Possible cause of generation-wide anxiety

I’m taking Brad Lomenick’s observation seriously. Lomenick is one of America’s most influential among young evangelical pastors. He was asked, based upon what he was hearing from his interaction with pastors across the country, the needs and opportunities for the local church. He answered:

  1. Anxiety, depression, suicide, mental health,
  2. Retail religion
  3. Loneliness

Those are multi-generational needs. As with all ministries we must be tuned in to the next generation. The Millennials and GenZ are called the most anxious, depressed and lonely in history. If we are to connect with them, we will have to understand their bruised emotional health and the loneliness. The above list makes me a bit nervous. Given my own experiences and life-journey and interaction with the two younger generations, I do not want to trivialize pain or simplify solutions. There are several reasons we are anxious or depressed. Anxiety is our go-to when there is something missing in us.

The day after hearing Lomenick I contemplated making a down payment on a mall and I read the next chapter in Self-Renewal by John W. Gardner (1963).  Gardner’s “next chapter” spoke to what I had been mulling over. It seemed like a God-word about generations living in a culture where religious liberty is at stake and two generations have grown up watching faith, institutions, belief systems and religion moved out of the public square and is denigrated from several quarters. What is the collateral damage? Consider…

“Man(kind) is in his very nature a seeker of meaning. He cannot help being so any more than he can help breathing or maintaining a certain body temperature. It is the way his central nervous systems works.

“In most societies and most ages, however primitive they may have been technologically, man’s hunger for meaning was amply served. Though the religions, mythologies, and tribal superstitions with which the hunger for meaning was fed were crude and impoverished, they did purport to describe a larger framework in terms of which events might be interpreted.

“With the arrival of the modern age many misguided souls conceived the notion that man(kind) could do without such nourishment. Under the beneficial of a benevolent modernity, the individual was to have security, money, power, sensual gratification and status…. He would be a solvent and eupeptic Walter Mitty in a rich and meaningless world.

“But even (or especially) those who came close to achieving the dream never got over the nagging hunger for meaning.

“(We) have throughout history shown a compelling need to arrive at conceptions of the universe in terms of which (we can) regard our own lives as meaningful. (He and she) want to know where they fit in the scheme of things…how to understand how the great facts of the objective world relate to him/her and what they imply for his/her behavior. A number of philosophers and scientists have told him/her sternly they must not expect answers to that sort of questions, but he/she pay no heed. He/she want, in the words of Kierkegaard, ‘a truth which is true for me.’ (Man and women, boys and girls) seek conceptions of the universe that give dignity, purpose and sense to their existence.

“When he/she fails in this effort, they exhibit what Tillich describes as the anxiety of meaninglessness—‘anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings.’ As Erickson has pointed out, the young person’s search for identity is in some respects this sort of search for meaning.

John W. Gardner was a teacher, social scientist, a member of the President’s Cabinet as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and other posts. He concludes the fruit of the search is Meaning, Purpose and Commitment. To fail to have the personal and social tools to grasp personal meaning and purpose to have found nothing worthy of commitment alerts the mind “to anxiety, to depress,” to quake in the fear the core of our being is missing an essential moving part.

The Founding Fathers as a group and in individual statements say that a free society depends upon religion, virtue and morality. When they speak of the necessity of religion, even the atheists and secularists were talking about finding meaning, purpose and making steadfast commitments.

Ethan Allen told the story of his friend meeting President Thomas Jefferson on his way to church.

“Which way are you walking, Mr. Jefferson?”

“To church, Sir, “the president replied.”

“You going to church, Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it.”

“Sir,” said Mr. Jefferson, “no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I as Chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning, Sir.”

For Jefferson it may have been a utilitarian activity, while for others they were acts of worship, penance and spiritual practices of hearts occupied by God.

Could it be the denuding our culture of religion has produced inevitable anxiety, depression, and a sense of cosmic loneliness? True for all, but most pronounced among the young. Is the nihilism and emotional upheaval of our age the result of having tools of discerning purpose and life meaning carved away?

If we talk about one person’s anxiety or depression we can consider individual personal assault. But talking about an entire generations’ malady calls for different causes and considerations.

And if you have one conspiratorial nerve in your body, you can see the godless enemies have done a good job. That is why the current battles about religious liberty are so heated and why they matter.

Anxious about meaninglessness and lack of adequate tools? Tillich is onto something.

©2019 D. Dean Benton—a wonderer: Want to buy a mall? Start something? Ask questions?

I listen to several podcasts that may benefit you. I have no agenda—these interest me and feed my soul. Go to my website: https://deanbenton.org/ and link to “Ricochet” on the home page.

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