When confronted with a life story to make an argument it helps if the life is longer than twenty-nine years.
I was asked to think about the “testimony” of the Christian life . . . one that I generally found uplifting and good, but had to respond that I thought it better to wait until the man was older than twenty-nine. I did not despise his youth, I just wanted to account for it!
A good of technology is that it allows us all to tell our story, but a bad of US culture is that it puts a premium on the experiences of people who are relatively young.
We don’t wonder about such self-reflection, instead we reward it. After all, our President wrote two memoirs before starting his career!
Americans have misunderstood the Socratic “examined” life to mean reflecting on their own feelings and experience, instead of moving outside of subjectivity and embracing the wider community of humans living and dead who have thought well on such things. Genuine Socratic self-reflection distrusts the report of self, because self has been so damaged by love of unworthy things and damaging passions.
Following your heart is advice of nineties Disney films, not Plato!
Recently, I was asked if the experience of some states with gay “marriage” didn’t show that the consequences of such a change had been positive. “Of course,” I replied, “the good done by the change was immediate, but any harm will take generations to show.” After all, the people who grew up in the time before this era are not dead . . . far from it and so if the world is really getting better we will not see the full awesomeness for some time.
Whatever the merits or demerits of gay marriage, we will only know them decades from now. Will our culture produce healthy children?
Safe to say we have more young adults killing themselves then ever, more eating disorders, and growing numbers of young adults harming themselves in various ways. Of course, for the very bright, attractive, or exceptionally talented choices in the twenties may not matter as much, but it is hard to know . . . yet.
One obvious truth: the poor are being devastated by cultural change.
Which changes? Is it American consumerism? Libertine sexual morality? Growth of government dependency?
We don’t know yet, but what makes for a good Wikipedia article on a singer who might be in and out of drug dependency clinics, rejects God for subjectivism, and lives in coffee house culture is not working for inner city Compton or Appalachia. Both the right, too tied to libertarian fantasies, and the left, subject to libertine dreams, are not helping those groups.
We know that poor kids are not being helped, but have been taught to mock authority, Church, and look to their hearts. The ancient wisdom would suggest that they are following their passions too much and counsel teaching moderation.
As ancient philosophers, religious sages, and generations of parents could have told us, the experiment is going badly. What works in the womb of college, at least a bit, with its artificial and very expensive community is lonely and does nothing for the half of American that is not college material.
At forty-nine a healthy society would mock me if I wrote a memoir, because my life is not yet over or important enough to merit it. A strong culture would point me to older men and women who had lived well as examples. But of course bad choices now make a story “authentic,” the idea being that is the pig stye and carousing that make the Prodigal worth emulating not going home in repentance.
The problem, of course, is not in the “young people,” whatever that means. The problem is in human nature, my nature. I have my experience and my feelings, I must account for those, but history teaches it is dangerous to privilege those experiences. An old man who has lived for self is less trustworthy, because more base than a younger man.
We are all so young compared to Truth that all our judgments are callow and foolish. We need revelation precisely for this reason. The Bible is not God, but is an anchor to something divine beyond my subjectivity. Any crotchety reaction to “youth” risks merely ignoring my relative inexperience and subjectivity (excusing my overeating for example!) for faults or temptations I do not share.
The Father to which the Prodigal returns is God, a God with ideas about Holiness, not me or my generation. We are all prodigal sons or elder brothers, children, because only God is Father.
So my judgment of the culture and of our haste must return to myself as I cry: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”