"Tomorrow's Crosscurrent of Generations" was originally posted as three blogs: It has been revised and abridged for For new Sky View readers
Two Competing Generations:
There are two younger generations to look out for; and to be sure they will be at the forefront of tomorrow’s culture war: The ipod generation and the JPII generation. To be fair, I could just as well use the “Ben XVI generation” as a label to signify the demographic of young Catholics in this blog; but for brevity sake, I will simply make reference to the “JPII generation.”
JPII Generation: A Remnant but Formidable
The JPII generation is comprised of young, well-formed Catholics who have witnessed the disappointing aftermath of watered-down Catholicism. Empty churches and seminaries throughout the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s were, more often than not, the legacy of those decades. Having learned and experienced the fullness of the Faith, today's young Catholics want little to do with what the Baby Boom generation had bequeathed to them.
In recent decades the Catholic Church has lost scores of young men and women to the world through poor catechises and lackluster sermons. To be sure, the full effect of these losses is yet to be felt. Nevertheless, the JPII generation, having benefited from the genuine fruits of the Second Vatican Council, is arguably the best formed youth the Church has had in centuries. With the advantage of hindsight, they learned key lessons from two extremes which occurred in the twentieth century: Prior to the Second Vatican Council there was a mechanical-like formalism in some quarters of the Church. For many, Catholicism was a passive routine. The second extreme, which followed Vatican II, involved a relativistic, worldly kind of Catholicism which likewise affected many Catholics.
Needless to say, the pendulum had swung from one extreme to the other within a short period of time; that is, between 1960 and 1970. This latter extreme, unfortunately, is still with us today. However, it is being challenged by the JPII generation of priests and laity who possess a balance which has yet to fully express itself in key leadership positions. Albeit, this younger generation of Catholics is only a remnant now, but in the near future they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Two Generations: Two Contrary Movements
Consider the counterpart of the JPII generation: It is interesting to note that the younger generations in our society (outside the Church) are statistically more socially-liberal and want less to do with organized religion than the older generations. This is something that the New Evangelization will have to factor in its mission. But within the Church itself, the younger generation of priests being pumped out of seminaries is more orthodox than their predecessors. What is more, they have a love and respect for the institution of the Church which was relaxed in previous generations.
The point is that there is now beginning to emerge a crosscurrent of younger generations; one being shaped by society and the other by the Church. For instance, the younger our civil leaders are, the more they embrace abortion rights and same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the younger our Church leaders are, the more orthodox and solidly grounded they are in the moral law. Indeed, these two demographics are moving in opposite directions. And to be sure, it is likely that there will be an ever sharpening tension between two generations.
I-Pod Generation Tendencies: Isolation, Narcissism, and Stardom
Over the next ten to twenty years, the ipod generation (includes the use text messaging and x-box) will bring a whole new set of social challenges to the culture and to the Church. The social habits they are beginning to practice today will create a new dynamic in relationships tomorrow; this will especially be the case among family members and more importantly, between the individual and God.
First, among adolescents and young adults, face-to-face interactions with people in the same room will be seen as less desirable than communicating with others through text-messaging or some other form. With using an i-pod, and all that it offers through modern technology, there is a temptation to not to value the family member or friend in their presence. As these habits become more universal, I fear that an illusion will result from this. And that illusion will be that whatever is “out there” is far more interesting than whatever is “in here.” By “in here” I mean those people who are present in the same room. As the saying goes, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”
This is a moral and spiritual hazard because it just may instill a kind of discontent and boredom with those very things (and people) which require our love and attention the most. Adolescents who have been raised in the i-pod generation seem to be far more interested in responding to a text message than responding to a comment someone made in the room. Indeed, normal, human interactions- so necessary for building-up relationships –may lose its appeal and hence will be valued less with our younger generation.
As for the television- and subsequently the computer –it not only had a psychological impact on the individual, but they also had a social effect on local communities and neighborhoods. As early as the 1970’s- the decade of my childhood years -neighborhoods were a little social network of households. As a child I remember knowing families who lived six, seven houses down the street from my house. Very few people in my neighborhood were strangers. And yet, today, it is a different world. Although I know the neighbors who live adjacent to my house, beyond that, I am virtual strangers with the people down the street. I am assuming my neighborhood is representative of most. Indeed, in the television and computer age, there was less and less incentive for people to go outside and mingle.
