The more I think about the notion that an entire culture has succumbed to the allure of youth, and trapped itself in immaturity, the more troubled I become. Once upon a time, I thought the cult of youth was just the worship of the body beautiful–lithe, smooth-skinned young flesh–and a corresponding fear of aging and death. But I fear the truth is far more insidious. The more we become a “visual” culture, the more easily we fall into this trap of juvenilization…the hypnotic draw of TV, video, computer, and ‘Droid have sucked us in. We read less, we react more. We ponder less, we play more. We don’t reflect, we just “like” reflexively.
We blame it all on being busy…we don’t have time to read something substantial. Give me the news briefs, please. Give me the short sentences, the pithy paragraphs, the headlines. Read a book? Well…maybe on Kindle, where I can keep pausing to play Angry Birds.
But our appetite for sound bites seems to leave us empty of deep thought while forever hungry for more hot air. I could spend a lot of time researching and reporting to you what I think is at the root of this cultural phenomenon.
But it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that we work to regain a society of mature people who aren’t afraid of reading carefully and reasoning logically, who don’t flinch away from ideas that are unsettling or demanding. What we think–to the extent that we DO think–very much defines who we are…and eventually, what we think BECOMES who we are.
We’ve all heard the computer geek’s mantra: “Garbage in/garbage out”, right? It’s a truism. I have a favorite Bible verse which is the antithesis of that statement:
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
DO we want to be commendable, morally excellent, truthful, honorable, pure? …Then reading, watching, absorbing a steady diet of tripe, gossip, pornography, violence and lies is probably not an effective strategy. I don’t personally think the majority of Americans WANT to be trivial, gossipy, thrill-seeking, simplistic and vulgar. But somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten the idea that we can give lip service to an ideal, then go and do whatever we want, whatever is easy, comfortable, fun, relaxing, low key and unchallenging…and somehow the ideal will still become a reality.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer indicted the Church for doing this to faith. He called it “cheap grace”…the notion that one can say a prayer of commitment to Jesus, and show up in church on Sundays when convenient, and…no worries! Don’t bother working at a faith-filled life, changing a bad habit, striving to do better, seeking truth. You’re “in.”
Meanwhile, I fear that most of us in this country enjoy “cheap patriotism”: the sense that we’re entitled, as Americans, to all the rights and privileges that pertain thereto, but owe nothing in return…not so much as the duty to be well informed before we enter a voting booth.
Of course young people want to do what’s quick and easy…it’s human nature. That doesn’t make it right, wise or best. That’s why God gave them parents…to model for them that doing what takes more time, energy and thought is not only better in the long run, it brings even short-term satisfaction, and builds character in ways that no short cut ever can.
But what happens when a nation contains so many adults who did not have such parenting? Who are in fact just “big kids”? What happens when the adults still need parents? Who is going to parent them? I have a sneaking suspicion I know the answer… pray there’s another way to get us all to grow up.
Artwork from Sherrie Thai