Finally, Solomon made attempts to secure meaning in the sort of pleasures my college friends had. He says, in Ecclesiastes 2, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart took no pleasure.” And he concluded, “everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

            All of those things used as objects to find meaning are not bad things in and of themselves. They become bad apart from their true purposes within a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.

            The need for a gospel outreach to college campuses is pressing. Not only has the rise of secularism presented a need for an apologetic which combats false teaching and makes a clear and compelling case for our creator, but the degradation of our nation’s morality has given college kids a lot of things to place their meaning in, none of which has any real root. We are leaving our students floating in thin air, and that is part of the reason why there is so much confusion, heartbreak, hardship, and fear in the hearts of America’s college students.

            College students need to know that their identity, which they have long searched for in a hundred things with no significance, will be secured when they enter into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus delivers love, affection, and acceptance to those who put their hope in Him.

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