Put Away Childish Things

When the New York Times put out a a piece about an epidemic of “failures to launch” among 20-year olds, I first saw it an attempt to condescendingly shift the latter generation’s guilt about utterly ruining our economy to the younger, by identifying some shared trait of irresponsibility, and claiming that’s why so many of us stay in school, or can’t find work. Such is the danger of the “greater generation” narrative: it absolves our forebears of any responsibility for their mistakes, because surely, they didn’t make any.*

That was bad enough. Still worse is Sunday’s column by the Washington Post’s Mark Driscoll, marshaling all manner of scripture to tell all of us to take ourselves seriously, because life is serious. Look, St. Paul said so!

The overriding thesis here seems to be that Christian men should be in the business of creating, not simply consuming.

Men, you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and a cultivator and you were made to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer. Stop looking for the path of least resistance and start running down the path of greatest glory to God and good to others because that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.

This is surely true. But to the extent that it’s premised on a narrow appeal to faith, rather than civilizational duties, it’s needlessly self-limiting, and to the extent that it relies on ridiculous stereotypes —

The tough retrosexual guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues [. . .]

The artsy, techie metrosexual types consume clothes, decaf lattes, shoes, gadgets, cars (not trucks), furniture, hair products, and underwear with the names of very important people on the waistband. For them, manhood means being in touch with one’s feelings, wardrobe, and appearance. [. . .]

[Young men] are, however, endowed with the spiritual gift of complaining. They say, “I hate the church. The church just wants my money.” As if the church wants his futon, Xbox, light beer, and computer filled with free Internet porn.

— Needlessly, shockingly, offensive. Driscoll’s problem is he can’t seem to identify what he’s mad at. Irresponsibility? Latte-liberals? Metrosexuals (and their allies, “The Gays”)? Video-gamers? Porn-downloaders? Probably all of the above — because he obviously views them all as linked — which rather detracts from one’s ability to make a point about any individual problem. Such is the danger of “On Faith” columns.

The author goes wrong again where he conflates one’s ability to take life seriously, with one’s ability to live life seriously. Among the new generation of adults, they are not the same thing (see, e.g., xkcd), and there’s nothing wrong with that. Austerity has its place, but it needn’t pervade a life lived in pursuit of professional, serious goals. This discovery is new to our generation, fairly roundly shared by it, but also generally accepted by the older generation. No-one’s ever questioned the slinky on my desk at work, or my friend’s use of ninja star push pins to hold important documents. Yes.

Quite the opposite, the younger generation’s ability to do serious work without taking themselves seriously seems to feed back into the workplace, and make everyone happier. Two weeks ago I saw a very, very senior partner quote The Princess Bride to heckle a junior partner, in the middle of a fairly important meeting. This transitioned easily into a long discussion about federal preemption, the applicability of the well-pleaded complaint rule, and whether we needed to worry about finding a substantial federal question to preserve for Supreme Court review. We had fun, and the client received good value for our time.

Ultimately, these narratives about the life well-lived, Responsibility, and Adulthood go astray when they try to be something other than a generic exhortation to leave the world better than you found it. I wonder why we should need religion to tell us that.

_________

* = Because friends & family read this blog, I don’t want to be understood to be saying anything against my immediate forebears (parents)! Any of you who know them know that they’re just about the greatest people in the history of the world. Instead, I mean that, for all the talk in political circles about not leaving debt for the children, the latter generation has done a pretty terrible job of it.

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3 comments

  1. Jeez. Talk about taking oneself and one’s unimaginative middle-class existence too seriously.

    I think Driscoll should read a little less Calvin and a little more Kierkegaard:

    “Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy—to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done? Are they not to be classed with the woman who in her confusion about the house being on fire carried out the firetongs? What things of greater account, do you suppose, will they rescue from life’s great conflagration?”
    — ‘Diapsalmata’, Either/Or, 1843

    1. Or a little more Calvin and Hobbes.

    2. Even better!

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