Viewpoint: Millennials, Or Why TIME’s Subscriptions Are Falling – By Micah Murphy

The Millennial Generation has lately come to be much more frequently discussed. As a Millennial myself and a teacher of Millennials, I have a great personal interest in the discussion.

About the Millennials, there is no shortage of observations coming from the Baby Boomers. Joel Stein of TIME Magazine, himself hailing from the margins between Gen X and Gen Y, penned TIME’s most recent cover story, The ME ME ME Generation.

The subtitle reads: “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” It’s an interesting and popular assessment, but like most of these assessments coming from older generations, it’s all wrong.

The Week has a good round-up of comments on Stein’s article here, including economic and social reasons for this perceived Millennial problem, but none of them address the religious causes and effects involved.

As each child is the fruit of his parents, each generation is the fruit of that which preceded it. So let’s take a look at the Baby Boomers. The have-nots of the Great Depression, returning to a peaceful homeland from the foreign fronts of war wished nothing else than to settle down and replace the foxhole with a respectable home. They gave their children, the Boomers, everything they never had.

As suburbs replaced city-dwellings, prosperity became the dominant purpose of American life. As the nuclear family replaced extended families, children – the Boomers – became the sole focal point of family life. As college for the few was displaced by high school for all, a new culture arose, centered around themes like “free love.”

The first generation to experience teenage angst, caused perhaps by the delay of both productive lives and marriages, turned to Woodstock and the kind of reckless behavior that could be expected from such spoiled, entitled childhood. It was this generation that saw the rotten fruit of the feminist movement. It was this generation that first pushed hormonal contraception. It was this generation that promoted abortion. It was this generation that embraced a widespread drug culture.

So how else are Millennials to respond when their parents’ generation considers many of them mistakes? Aborts their siblings? Lives out “free love” through adultery? Divorces in record numbers?

If the Millennials are egocentric, is it not because they are largely a generation abandoned by their parents? Is it irrational to seek attention when one has been starved of it for so long?

Many parents of Millennials will object here: “My child is egocentric because he’s spoiled. I love him so much, I gave him everything he ever wanted as a child.” That’s a pretty self-serving excuse. In reality, Millennials are egocentric because while their parents have treated them to all sorts of toys and trinkets, they have rarely given them their loving attention.

That starvation may make them egocentric, but it does something else. Many Millenials long to rise above the brokenness of our culture, who want a fresh start, who want to break the cycle. Here are few suggestions for dealing with and evangelizing Millennials:

  1. Complement their social media. A remarkable thing in the modern world, social media has a great knack for bringing people together and building support for causes. Ironically, it can also be very isolating. The teen who has hundreds or thousands of friends online may have very few IRL (that’s in real life for you Gen X-ers). If you’re a priest or youth/young adult minister, use the social media to invite Millennials to real-life events. Follow up with Facebook pictures of the event and tag everyone you can. Get them to tweet snippets from your catechetical talks. Utilize the social media to turn your Millennials into evangelists.
  2. Strengthen their Catholic identity. In our pluralist society especially, many do not know who they are or how they are different from anyone else. This gives us two ways to support Catholic identity: positive and negative, what a Catholic is and what a Catholic is not. Examples of the first include catechesis, prayer, liturgy, moral example, philosophy, and culture. Examples of the second include primarily apologetics.
  3. Hand on the faith. The Millennials have inherited lackluster catechesis. The fallout of Gabriel Moran and Thomas Groome on catechetical content and methodology is evident in a whole generation that knows little more than that Jesus was “a nice guy.” Many Millennials, however, also consider themselves philosophers before Christians. They will reject appeals to the Bible or the Magisterium until philosophical underpinnings have been resolved. However, due to their strong need for attention and their desire to rise above their brokenness, they will always listen to service. If you serve them, they will hear the Gospel.
  4. Give them hope. The world needs hope. My students have no distinct memories of times before 9/11. Even for older Millennials like myself, the world is a place where there is little hope. Television, social media, and stressed parents all indicate a coming societal collapse. Their parents’ divorces have left Millennials afraid of marriage. Comments and jokes about the burden of children – often meant as passive-aggressive “humor” – also contribute to the fear of marriage and family. Helping young people to see the purpose of love, sex, marriage, and family, to find true peace in their lives, and to accept the challenge of rebuilding a broken society – all these are noble goals and will be well-received.
  5. Exercise their charity. Millennials have a strong desire to be involved and to have an effect on the world around them. Turn that desire to good by encouraging service. More than that, give them all an apprenticeship in service. Help them exercise those charity muscles. Take youth and young adults to soup kitchens or on mission trips. Ask them to pray outside abortion clinics. Have them organize works of charity for the poor, the elderly, the imprisoned. They will do it, if someone will lead them. Some of them will even become leaders themselves.

If Millennials are egotistical, it’s because the generation before them made them that way, but the good news for those who preach the Good News is that after decades of cultural manure the soil is ready for the Word. We need only tend God’s vineyard.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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