Here we go again, a half-century later.
I turn 70 this week, so I’m a certified codger. But I was a “codger” as a teenager in the 1960s, along with millions of other conservative evangelicals dismayed at the “revolutionary” and “consciousness-raising” developments adored by the media. We were the ones who eschewed drugs, joined the Scouts, signed up for the military, went to Sunday school, sang in youth choir, and found “a good girl [who] loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too,” but didn’t succumb to “free fallin’” (cf. Tom Petty, b.1950). If we weren’t the “deplorables,” we were certainly the “dismissables” as far as the popular press was concerned.
Now I’m getting “déjà vu all over again,” seeing reflections of the ’60s in the millennials. Boiler-plate articles tell me that I’m talking like a typical old coot/geezer/codger when I suggest concern with the “new generation.” After all, every age group says those up next are “going to the dogs.” The difference here is that a lot of us teens (yes, they called us that) in the ’60s were saying, at the time, that our own very generation was going to the dogs.
Of course, in the day, many of the elite begged to differ, convinced that the Woodstockers were soaring toward the stars, leaving trails of glory. And now, I’m hearing the same sort of thing. Not long ago, I read this warm take in an airline magazine: “To my 62-year-old-self, this sounded charmingly millennial. This generation happens to be the nicest in history by many measures: the most tolerant, best educated, most law abiding.” Then, I came across a book, The Copernican Generation, where I learned they were “experiencing and navigating life in a way that is different than their spiritual ancestors. This shift in frame is just as profound as going from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the solar system.”
Excuse me. What’s that I hear?
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius…
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation…
(The Fifth Dimension, 1969)
Look, of course, there are many wonderful, inspiring millennials (or Gen-Z’ers, or whatever you want to call young adults), and all have something to commend them. I read that they’re healthier and less inclined toward sexual and pharmaceutical debauchery. So, they’ got that goin’ for ’em (cf. Bill Murray, b. 1950). Still, I’m getting a “here we go again” feeling as I pick up on some phenomena. I don’t think it was Aquarius back then, and I don’t think it’s Aquarius now.
1. Stockholmism. Many succumbed to a cultural version of the Stockholm Syndrome, taking up the cause of cynical coolness. They savored the Dustin Hoffman character in The Graduate (1967); the Jack Nicholson character in Easy Rider; the patrons of Alice’s Restaurant and the Hawkeye/Trapper axis in the M*A*S*H unit. In their Keep on Truckin’ Ts, they pulled well-thumbed paperbacks from the back pocket of their Levi’s, went “on the road” with Jack Kerouac, and stood watchfully in the cliff-top rye field with Holden Caulfield.
As for the millennials, their social captors are the purveyors of hypersensitivity, victimhood, and empathy. So now they’re obsessed with whether the culture will consider them sufficiently “woke” to give them a hearing.
In the ’60s, a lot of us evangelicals wanted the world to think we were intellectually respectable. (Some tried to strike a bargain with the liberals: “We’ll call you Christians, if you’ll call us scholars.”) Now, it more like, “We’ll call you admirable if you call us sensitive.” Back then, the Oxford/Cambridge don, C.S. Lewis, was our trump card; now it’s the stubbled/untucked dude who wouldn’t be caught dead near a phobia (homo-, Islamo-, xeno-, etc.) or heard committing a possible micro-aggression without a trigger warning.
Whether from fear of reprisal or genuine conviction, the millennials don’t roll their eyes when their cultural captors deploy the snowflake rhetoric of safe spaces. Rather, they’re inclined to join in the lament (and retaliatory savagery) of those who proudly claim to be appalled, heart-broken, or verklempt.
2. Youthism. In 1964, Berkeley activist Jack Weinberg coined the slogan, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and it “went viral,” popularized by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.Of course, this flew in the face of biblical counsel on respect for elders, but Scripture didn’t slow them down. They were too high-speed/low-drag for that, too agile/mobile/hostile to be cootsplained by codgers. After all, it was “their time.”
I never got that. It seemed to me that age was irrelevant to the big causes that I embraced – racial integration and biblical inerrancy. For the former, we were stirred by the legislative work of Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, who turned 70 in 1966, as well as the sacrifice of the “Mississippi Burning” three — Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, all in their early 20s — and Viola Liuzzo, assassinated in Alabama when she was 40. Then, during the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC, we were cheering both the “old” W.A. Criswell and the “upstart, young” Jerry Johnson (now the head of NRB).
If, in either of these campaigns, someone had ventured to say something like, “What’s in it for us young stars?” or “They keep telling us to wait till it’s our time, but…”, we would have shaken our heads in dismay and asked rhetorically, “What’s your problem?” or “What’s your special cause, other than ’cause you’re somebody?” It is all about “Hope and Change?” (Uh oh.)
