Over at the Pew Research Center this study was done on Millennials: Millennials in Adulthood – Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends.
All over the social media world it looks as though we’re witnessing one of the greatest ‘debates’ in the history of America, or maybe even the world. The ‘debate’ I’m referring to is the one that is taking place on the individual level. It is not the traditional debate where one representative from one group debates with a representative from another over a single topic, but where every single person is (or can) contributing input to anything controversial put before them. Seemingly without fail, controversial topics spawn into massive arenas of heated debate (or even super-heated debate) within minutes. Wading through the fields of endless cross-fire one can see very clearly that there is a lot going on in peoples’ hearts. Controversial issues are seemingly being taken more personally by individuals than ever before, and representative leaders are looked to less and less. As I have spent time perusing through social media debate after social media debate I have drawn a conclusion that there is a very strong theme at work running through nearly all of them. People, especially the young, are elevating individual rights to the highest of all human values. Indeed, the self is looking more and more like the ‘supreme god’ everyday. And if not the most supreme value, it surely must be on its way there. When all arguments seem to fail in the arena of whatever is being debated, individual rights seems to be called up as last bastion of hope (for winning). Everything always comes back to that. If not, another very common option seems to be to curse the opponent and leave.
“It is my right!”
“You don’t have the right!”
“Don’t take away my rights!”
“What right do you have!?”
I believe the trend is a clear departure from not just the ways of the 1950s, or grandma Jane’s and grandpa Jim’s ‘ol traditional, outdated values, but from authority itself. Throughout the history of civilization there is often an ebb and flow to the departure from, and return to, various established forms of authority. The belief in a single creator God (monotheism) is the ultimate authority to which everything that lives, breaths, and moves submits and obeys. He is the God above all gods; the Name above all names. If a particular civilization believes in multiple gods (polytheism) there is still submission to higher authority, but it will be more dispersed and divided. Indigenous peoples might have ancestral spirits as their higher authority; or inanimate idols, tree deities, animal deities, or the like.
As far as I have done my homework, I have never come across a civilization that has cast off all sense of authority and made the individual reign supreme. Other than our own, that is.
This is one of the reasons why the present cultural trends fascinate me so much–it’s largely unprecedented. In the ebb and flow of culture, economics, and politics it appears that our civilization is suddenly exploding like a pressure cooker with the projectile of radical individualism taking out everything that we have ever known as a people. All of human history, more or less, has been built on corporate ideologies—from all, one. America was founded with this in mind–E pluribus unum—Out of many, one. It has been the country’s highest motto and was placed on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 and later replaced with In God We Trust in 1956. Both motto’s imply a singular authority. It is impossible for all to be as one without some kind of singular directive or authority. Why? Because humans naturally disagree before they agree. That agreement, covenant, treatise, promise, etc., if there is one, becomes the authority. At one time, the nation agreed, more or less, about God and thus enacted In God We Trust as the national motto. Agreements are authoritative and binding elements to our existence. Dishonorable, wretched, and miserable creatures rebel against, and break, agreements they have made. Such people forfeit trust, become untrustworthy, or even become worthless to the well-being of a society or group. Of course, we’ve all broken promises and agreements in some way or another, which is why we’re all dishonorable, wretched, and miserable creatures.
“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Amos 3:3 NIV
Why does all this matter? Because generation by generation, we are moving into a profound disagreement with one another. Anyone been on Facebook lately? Authority is being looked as an evil, while self-supremacy is being looked at as good, and social media users (more young than old) are showing themselves strikingly unabashed in propping themselves up as court-martials.
The Individual Reigns Supreme
Feeling good about oneself is not the same as self-supremacy. Self-supremacy is where the individual decides what is right and wrong and what is good and evil. The individual becomes the source of righteousness—it is your own righteousness. Obviously it doesn’t require walking too far down this line of thought to see how destructive this becomes to a civilization. The individual is above the marriage, the family unit, the neighborhood, the city, the nation, the world….
But just as you can’t take away the bees and expect there to be honey, neither can you take away authority and expect there to be harmony. Authority creates harmony; self-supremacy does not. So why are the generations growing more and more dissonant with authority and obedience?
“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood. Now ranging in age from 18 to 331, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry— and optimistic about the future.”
The Millennial generation is seething with distaste for anything authoritative. Politics, religion, and anyone not in their social networks are not to be trusted or submitted to. Notice also how marriage is being forsaken for it too, as an agreement, is an authoritative element in a person’s life.
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 1 Corinthians 7:4 ESV
Of course, the economic hardship of Millennials over all other generations also seems to contribute to the slowing of the marriage rate. The political redefining of marriage in our time goes way beyond the gender differences and roles and headlong into the dark abyss of self-supremacy. This means that marriage is “whatever I want it to be”. Politics are adapting to this self-supremacy because it feels it has to in order to uphold the individual’s rights and freedoms. Who is congress to tell us that we can’t feel the way we want to feel or can’t do what we want to with ourselves? We have seen this played out over and over and over again in the arena of abortion issues. If a woman feels she is supreme over her fetus, who is Congress to tell them they can’t feel that way? The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights, are pointed to again and again to re-enforce the rights of the individual. For too long the fetus has been treated as a non-individual, yet these same documents, repeatedly invoked by pro-choice advocates, also imply that the fetus is created, has equal rights, and is endowed unalienable rights. Who is Congress to define personal inviolability for us? Yet they did: “…all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator”. They declared God the creator of us and as such He was our sole authority. But the interesting thing is that this very declaration of the creator God as our supreme trust is precisely what has given people the freedom to believe and think how they want, or even get rid of Him, in the first place. The very rights we hold so dear were based upon the belief that such rights were imparted to us by God himself and not by any man, dictator, state, or religious institution:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;” – Declaration of Independence
And to think, most civilizations that had (or have) a god as the supreme authority tend to kill you if you do not “choose” their god. The American government was instituted to “secure such rights” as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The older generations have repeatedly failed the younger. Our young generation feels it has tasted and seen what it’s like to live with the creator God of the Bible as the authority and has decided it wants to do away with it. The reality is, it has not known, not in the least, what it’s like to live in a place without him. It has not known dictatorship, or a strangling legalism, or the fear of death and imprisonment if you do not assent to a religion or political system.
Since the creator God of the Bible was placed above all established authorities—“In God We Trust“—we have all been able to enjoy the freedom to believe and think as we choose and not as a religious organization chooses, or a dictatorship, or a government chooses. It also has afforded us the freedom to choose our paths without fear of death or imprisonment. If the atheist, the political dissenter, or the Millennial were wise, he would leave the “In God We Trust” motto in place because, so far, it has been the only polity, the only ethic, the only philosophy, and the only science in human history that has ever given them such freedom as they now have. Millennials say that the country’s best years are ahead. But not without God they aren’t. When the next generations continue, in its misdirected optimism, to move down the yellow-brick-road of self-supremacy and replaces “In God We Trust” with “In Self We Trust” it will find not liberty, not personal freedom, but chaos, disagreement, division, and ultimately something far worse than ever imagined. For,
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Mark 3:24-25
Already the birth pangs are upon us as ‘unprecedented’ acts of destructive self-supremacy are becoming commonplace.