Also, with higher crime rates and having less familiarity with the people in our neighborhoods, parents do not let their children venture beyond their purview. As such, the size of the playground for each child is considerably smaller than it used to be. Because neighborhoods are no longer a social network of households like they once were, they have instead become subdivisions where families live side by side with one another. This new neighborhood phenomenon is not child-friendly. In short, parents have to be on guard when their children play; making sure they know where they are at all times.
What the television was for neighborhoods, ipods and text messaging will be for individuals. The constant use of ipods, ipads, and text messaging will compromise relationships and will even put a burden on everyday face-to-face interactions. Instead of making households into little islands like the television age has done, it will isolate and compartmentalize individuals who are in the same room. Of course, as with any good thing, these gadgets has its definite advantages. But the immoderate use of them will have a depersonalizing effect on relationships.
Narcissism and Stardom:
The second unintended consequence of interacting with gadgets- especially that of the x-box -is that it exacerbates the already growing epidemic of narcissism. While ipods and text messaging have a tendency to isolate people in the same room, the immoderate participation in x-box games can easily disconnect a child or even an adult from reality. Indeed, the technology of an x-box can create an appetite for for a virtual reality- a fantasy world, if you will -over that of the world he lives in. It can easily feed into any narcissistic tendencies and cast illusions of grandeur. Success and conquest- with visual effects and all -can be quite addicting in a virtual world, especially when they are much harder to come by in the real world.
A few studies have shown that young people, for the first time in history, aspire to be famous over that of being rich. This, I am told, is a new phenomenon which is unique in world history. Historically, people's most common materialistic aspiration was wanting to be rich. But in our entertainment culture, celebrities have been canonized and adulated while real heroes of American or Christian history have been put on the back burner. Shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, along with the Disney Channel, have created an appetite for stardom. With stardom, however, comes the presumption of one’s own importance.
What is more, if fame or popularity is the standard of success for the celebrity; or if their happiness is dependent on people liking them (which is often the case in the entertainment profession); then the source of their contentment and joy is forever outside of their control; it no longer resides in the heart, the faculty of choosing and the chamber of God’s dwelling. Perhaps this is why many famous people are unhappy and why the gift of faith escapes so many of them. Indeed, if a rich man is only saved with difficulty- as our Lord implied -then a celebrity is saved with at least as much difficulty. Fame, of itself, is morally neutral. It is nevertheless the case that narcissism or self-absorption is easy when you’re famous.
The ipod generation has demonstrated, at least to my satisfaction, that the immoderate use of these gadgets can carry the human mind away from reality to the world of entertainment. Such a world is a nice place to visit but living there day in and day out can wreak havoc on our perception of reality.
The Spiritual Void:
The final trend that will issue from the ipod generation is an aversion to silence and, as alluded to, a heightened boredom with the ordinary circumstances of life. In her Diary of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina said, “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence...Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle...The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives almost always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hindrance."
Silence is the language of God; it is the condition upon which we hear his whisper. Hearing one's thoughts in the stillness of our soul is likewise important in the spiritual life. Modern technology, with television and radio, has already made noise an everyday phenomenon; indeed, we get nervous and restless without it. But with ipods, ipads and text messaging, noise will be 24/7 with little interruption. Silence and the quiet of the soul, a necessary condition for meditation and prayer, will have a hard time competing.
The Ultimate Challenge:
Historically, these conditions have, more often than not, empowered the State. When we no longer know or trust our neighbor, we are inclined to rely on government to protect us from the neighbor we no longer trust or know. As Alexis de Tocqueville once said, despots do not mind that their subjects do not love them; so long as they do not love each other. When citizens can no longer rely on their local community- for whatever reason –then the intervention of the State in the form of protection or provision will be in higher demand.
An even more important consideration is the challenge it portends for a person's spirituality. And this is what the JPII generation will have to be mindful of as it embarks to "make disciples of all of the nations."