Monday, July 19, 2010

Saving the Boomers.

Barbara Nicolosi (thanks, Anchoress!) has a provocative piece up at Patheos. She describes the aging baby boomer generation without any sugar coating:

"Boomers today are a very unentertaining mix of "Never regret! Life starts at 70!" and "Life is a cruel joke, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'" Movies like It's Complicated showcase a bunch of grey hairs still acting badly, swallowing their shame, and ignoring their appropriate role as the wise mentors of the younger generations. The Dorian Greyish dark echo of this kind of story, are movies like There Will Be Blood and the chillingly titled No Country for Old Men, in which the characters' lives of narcissism and greed devolve into cynicism and brutality."

To be fair, the boomers did bring along the civil rights movement and ... well, that's about all I can think of. Oh, the charismatic movement in the Church and Christian communities. That was a good thing. My parents are of the younger end of that generation and, still having been in grade school, escaped the worst madness of 1968 and beyond. They enjoyed the more grounded evangelical end of the Jesus freaks. Praise you, Lord.

Nicolosi has a chilling warning for the older boomers:

"History is devastatingly cyclical. The Boomers made the case that they should end their marriages and abort their children for the God Expediency. Their children, stripped of any attachment to a moral framework, will eye the old grey hairs, drooling and in diapers -- but certainly still sneering -- and consider expedient "Death with Dignity" to be a sensible and pragmatic policy."

While I certainly don't think many individual members of my generation will make a cold calculation to kill mom and dad since mom and dad killed their siblings and divorced, I have no doubt that such a cultural trend is possible. Like the characters in Juno, which Nicolosi references, our peers will stumble vaguely toward either a cowardly morphine shot or else to a heroic care for the parents who ruined their young lives. The choice will hardly be virtuous or vicious: We have simply not received the formation that would make us really culpable for our choices.

Here, I think Nicolosi gets it right:

"I suspect the only way to reach the Millennials and Gen Xers, from a spiritual standpoint, will be with a powerful, renewed ethic of the value of suffering and the urgent need for forgiveness. We need hero stories perhaps more urgently than any generation of humanity that has come before."

I certainly know that I have a great need to forgive the boomer generation--there are days I find it nearly impossible, mostly because the true boomers in my life who made such devastating choices simply deny that they did anything wrong. How do you forgive the unrepentant? Christ did from the cross. It must be done, and it must be done in him.

I'm thinking about hero stories a lot as I prepare to teach Miriam this year. Nicolosi's historical analysis here convicts me that she and her sisters will have plenty of opportunities to emulate the heroes of old. But more on that later... heroism calls me to change another diaper.


Katie A. said...

Just yesterday, I read a Peggy Noonan editorial about how America needs "age". Oh, wait, we used to need youth, and now, just as the Baby Boomers edge into agedness, we need their age and wisdom?

In a way it is disguised as a good thing--redefining standards of beauty to include women past their 20s, etc., but it is still done in the manner of an older sibling grabbing a toy from a baby. MINE.

I hate to be so cynical, but it seems like that is what the Baby Boomers have been saying all along. And now that they are in a position to shape policies that affect the elderly, are they going to pursue policies that better future generations--or just last through the next 30 years or so?

Ooh, touched a nerve with me, I guess! Like those chain emails criticizing all of the people born after 1970 for needing bike helmets or whatever. I'm like, but YOU raised us! YOU made those decisions for us! And now you're poking fun at US in a lame chain email?

Erika said...

Yeah, it touched a nerve with me, too! Totally with you.

Melanie B said...


I was a bit confused until I realized your link took me to the second page of the article. I thought it seemed a bit short and incoherent, which is strange because Barbara Nicolosi is usually one of my favorites. When I backed up and read the whole thing and not just the conclusion, it made much more sense.

What you write about not having really received the formation that would really make us culpable for our choices really hit home for me. And yet I know that my parents really did do the best they knew how. They simply trusted too much to the idea that sending us to Catholic school and taking us to Mass on Sunday would be sufficient to make us Catholic. And were themselves I think the victims of poor formation. I'm no sure they knew enough about the faith when they were young parents to know how to pass it on to the next generation. I wonder how many others of their generation were in the same boat? Was the breakdown in moral and ethical formation much earlier and are the boomers likewise victims?

Erika said...


I finally read your comment, and, yes. I really do think the breakdown began before the boomers were born. I think of my grandparents and their total trust in institutions: public schools and Sunday School. It seems like such a naive time and far away from the cynicism of even the most hopeful of my generation. They didn't realize that these institutions had already abandoned any integration of faith, reason, and daily life. It's got to be a long, tragic story...