Hope for Generation X

There may be hope for the MTV generation after all. When President Clinton went before an MTV audience, the nation was bemused. These kids seemed to fit the stereotype completely: They outraged even the president with questions about his underwear and his favorite rock song. But the atmosphere suddenly turned serious when a 17-year-old girl named Dahlia stood up to ask a question—proving to everyone watching that even Generation X, raised on television's moral pablum, is still capable of seeking the deeper meaning of life. Mr. President, Dahlia said, "it seems to me that [singer] Kurt Cobain's recent suicide exemplified the emptiness that many in our generation feel. How do you propose to . . . teach our youth how important life is?" What a great question. With breathtaking suddenness, this teen-age girl turned the interview around, raising the most profound issues of human existence. Clinton hedged for a moment. The New York Times comments, tongue in cheek, that the president did not seem to have a legislative answer for this problem. Well, I should hope not. Life's deepest questions cannot be addressed by passing a Meaning of Life bill. But the president did not seem to have any other kind of answer, either. His response was couched in the touchy-feely language characteristic of our therapeutic culture. We don't really have to know life's meaning, he suggested; we just have to learn how to feel good about ourselves. What young people really need, the president said, is improved self-esteem—the feeling that "they are the most important person in the world to somebody." He told kids to avoid suicide by remembering that, after all, "there can always be a better tomorrow"—a line apparently paraphrased from Scarlett O'Hara, the great philosopher from Gone With the Wind. But the meaning of life cannot be reduced to feeling good. After all, Kurt Cobain used drugs to feel better. Obviously, it wasn't enough. In fact, what Cobain's death and Dahlia's question both tell us is that a therapeutic culture fails to satisfy our deepest yearnings. Years of exposure to the electronic drivel of MTV, Donahue, Oprah, and Geraldo has not doused the spark that drives people to seek out something more to life. For Christians this is a sign of hope. It's hard to give answers to life's questions if no one is asking questions. And our electronic culture seems to be doing its best to drive serious questions out of people's minds. Television's main goal is to titillate and entertain. Talk shows trot out the most outrageous behavior and treat it as morally neutral—from transvestite husbands to teen-age exotic dancers. The very banality of it all sucks the meaning out of great moral issues. That's why I say it's a sign of hope when we see people like Dahlia asking questions—not about the president's underwear but about the importance of life. It shows that the media cannot completely stamp out the image of God—our need for meaning, our longing for significance. And it's when people ask real questions that the church (not the president) can offer real answers. We can point them to the God of Truth, who gives real meaning to life.


Chuck Colson


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