Growing up in such a world, we are left desensitized and yet also yearning for something more. In a real way, our youth have grown tired of the cliché theologizing, the cheap grace, and the lack of love. This tension has created a people searching for transcendence—people looking for love and life. And that is not such a bad thing. The “expressive individualism” of our culture leaves us alone because it is alone. The fear of boredom becomes the fear of life itself.
As Christians (or former Christians) we have yet to fully assess the pressures of growing up in a pluralistic society. We are not sure what do with the feelings we have. The doubts that fill our hearts seem unsettling at best and horrific and unspeakable at worst. For many young Christians, an open ear does not exist, and the church has been of little help. Young people are not sure what to do or where to go. This has left me wondering: have we unknowingly aided our youth in their secularizing flight from God? If so, what can we do?
As I look back on my experience and see how so many of my friends have left the Christian faith or become complacent, I, like many others, have desperately sought to find answers to what we experienced and what we see around us. The unanswered questions and feelings in a teen’s head and heart are, at the time, seemingly unbearable. Besides all the changes of entering into adulthood, growing up in secular America makes it even more difficult for Christians.
The Pressure of Pluralism
The pressure of living in a secular world is very subtle—even subconscious. The very fact that our classmates, neighbors, and friends don’t believe what we do, or have the same lifestyle we have, makes a huge difference in how Christian kids growing up in secular America perceive reality. The very fact that our culture has built its empire on the idea that we can live life without a commitment to some vision of ultimate reality creates a tension within us. The idea that there might be some other true answer out there can, and does, cause many who grow up in the church to leave the faith.
I was just talking to an older woman in her seventies who still struggles with this tension created by pluralism. How can we really know the Bible is true when there are so many other people claiming to be right? How can we say that God blesses us and our lives when our non-Christian neighbors look happy and healthy? How can we say that we are better than those people out there who only want to be loved? I mean, isn’t that just human? “I am human and I want to be loved—just like everybody else…” to quote the rock band The Smiths. If God wants us to be happy and healthy, who’s to say that there is only one prescribed method for pleasing God? If God exists…
These tensions and questions are all given a voice in music, in schools, and in movies but rarely within the church. When I was growing up, they were either squelched with authoritarianism or sentimentalized. Adults at the time (and even now) often reacted in these two ways: either our feelings were dismissed as the result of not having enough faith or they were ignored by giving us too much bad pizza and CCM. The bad theological answers that we often heard (and hear) sounded like prosperity gospel-lite. “If you live in this manner, God will not bless you.” “If you don’t take his word on blind faith, God will not give you your heart’s desires.”
Could it be that we were accidentally given a small vision of what it means to be human and a miserly vision of God? The middle class love for the American dream seemed a lot like serving mammon, while at the same time denying decency to people struggling with their identity, sexuality, and sense of purpose. How are we to make sense of this?