If you listen to any pop-music outlet today, there is a song titled "American Girl" by Bonnie McKee. In the song's chorus, the line states, "I was raised by a television, every day is a competition." It is unclear whether that line was written out of a sociological observation, life experiences of the songs' writers, or simply because it is catchy. Regardless, those of us left sitting on the wire observing society, are left to ponder whether the line has a deeper meaning than its bubblegum pop crust. Is it possible that some within this new generation are lost and confused by the glitter and glamour of worldly options? That all of the shiny things in life, all the guarantees of behavioral dogmatics and all of the appeals to emotional prosperity are no match for the embodied gifts of the Body of Christ. Christ brings His people to Himself through the communion of the saints, forgiveness of sins, and ultimately the resurrection of the body unto life everlasting. The egocentric narcissism of some Millenials is not new; it is the appeal to trust in one's self as God and replace Him with whatever the ego needs to distract itself from the fact that it is fragile, dependent, and created.
From a societal perspective, there is such truth to the line in that song. It touches a deeper issue within society, where some of today's youth lack an understanding of life's finality or the souls' eternity. The baby-boomers, the hippies of the 60s, grew their hair long and smoked weed. Truth be told, growing up in the 80s and 90s, so did Generation X. The baby-boomer and Gen X's actions, tame by today's standards, were far from final. A peace-symbol tattoo on an upper arm or a tie-dye shirt would not change one's potential; such actions did not solidify life's finality. However, this type of rebellion is not the case for some in the Millennial generation. A percentage of the Millennial generation, our future, is marking and scarring itself in ways where their potential is being eroded with each stroke of a needle, their fate etched away in stone-like ink on exposed limbs before they reach full mental development. Some that are suffering and in need of comforting and love are wasting, and sometimes even worse, taking their own lives because the dark abyss they are gazing into seems better than the life they are living. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among today's youth. This is entirely from seeing this life and world in its finitude without any regard to eternal possibilities. The societal influences leave so many feeling hopeless and the thought of turning to God is simply not an option. Or they end up idolatrously chasing fads, fashion, or fighting for causes provided by pop-culture which surely passes away like the grass and flowers of the fields (Ps. 103). Heroically, these strategies never overcome our temporal finitude nor can they provide us with eternal life.
There are those in the Millennial generation, full of intellectual potential and caring hearts, diverse and accepting in their circles, making choices that solidifies their present state as their highest achievement because they are being raised not just by television, but the entertainment and social media industry in general. Such rearing is enabling narcissism and a need for instant gratification. Worse, it is causing them to suffer inside because so much of it is in fact meaningless due to it all being rooted in temporal materiality. Morally misguided individuals in the entertainment industry that youth look to are touting people of faith as closed-minded, mentally ill, cruel, prejudiced, bigoted racists; for a small minority, this is true. On the other hand, there are some false preachers that equate God and faith with good feelings and prosperity; both grounded in temporal materiality. Christ's Church offers a lived-experience of faith in the sacraments and liturgy that are more than a symbolic exercise for good feelings. Rather, they bring eternity and temporality together into the embodied exercise of redemption and sanctification through His Word.
Jesters and false prophets (Mat. 7:15) have become saints for some in the Millennial generation, tattoos their stainedglass windows, piercings their ornaments, social media their gospel readings, phones their churches, and what feels good their god. They are questioning and often rejecting the notion of organized religion. From their vantage point, such rejection is justified. For example, some churches are becoming concerts and mass group "hang out with Jesus" events, rather than reverent worship of the Almighty and Everlasting God.
Sin of Adam and Eve from the Sistine Chapel. Artist: Michelangelo Buonarroti; Wikimedia Commons
Consequently, the problem is such rejections and redirections are also leading them to reject God or having never come to know Him at all. The jesters tell them God does not exist, while the self-righteous tell them how much God hates them and still others say God wants them to only feel good and want for nothing. Any good lie uses elements of the truth to make it plausible. Certainly, those who say God does not exist are proposing that from the rules of empirical science. Because God is not demonstrable directly through the senses, His existence and majesty is summarily denied. Those who say God hates them use God's law as a weapon for conformity to their notions of righteousness; not that righteousness that comes through faith. Finally, God does want us to feel good and want for nothing (Ps. 23), but according to His loving and providential hand not the world's provisions.
