Monday, September 08, 2008

GenerationME - Post 2 - Living Anyway You Want

Sorry for the delay in picking up this stream again. Confession: got roped into the convention coverage.  Back to GenerationMe…

Jean M. Twenge on page 19 gives us this great little paragraph with a statistic that you know to be true, but when you think about should you give pause:

The strict rules of previous decades went far beyond appearance...Overall, duty and responsibility were held more important than individual needs and wants.  There were certain things you did, certain things you said, and certain things you didn’t talk about.  End of story.  Today, few of these rules apply. We are driven instead by our individual needs and desires.  We are told to follow our dreams, to pursue happiness above all else.  It’s OK to be different, and you should do what’s right for you. Compared to Boomer in 1973, GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement “There is no single right way to live.” Yong people say that the most important quality a child can learn is “to think for himself or herself,” and only half as many young people as old say that obedience is a good lesson for children.

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The strict rules of previous decades went far beyond appearance...Overall, duty and responsibility were held more important than individual needs and wants.  There were certain things you did, certain things you said, and certain things you didn’t talk about.  End of story.  Today, few of these rules apply. We are driven instead by our individual needs and desires.  We are told to follow our dreams, to pursue happiness above all else.  It’s OK to be different, and you should do what’s right for you. Compared to Boomer in 1973, GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement “There is no single right way to live.” Yong people say that the most important quality a child can learn is “to think for himself or herself,” and only half as many young people as old say that obedience is a good lesson for children. The strict rules of previous decades went far beyond appearance...Overall, duty and responsibility were held more important than individual needs and wants.  There were certain things you did, certain things you said, and certain things you didn’t talk about.  End of story.  Today, few of these rules apply. We are driven instead by our individual needs and desires.  We are told to follow our dreams, to pursue happiness above all else.  It’s OK to be different, and you should do what’s right for you. Compared to Boomer in 1973, GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement “There is no single right way to live.” Yong people say that the most important quality a child can learn is “to think for himself or herself,” and only half as many young people as old say that obedience is a good lesson for children. The strict rules of previous decades went far beyond appearance...Overall, duty and responsibility were held more important than individual needs and wants.  There were certain things you did, certain things you said, and certain things you didn’t talk about.  End of story.  Today, few of these rules apply. We are driven instead by our individual needs and desires.  We are told to follow our dreams, to pursue happiness above all else.  It’s OK to be different, and you should do what’s right for you. Compared to Boomer in 1973, GenMe is twice as likely to agree with the statement “There is no single right way to live.” Yong people say that the most important quality a child can learn is “to think for himself or herself,” and only half as many young people as old say that obedience is a good lesson for children.

There is a lot to say about this particular statistic.  We tend to think of the Boomers as self-centred, disobedient, and non-conformists.  Isn’t this the generation that burned draft cards and bras?  Isn’t this the generation made famous by the movie The Graduate where the idea of going to work in plastics was viewed something on the order of working for Satan?

You may remember the days of late 1990s and early 2000s, at the height of the Internet Boom when offices had to have casual dress all the time, where dogs were allowed to come to work and the less.  It was a nod to the fact that there is no such thing as a right workplace.  Even more so, what works for you in an office, a family, a school setting, may not work for someone else, and thus there can be no rules.

A book written at the height of the tech-boom, Cyberselfish, by Paulina Borsook.  The subtitle, “A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech” tells you all you need to know.  For whatever reason, the increasing involvement in technology gives people the sense that they have the right to determine what is good and bad for themselves, and more so, it removes any notion of external constraints.  There is no more “oughtness” for those who are empowered by technology and have those beliefs reaffirmed by the wider culture.  For those of you who do not know about the great moral philosopher, Kant, his categorical imperative, the “ought” that guides our moral actions, has guided certain assumptions about human nature.  These ideas no longer have validity. 

Of course America has always had a strong libertarian streak. I don’t say that is a bad thing.  I believe in the concept that there is no compulsion in religion, and I dare say no compulsion in lifestyle choices.  One of the great things about America is that people do have the right to live their lives anyway they want.  This means that people make good choices, and they make bad choices.  But what we are seeing today, and what is reflected in this above quote, is that now all choices are viewed not merely as ones that people should be allowed to make, but that all choices are morally and social equivalent.  This has become a common refrain.  You always get the single-mother who is doing a great job raising her kids, and inevitably we hear, “I hate it when people say I need a man in my life to raise my kids, or that having two parents are better than one.” Look, we can all commend such a woman, cheer her on, even support her in different ways.  But any single case, anecdotes again (see my previous post that opened this series) do not make a general reality.  The facts are clear: kids raised in a two parent (preferably the birth parents who are married do better in every single measure. 

