Fifty-nine thousand-plus On Faith readers recommended Thomas L. Day’s November 11th essay “Penn State, my final loss of faith.” Thirty-three hundred-plus Tweeted it. Six-hundred ninety-one commented. An on-line chat ensued.
That, gentle friends, is going viral. About faith, no less. But faith in what?
Basically, Mr. Day (who describes himself as 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, an acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation), wrote to serve my Boomer generation notice that it had failed his Millennium generation.
This appears to mean that for the first thirty years of Mr. Day’s life, he believed old people were wiser than young people simply because they were older.
Back when I was a kid, I was always pushing my father to explain why things had to be the way they were. “Because that’s the way they are,” he’d say, when he was tired of being pushed. “You’re too young to understand.”
Even as I child, I could tell when adults were trying to hornswoggle me. Naturally, it was unsettling to realized that pop wasn’t the font of all wisdom. But a copout is still a copout.
So, Mr. Day, with respect, I never bought the merits of pop’s ageist argument then, and I don’t buy the merits of your ageist complaint now. It, too, is a copout. Generations don’t cop out; individuals do.
I do agree with you, however, that my generation has not done itself particularly proud.
Of course, many indignant Boomers begged to differ with Mr. Day’s apparently blanket condemnation of them, pointing out progress in Civil Rights, the “winning” of the Cold War, quantum leaps in technology, the dawn of a generalized environmental consciousness. (To the Boomer Accomplishment List, I would add the general idea that we should do for our country, rather than expecting our country should do for us; the Peace Corps; the stopping of the Vietnam War; and the energizing of Second Wave Feminism.)
So, as a Boomer, initially read through this e-fracas and thought: Mmmm. Not too bad, gang. “Talkin’ ‘bout my generation …”
Mr. Day hastened to clarify his position at the start of the online chat by writing, “I stand by my disappointment with my national leaders and the local leaders of Central Pennsylvania, but I want to make clear that I did not intend to ‘blame an entire generation.’”
So, his disappointment is with the leaders we Boomers produced, rather than with us. But wait, I thought, didn’t we Boomers choose our leaders? Aren’t we the generation that plucked Richard Nixon from the ashes to become the Phoenix who brought us Watergate and the birth of the New Cynicism? Didn’t we elect Ronald Reagan and allow him (yay, even unto his dotage) to popularize the mega-rich’s favorite parlor game: trickle-down economics. Didn’t we re-elect George W? Haven’t we produced a Supreme Court that has given free speech to corporations?
Mr. Day, it seems, does have a point.
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation, indeed.
I remember so clearly marching arm and arm with my Boomer comrades in the cause of peace and fairness and equal opportunity for all. We were (weren’t we?) motivated by ideals and principles, with our actions firmly directed by our consciences. We wanted, as I remember it, nothing more than to leave the world a better place than we found it.
Am I remembering this wrong?
If not, what happened to us? When, exactly, did we, the idealistic, joyfully rebellious generation of Bob Dylan, sell out? What made us trade in dancing in the streets for piling up the profits? When did we stop smiling on our brothers and begin to exploit them instead? And, most importantly of all, why did those of us who do know better, let those who obviously don’t know better take over this country?
To borrow from the Eagles, did we get tired or did we just get lazy?
Who knows? The sad truth appears to be that, one copout at a time; we Boomers, as a generation, opted for what we could get rather than what we could do.
Alexander de Tocqueville may or may not have said “in every democracy, the people get the government they deserve,” but it’s still a good point to consider. We Boomers, in my opinion, have the government we deserve. We knew better; but we didn’t do better.
Here’s the deal Mr. Day: Each of us, at any age, can choose to serve God or mammon. Each of us. What my generation can really teach you is that the older you get the more the God part of you (your idealism, your conscience, your belief that there is real good in this world that you need to do), will be tested by the mammon part (greed, the quick fix, the easy answer, cartoon character gods, lust for power and importance). As a generation, we Boomers do appear to have been thoroughly seduced by mammon.
So, please, stay forever young, Mr. Day. Keep the fire bright in you; whatever in you that cried out in your fine op-ed piece against my generation’s generalized copout. But, make no mistake, your generation will be asked to meet the same challenge at which my generation: To keep faith with your own God-fueled ability to recognize right from wrong, and then to do what’s right.
Martha’s note: This essay is a feature of Faith Unboxed, an ongoing, civil, respectful conversation about faith I invite you to participate by sharing your own ideas and experiences (either here or on the website), rather than by denigrating the ideas and experiences of others.