One of the things I miss the most about my teaching career is learning from the young. While some professors in my experience believed the learning only went one way, I always found a kind of reciprocity in it. I passed on what I learned from taking classes and having my face in a book all the time, and they taught me about popular culture. Academics don’t get out much, you see. It’s a basic issue of time—we all have a limited amount of it and research, if done right, takes an incredible chunk. In fact, when hot on the trail of an idea, it’s difficult to think of anything else. Pop culture, on the other hand, is what the majority of people share. Now it’s largely mediated by the internet, a place that some academics get bored.
Speaking to a young person recently, I was initially surprised when he said that his generation was more interested in the Devil than in God. Parents have always been concerned that their children not go astray, but this was, it seemed to me, more of an intellectual curiosity than any kind of devotion. God, he averred, was thought of as aloof, pious, self-righteous; in a word, Evangelical. The internet can be downright ecclesiastical in its affirmation that our inclinations can be what used to be called “sinful.” Not that these things are always bad, but they are the kinds of things we’re taught to feel guilty about. The divine response? Anger. Displeasure. Shaming. Young people, my interlocutor thought, found the Devil more understanding.
Perhaps this is the ultimate result of Evangelical thinking. We’re watching in real time as the party of Jesus is becoming the party of intolerance for anyone different than ourselves. Rather than turning the other cheek, it’s fire when ready. Eager to retain the “brand” of “Christianity,” they slap the secular label on any outlook different than their own, although their own faith is without form and void. It used to be that this was the realm of the Devil. This sheds a different perspective on what my young colleague was saying. Instead of bringing people to God, the Evangelical movement is driving them away. Traditionally, the Devil was after the destruction of human souls. That seems to be one of the new values of the right wing of the church. There’s quite a bit to think about in this observation by this young one. I’m glad to know that traffic still moves both directions on this street.