The Prodigal Generation

The Prodigal Generation April 17, 2024

Americans’ ranking on the latest World Happiness Report has plunged from #15 to #23, the lowest it has ever been.  Young adults have been dragging those numbers down. Gallup, one of the pollsters involved with that study, blamed the decline on “Americans under 30 feeling worse about their lives.”

Politico has published an article on the soaring mental health problems among young people and young adults, observing that “no one knows what’s causing the spike.” Arizona pastor Robb Brunansky , who brought up the information in the first paragraph, thinks he knows why.

Brunansky notes that, according to Gallup,  “Americans under 30 feel less supported by friends and family, less free to make their own life choices, more stressed about their living conditions, less confident in the government, and more concerned about political corruption.”

No wonder, he says.  This so-called Generation Z, aged 11-30, “is unquestionably the least religious generation in American history.”  Of course that is going to impact their happiness and stability.

He notes that in the absence of religion, faith in the government often rushes in to fill that void.  Political zeal takes the place of religious commitment, as people look to the government to solve all of their problems and give meaning to their lives.  This is happening, he says, on both sides of our political polarization. But the government, made up as it is of sinful, limited human beings, can’t solve all of our problems and must end up disillusioning those who put their faith in it.

I was most struck by what Brunansky said about the loss of a sense of family and the misery that causes.  Again, what else can we expect?  Young Americans are rejecting marriage in favor of extramarital sex, pornography, and homosexuality.  And large numbers of them are rejecting parenthood, both by resolving never to have children and by demanding the right to abort any whom they might conceive.  This mindset repudiates the very concept of family, so of course those who think that way will never know the stability and the happiness that family can bring. Says Brunansky:

Certainly, people can — and do — attempt to re-define the family on their own terms. But re-defining something God ordained does not make that redefinition correspond with reality. Eventually, the proverbial chickens will come home to roost. Reality wins every time. When you lose the foundation of what family is, you experientially lose family, which leads to loneliness and a feeling of being unsupported by family because there is no family to support you.

Brunansky is hopeful that, like the Prodigal Son, this generation–disillusioned and experiencing the failures of their assumptions–will come to its senses and return to God.

I appreciate Brunansky for not simply blaming the internet for the woes of Generation Z, nor blaming their parents.  I do think we need to ask how and why so many young adults have turned against religion and the family, even as they reap the consequences of doing so.  We also need to ask how to help them.  But I think it’s healthy and not necessarily blaming the victim to hold people accountable when they contribute to their own misery.


Image by Sammy-Sander from Pixabay


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