THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE
The Chronicles of Higher Education carried an article on February 28, 2007 titled: New Study Finds ‘Most Narcissistic Generation’ on Campuses, Watching YouTube. The article cited an unpublished study that says the current generation, called Millennial, is the most narcissistic in recent history. That is quite a statement. I am a Baby Boomer and I thought we held that title. The study is based on the responses of 16,000 college students who completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.
The study says that “gadgets and online social-networking sites have stoked the self-loving tendencies of modern students.” Millennials share with Baby Boomers the love of gadgets. We love remote controls, mp3 players, video cameras, HD TV, etc. Today, Apple’s iPhone is officially released to a crazed consumer market. It is pretty, its cool and does all kinds of cool things. But, functionally, it does not do as many things as some cell phones that have been on the market for years. But everyone has to have one. Much of it can be credited to marketing, but it is also the self-centered drive to have the latest and greatest gadget.
If the Millennials are the most self centered generation, how did that happen? The simple answer is, we Baby Boomers created them. In the 1960s the time was right for us to discover Hedonism, the philosophy that says we should maximize our pleasures and minimize our pain. We did it under the disguise of wanting to change the world. Slogans like “Make love not war,” “peace, love and rock’n roll” actually reveal the hedonistic nature of the movement. We grew up to become self centered, self absorbed and everything in the world, including our children, took a back seat our self obsession. So, generation X and the Millennials grew up with multiple parents because boomers divorced and remarried with regularity. Soon, many abandoned marriage altogether so that many children never had an intact family or something resembling parents who taught basic morals and values. Materialistic consumption became the replacement for parental responsibility. Ravenous desire became the substitute for values. And self esteem classes became the substitute for responsible living.
We should not wonder when young men in the ministry think they have the answers and that we Baby Boomer pastors should step aside. They have been taught from their infant days that their wants and desires were paramount. They were taught well by us.
Before western civilization lost its collective mind, it was understood that parenting included the teaching of morals and values to our children. We assumed that there were basic values that needed to be taught. These values were the foundation for a civil society.
In his book The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis defends the idea of transcendent values. There is such a thing as beauty and love and kindness and sublimity, etc. Quoting Aristotle, Lewis agrees that “the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” And he concurs with Plato, “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things that really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.” Lewis assumes that emotions do not necessarily have to be mere sentimentality but proper responses to ideals worthy of those emotions. A healthy emotional life is one in which emotions are under the command of the intellect.
Lewis called transcendent values the Tao. Transcendent values are universal and appear in almost all cultures. He chose the Chinese word “Tao,” meaning “the Way,” to describe these values. Lewis explains:
It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. (The Abolition of Man, pp 18-19.)
We who are a bit older, remember the values by which our world operated. Maybe our parents were too busy building a world after WWII to pass them on. Or, perhaps values had become quaint and old fashioned by their day. Whatever the reason, here we are today as the most self centered generation in recent human memory.
In church life, the loss of transcendent values is expressed as disrespect of older leaders. And who can blame them? Where were their fathers when they needed basic training in life? What about their pastoral models who were more interested in building personal kingdoms than investing themselves in the lives of people? It was the Baby Boomer generation of pastors who decided that church growth at any price was the way to go. It was the Baby Boomer generation who threw out biblical faith and substituted church growth principles and insisted on seeker services (as if lost people seek God). Church buildings and worship services were designed not to offend the non believer. The unredeemed are supposed to feel comfortable worshiping God-what a contradiction! It is a kind of a halfway covenant of the late 20th century for those who remember church history.
Now we have a generation that is severed from its historical roots trying to make up for the mistakes of their fathers. What they don’t realize, and what my generation does not realize is that we are all so incorrect, so self-centered that we cannot see how much God has been left out of our churches and our personal lives.
All human culture is corrupt. It is always man centered and it is designed to satisfy something in the human heart instead of pleasing God. What Baby Boomers to the Millennial generation need to learn is that God is a holy God and nothing we have to offer is satisfactory to him. If we think of it or devise it, then it probably has serious flaws. We need to radically return to God and biblical faith.
The last thing we need to do is immerse our selves in culture. Anytime we compromise Christ with culture, it is sin. Among the many meanings of “sin” is to miss the mark. We will always miss the mark if we think we must compromise with culture. It is illogical to think that if we look like the world, talk like the world, sound like the world, and claim its values, we will somehow reach the lost. The more we compromise, the more the church declines. Perhaps we need to recover the special call that God gives to his people. The Apostle Peter knew that we were called out of the world to live godly lives:
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:9-11, NASB)
Baby Boomers, Baby Busters, Generation X, Millennials, we have more in common than any of us thought. We all missed the mark. We need to recover God’s vision for his church. We are aliens and strangers, just passing through. Why don’t we immerse ourselves in God’s culture?