3. Racialism. Color-coding. It was everywhere in the 1960s, in the rhetoric of both the White Citizens Council and the Black Panthers. In contrast, MLK lifted up the “color-blind” standard, casting his dream for the day that his children would“not be judgedby the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”Now, we’re told that this color-blind vision is a cheesy “Hallmark” sentiment, not connected to the realities of “systemic racism” and such. Well, people were being killed for that cheesy Hallmark sentiment, and it’s still worth fighting for, whatever millennials may think.
4. Amerikanism. In 1970, the Berkeley Political Poster Workshop mass produced some images that captured the spirit of the age. Two bore the judgmental term ‘Amerika,’ to show their moral superiority to the mouth-breathing, flag-waving patriots, steeped in such toxic embarrassments as nationalism, civil religion, and the writings of Parson Weems and Horatio Alger. Jazzed by the transcendent writings of Noam Chomsky, I.F. Stone, William Sloan Coffin, and Howard Zinn, they obsessed over Wounded Knee, romanticized the VC and Che Guevara, exulted at Jimi Hendrix’s snarky rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, and proudly distanced themselves those whom they imagined to believe “my country, right or wrong.” As for American exceptionalism, it was exceptional all right — exceptionally shameful. And the cops? They were “pigs.”
“Black Lives Matter” carries on with slander-the-pigs today, and memorials to formerly-admired but now-reviled historic figures are coming down left and right as we attack the innumerable stains on our deplorable past (moving rapidly from Robert E. Lee in Texas to George Washington in Virginia to William McKinley in California, with no off-ramp in sight)
5. Continentalism. If “Amerikanism” taught that we were a nation of thugs, European “continentalism” cast us as a nation of rubes. The French were urbane, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated; we were cowboys or puritans. We were raised on Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver, and we filled the theaters to watch John Wayne and Mary Poppins. So we hurried to trade in our Ford, DeMille, Wyler, or Capra for a Bergman, Costa-Gavras, Fassbinder, or Antonioni, and their edgy American counterparts.
The South Koreans and Australians might lend a hand in Vietnam, but not the Europeans, who were above the fray, and were quite happy replace military readiness with social comforts, letting Uncle Sam hold the fort through NATO. As for style, it was hard to beat the deployment Gauloises or Zig-Zag rolling papers. Forget Twain, Cooper, and Melville; we’re into Gide, Sartre, Hesse, and Genet.
Today’s Europhilic millennials admire Angela Merkel’s immigration policy; are more likely to be counted among the “nones”; find moral equivalency between the Israel and Hamas; are embarrassed that we still have capital punishment; are known to deploy the soccer hooligan look without fear of social awkwardness. (And in an interesting twist, American evangelicals, who once shunned alcohol out of fear and loathing, are being badgered by their young to become liberated aficionados of Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon.)
6. Guruism. In the ’60s, all sorts of adepts and demagogues were ready to lead children’s crusades to the promised land. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi would lure the Beatles and their devotees to the happy realms of Transcendental Meditation. Gene McCarthy would take them out from under military obligation. Timothy Leary would help them “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Hugh Hefner offered up Playboy’s ecdysiasts and hedonistic ideology. Paul Erlich taught us to fear procreation, for we were a threat to civilization if we had more than two kids (The Population Bomb, 1968).
Now, prime leadership falls to the Social-Media Ba’al, the Storm God of conventional wisdom… and to a variety of personalities, including Stephen Colbert, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Bernie Sanders, and religious leaders especially keen on the phenomena I list here.
7. Hipsterism. It was painful to watch grownups trying hard to say they were cool too, to show they were “tight wit the utes.” Of course, you had Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and a range of radio DJs who celebrated and advanced rock ’n’ roll — Dick Biondi in Chicago; Alan Freed in Cleveland; Wolfman Jack in L.A. These were the guys who let us know they felt our pain, shared our enthusiasms, and had our back. Along with anodyne love songs (e.g., Turn Around, Look at Me, from the Lettermen, 1961; I Want to Hold Your Hand, from the Beatles,1963), they gave perky attention to such rough characters as Jim Morrison, Ike Turner, and Janis Joplin, and to such glory-in-sin songs as House of the Rising Sun (1964), Honky Tonk Women (1969), and White Rabbit (1967). You had hipster attorneys like David Dellinger and Ramsey Clark, along with CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite and other avuncularati, who let us know they thought the counter-culture protesters were estimable. (And it was delicious to see Tom Wolfe skewer the “radical chic,” including Leonard Bernstein.)
Alas, some of the aspiring hipsters were student ministry leaders, always looking for an angle to connect. Some tried saltines and Coke for the Lord’s Supper. I got drafted for a gritty play (Christ in the Concrete City), wherein we dressed like Dieter from Sprockets (SNL). And, speaking of Mike Myers, one campus group in the Austin Powers mode were booked to “lead us in worship” at a big collegiate ministry conference.