We cannot get mad at the young, because this is our fault. We have allowed a small boisterous collective of the self-righteous to distort our faith and create the "them and us." We have allowed them to gift to the jesters and false teachers the ammunition they needed to drive those in need of God's love away from his healing mercy. We who believe in Christ's truth, love, and forgiveness, we who believe that to be a Christian means standing in communion with all peoples, we who believe that we are all sinners in need of salvation have failed in our calling to love our neighbors. We who believe that the word of God exists to heal, to comfort, to forgive, and above all else, to save have placed our light under a bushel basket (Mat. 5:15). Often times, we have sat idly by, allowing His saving words to be used as weapons in a non-existent war being waged so that a minority can cling to their belief in the "them and us." We have allowed hatred and suffering to drive the innocent away from the Father. We have allowed people to interpret and define faith, hope and love in terms of temporal commodities rather than eternal potentialities through a relationship with Him sealed by water and the Word.
This battle between epistemic knowledge and gnostic knowledge has been around since the ancient Greeks. Truth transcends epistemology and mystic-knowing but is mysteriously touch by the cognitive and affective. The neo-materialist has not gone far enough to discover that if life is about neuro-stimulation, neuro-transmission, and biochemical structures, then there really is no "I." On the other hand, the contemporary feel-good crowd reaches internally to that sense that there really is meaning. Nevertheless, because pinning it down into a dogma arrests the inner sense of human freedom, many shy away from ideological certainty and "live in the now"; this is a recipe for regret.
In Genesis, the Serpent said that when we eat of the fruit of the tree, our eyes will be opened to the knowledge of both good and evil. We will have the knowledge and become as gods. It is not enough to be made in the image and likeness of God, but we must actually do something to fashion ourselves as such – idolatry. Every human error of faith begins with a misconstruing of the nature and will of God. Pantheism, modalism, and other forms of thought that fashion God as a being and substance that He is not is the beginning and root of heresy. The will of God is not explicated in the beginning. Even in the Word, the "why" God created is not there. Why He created humans for his company in the garden, is truly a mystery. We turned on Him and through sin created an eternal division between us and our Father. His will today until it is fulfilled is to reconcile us to Himself. That is the only and central will of God is that He brings us to Himself.
Why would so many youth of today want any part of this? So many are inner-connected, they live in a diverse existence, and technology allows them to see behind the curtain. We as Christians represent the Word, our actions are marketing tools, our love and charity our products; we are the billboards advertising the faith. What we say and what we do has a direct impact on others. When the minority of forked-tongued fire-and-brimstone extremists becomes the human face of Christianity, they drive those in need of Christ's love away, convincing them that their sins are greater than God's mercy. The zealots feed the argument of the jesters, the two working in unison to build a hollow yet destructive wall between the innocent and God's Grace. When we who proclaim ourselves as Christians, we who love our neighbors and desire to bring all people to Christ's Saving Cross - for it is there where God's Grace is received - allow the extremists and jesters to construct the wall, we are just as guilty.
The eternal redemption of humanity by the unified eternal-corporeal Christ as one person with two-distinct and non-commingled natures that communicate their attributes to one another. Thus, the body of Christ enjoys the use of the divine attributes of eternal limitlessness and God experienced death through the bodily attributes of Christ's humanity. God tasted death while not dying. Man's sins were eternally paid for without limit through the bodily death of Jesus. We as Christians are tasked to protect the innocent, today we are failing in our role. Our failures shine through in the poorly decided choices being made by our youth. Our inaction has empowered the jesters and false teachers. We have allowed manmade issues to drive Christianity and not the Gospel. But our ever-faithful Lord and Savior welcomes even we who have failed our youth, back into His loving Home through faith. We must lead the youth that they may follow.
Rodger E. Broomé, PhD., is a member of the Hope Lutheran Church in West Jordan, Utah.
Eric James Russell, Ed.D., is a member of the Cathedral of the Madeline Catholic Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.