Tuesday, August 08, 2006

About My Generation: Autonomy is Everything

This follows from yesterday's post. We are narcisstic, lost in a self-gaze of our own making. From this comes a concern only for ourself. That's not to say that we don't have friends. It's just that oftentimes our friends serve our own interests. No, for most of my generation, autonomy is everything.

Young people of other generations took interest in civic and community affairs, joining groups that were dedicated in some way to the betterment of society and the cultivation of genuine friendship. Past folks also participated in religious activities, going to church, youth group, and other such events. Groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts were popular, and many youth participated in sports (not just the elite). Nowadays, though, the only community many of my peers have is found in the darkened anonymity of a rock concert, or the public spectacle of a sporting event. We're not patriotic, certainly, so that cuts that side out of things. We could care less about politics--remember, we're cynical--so that sort of involvement is nonexistent. In fact, I can see this clearly in my own life. When I hear the President say, for example, that Americans should carpool to save gasoline, I feel absolutely nothing. There is no sense within me of public duty. I am my own autonomous individual buying gasoline and shoes and cds as I fit. In my mind, and the mind of my generation, I don't fit into any grid or form a small part of a larger social fabric. I just do what I do. I'm autonomous, you see, and I have no need to do otherwise.

It's sad that this is so. I've recently realized that I am generationally inclined toward selfish autonomy, and I've been trying to remedy the situation in small ways. I want to participate in society and not shrug it off. I believe in the common good, not simply the Christian good, being the advancement of things in our own little corner, but the public good. I want to support good art and dethrone bad politicians and make positive contributions to society. These are good and normal things to do. Perhaps if a great deal of my generation began thinking not simply for ourselves but for others, things would change. And yet our old companion irreverence--sneering irreverence--rears his head, and snickers at the naivete of the notion of the common good. No, he says, and my generation listens, just turn the Ipod up, hit the bar, and gratify yourself, because all this is other stuff is worthless and unfixable and who wants to be a part of that losing cause?

Christians should avoid this attitude. The emerging church has understood, perceptively, that youth actually do want to belong, albeit to cool stuff. So they play things from a cool slant. There's good and bad in that: good, because they connect with youth, and bad, because they downplay doctrine or make it fuzzy to connect. We need to avoid their error while capitalizing on their achievement. Show young people, pastors et al, that Christianity has a big story with big meaning and big things to do in it. This is a huge reason why missions is big right now among young Christians. A few of us have discovered that Christianity isn't tame and packaged but is awesome and far-reaching and life-involving, and that's a powerful vision. We need to focus on the "bigness" of Christianity these days. Preach the whole counsel, the true gospel, but do so while emphasizing that our lives are meaningful and meant to be connected--with forgiveness from sin, with fellowship with God, and with love for others. That, not autonomy, is everything.


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