What GenMe represents is that radcal egalitarian nature of our current culture.  All things are held to be equal.  Which is fine until you realize they are not. I am reading at the same time I am doing these pieces a great little book from 2006 by Michael Barone called Hard America, Soft America. Barone’s point is that such “feel-good” messages are acceptable in what he calls “Soft America,” places like schools, academia, government and the like. Because the environment is soft, no one ends up getting hurt by such views.  But most of adult life is lived in “Hard America,” places like work, the military, and in the world. There such views create real challenges.  They create real hardships.

Last week, conservative media critic, Brent Bozell III had a column on the new CW channel version of 90210.  The link is here: http://townhall.com/Columnists/BrentBozellIII/2008/09/06/toxic_beverly_hills?page=full&comments=true He is castigating the show because the very first scene feature high schoolers engaging in oral sex.  Yikes.  The show has been specifically advertised to young people, including on something called “BusRadio” which bills itself as an age-appropriate alternative to FM to be played on school buses.  Okay, fine, isn’t the answer that we all just tune out?  Well such remarks miss what many on the Left have been telling us for years, that we are not just individuals who stand alone but we all belong to a society. Even if your children don’t watch this show, they will interact with others who do. Part the general social milieu then is that, to go back to the statistic at the beginning, that everything is acceptable if someone thinks it is.  The problem is that making such decisions, like performing oral sex in the school parking lot has real and often bad outcomes in the “Hard” world, thinks like expulsion, STDs, depression, and more.  But see, the rich and famous who tell us that we can live anyway we want, can live that way because of their fame and weath. A 25 year old women or man cannot...they live in the real world.

So we are dealing with a generation who has been highly influenced not only by our core libertarian philosophy of our country, but also by an increasingly licentious and “Soft” culture.  Now consider this very interesting data from Barna:

In the United States, Christianity is also increasingly viewed as a religion of intolerance. Barna reveals that 93 per cent of the next generation who identify themselves as being outside the Christian faith associate Christians and Christianity with judgmentalism, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, and being sheltered,
insincere, and too political. They tend to be less critical of the man Jesus Christ than they are of His followers or of the religion they believe He established.2 This means that Christians are perceived as harsh toward people themselves, not just intolerant of sin.

Considering the view that there is no right way to live that is dominant in GenMe it is easy to see that many of the approaches of evangelism that the Church currently uses are going to merely affirm preconceived notions of this generation and will fall on deaf ears.  So how do you reach a generation who belief in the fluidity not just of truth, but of value, makes many of the strong points of traditional evangelistic efforts null? 
Many are talking about waiting for this generation to merely fall flat on their faces.  I call this the hard love tactic.  And yes, clearly when people with a “Soft” view that there is no single right way to live your life run into the hardships that such a view will bring, they are more open to new ideas.  However at that point we need to have already established genuine, open, and committed relationships with them, which may be difficult given their other beliefs.  But also, such a view means that we actually encouraging people to experience things that will leave life-long scars – the scars of failed dreams, broken relationships, loneliness, debt, and the rest of the troubles that follow from a “whatever I choose is right” belief structure. 

What is the alternative?  Is it to focus not on a “single right way to live,” but on the “betters ways to live” that help people to understand their true identity that comes from being a child of God?  Is it to talk less about moral choices, especially with a sliding curve of moral failures (homosexuality really bad, adultery pretty bad, divorce sort of bad, lying on your resume less bad, maxing out your credit cards and declaring bankruptcy even less bad, and gossip bad only if its about me), and instead point to moral truth as rooted in best outcomes?  I don’t know. I throw these two ideas out there because I have see this belief about no single way to live as both very true (because we are all so very different) and potentially very destructive for my generation and those who are coming behind me. But for people who reject notions of black-and-white truth its going to take a lot of thinking to help them see the beutey of the light and the dangers of the dark. 

Posted by Christopher on 09/08 at 03:27 PM
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Quote "Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way." Karl Barth.

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