Culturally rebellious Christian living

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2011, at 4:54 pm

The most radical, counter-cultural, rebellious thing a young adult can do in America today is join a Christian church and commit his or her life to the pursuit of holiness as described in the Bible.

We live in an America where the norms of society are dominated by narcissism, individualism, consumerism, materialism, and moral relativism. These "isms" are our culture. To believe that moral truths are subjectively relative, to pursue a life of utilitarian consequentialism, and to adopt happiness as the greatest personal virtue is to simply be like everyone else, a cog in a morally vacuous culture. This is what it means these days to be average, common, even boring. It's the newest tradition inaugurated by our nation's baby boomers.

But if you want to reject contemporary Western societal norms and live a rebellious and dangerous life as a young adult, then commit your life to moral virtue (Philippians 4:8). Who would have thought that we'd ever live in a society where joining a church and adopting Christian values as a way of life would be considered swimming upstream for young adults?

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, David Brooks lamented the individualistic moral relativism that rules the day and its deleterious effect on young adults:

"In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people's imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart."

What is so troubling about this individualistic moral relativism is that it ignores basic human needs. For example, people still need something to give meaning to their lives, to give them a sense of belonging, and be able to find common ground with others.

In America, Christianity-with its emphasis on loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40) and its celebration of the church as a place to form virtue for the common good-has provided meaning, identity, and community. But in a culture where individualistic moral relativism is the norm, there is fierce competition to fill that void, because, in a capitalist context, wherever your heart is also goes your money. As such, Americans get lost in the futile search to find meaning and belonging in professional sports, careers, recreational activities and organizations, etc., to an extent that has never been seen before in American history. The truth is, these things cannot deliver on their promises to deliver fulfillment because human beings were not designed to find satisfaction in such pursuits. As a result, many will die bitter and angry, protesting that they were robbed of joy. But the truth is, they wasted a lot of time looking for it in the wrong places.

For thousands of years the same realities that provide meaning, belonging, and solidarity with others-namely, being in relationship with God and His people while orienting one's life toward the mission of God-continue as the way to live well. In today's culture, following Jesus has become the American rebel's way of life.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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