Artur Rosman says he’s tired of people asking What Millennials Want From Church, because they — at 35, he might be one of them — don’t really know. He criticizes an essay from his co-generationalist, the liberal Evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans, who says that many young Evangelicals are worn out with trendoid worship style, and are looking into older liturgical traditions. Rosman is not buying it. Excerpt:
I’m convinced (and I’m not the only one) that Catholicism is blowing its Catholic Moment because it has idolized assimilating to America. This applies to the Republican-Catholic party at prayer as much as it does to the Birkenstock-wearing priest from the Newman Center who is always talking about the “spirit of…” and asked you whether you were Opus Dei.
These two groups are a few of the many signposts in our strange land. They point to the futility involved in accommodating to the Americanisms of any epoch. By the time the identity politics of any given generation trickle down to the liturgy those identity politics are out of fashion and lead to even more people trickling down and out. This eternal return then leads to more fruitless discussions about why the young are leaving, more accommodations, and so on.
This is the reason why the main takeaway from the Rachel Held Evans piece, “But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community,” is such a throwaway.
My generation (and the generation of students we teach in college classes) is totally clueless. If you ask us we will tell you that we are lost in the cosmos. We have failed at manufacturing our own meaning, because meaning cannot be manufactured like the consumer services and trends mentioned at the start of this (and the Held Evans) piece.
Rosman, who is a practicing Catholic, says that if the leaders of American churches want to really understand why Americans are so spiritually mixed up and adrift, they should read Walker Percy’s Lost In The Cosmos.
Read the whole Rosman post here.
UPDATE: Paul Pardi responds to Rosman. He disagrees with Rosman’s contention that meaning cannot be manufactured, asserting instead that meaning is not discovered, but created — and we should face that fact head on. Excerpt:
We have to figure out a way to manufacture meaning, know that we’ve manufactured it and yet still find it meaningful. If Evans and Rosman are correct, Western church is becoming less and less a source for meaning for the young in American culture. Whether that turns out to be a good or a bad thing will largely be dependent upon what people replace it with. Contrary to what Rosman hopes for, I don’t think ecclesiastically-generated authoritative answers to cultural angst will do the trick unless the current knowledge explosion we’re experiencing does an about face or people lose interest in all that we’re learning about the world and want something much more simple and more authoritarian. While this certainly is possible (I easily can envision scenarios where either or both happen) it doesn’t seem likely. But it also doesn’t seem relevant if religious belief is just another—though admittedly wildly successful—device for manufacturing meaning.
What will kill America culturally isn’t loss of religious faith. It will happen when most of us feel the despair of a lack of ultimate meaning and lose the will or psychological resources to successfully manufacture it.
Me, I don’t know how you can fight off despair by finding metaphysical certitude in something you know you made up yourself. In his entry, Pardi approvingly quotes Woody Allen as saying that the only sure strategy for carrying on in a universe devoid of ultimate meaning is to keep oneself distracted until death. I think that’s practical, from a nihilist point of view. But I am not a nihilist.