Of course, hipsters came in many varieties. Some were genuinely thrilled by new developments. (I remember middle agers in leisure suits saying, “Man, I wish we’d had the pill in my day.”) Others, were mainly interested in finding out which way the young were going so they could run to the front to pose as leaders. Others were motivated by fear; if they didn’t get on board, they’d be left behind. It’s a sight to see, some “riding the tiger,” hanging on for dear life.
For current examples, note the gush in paragraph 3 of this piece.
8. Social Gospelism. Some, like Campus Crusade for Christ, prioritized eternal things, though the culture’s plan of salvation in the’60s was social change. With one sweeping program after another — thrilling and validating the young — “progressives” were dizzy with advance on many fronts: abortion rights (secured by 1963’s Roe v. Wade decision); angry feminism; environmentalism (generating Earth Day, begun in the spring of 1970); the anti-war movement (with the 1967 march on the Pentagon); the shut-down of Columbia (1968) and Cornell (1969) over racial demands; the American Indian Movement, which seized a replica of the Mayflower on Thanksgiving, 1970. It was one thing after another. Caught up in such more or less worthy causes, a lot of young church folkslost or never developed a zeal for evangelism, which, though standing at the heart of the New Testament church, was disparaged as a form of “button holing,” “Bible thumping,” and “hellfire and brimstone” proselytizing.
So now we have the sweeping cause of “social justice.” Unfortunately, this talismanic expression is short on content but long on everybody-who’s-cool-understands-it swagger. The best I can tell, it comes to “equality or similarity of outcomes,” which is not a biblically-based desideratum. But never mind that. The point is that we must stand for everything labeled a “gospel issue” and make it clear that anyone who might gainsay our particular form of social engineering is embarrassing to the church.
9. Tunnelism. When we heard Sam Cooke sing Wonderful World back in 1960, we thought it was confessional and apologetical. Now, I think it was prophetical:
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the French I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be.
I may really have this wrong, but after four decades of college and seminary teaching, I’ve come to think that millennials have less general knowledge than we did in the 1960s, back when the public schools were less cool. Of course, I understand the way that the old, pop-culture references that worked in 1973 (when I started teaching) no longer ring a bell, e.g., re Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver or “What, me worry?” from Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman. And yes, millennials can negotiate the sea of apps and can orchestrate emojis to beat the band, but do they have the same familiarity with the people JFK lauded in Profiles in Courage; with “Balkanization,” “Lend Lease,” and “Bleeding Kansas”; with Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in Oregon and Jan Sobieski at Vienna; with the Teapot Dome Scandal and the Bull Moose Party? Maybe, but I’m not picking it up in their conversation or writing. Rather, I think of them as mavens of the immediate, relationally-charged, indifferent if not dismissive toward what admirable-but-flawed people of the past struggled to project and forge. Yes, they know some history, but much of it’s the sort that fosters the above-mentioned, contemptuous Amerikanism. Why bother with the old stuff when you’re tingling with the frisson that comes from tracking all that is viral in the moment?
10. Tertullianism. Not surprisingly, many Christians preached insularity in response to the social upheaval roiling the land. The third-century Roman author Tertullian became something of a patron saint (thanks, in large measure, to H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture, which cast him as the father of the “Christ Against Culture” party). He hated the theater and saw great danger in “Jerusalem’s” association with “Athens.” By this standard, the 1960s-righteous shunned R-rated movies (or all movies). And then, like falling dominoes in the years that followed, some jettisoned Halloween, television, public schools, dating, credit cards, contraception… and now, the tawdriness of voting for the “lesser of two evils” (or, in Cal Thomas’s words, “the evil of two lessers”), when it’s clear that one of them will win, and big outcomes are in the balance. They’re reminiscent of the Fundamentalists who taught not only first-order separation from worldly things, but also second-order separation from those not exercising first-order separation, and so on.
Ah, the ’60s… and the “millennial” ’10s. Let’s close with a selection from that 1967 classic by The Association, Windy:
Who’s tripping down the streets of the city
Smiling at everybody she sees?
Who’s reaching out to capture a moment?
Everyone knows it’s Windy.
And Windy has stormy eyes
That flash at the sound of lies
And Windy has wings to fly
Above the clouds (Above the clouds)
Above the clouds (Above the clouds)
Fair enough, but as you soar above the clouds, keep those stormy eyes peeled for “the sound of lies,” you might be alert to a few truths issuing from teenaged coots (former and current), who may be more numerous and sensible than you suppose.
Jimi Hendrix's guitar strap, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland (Sam Howzit/Creative Commons)