Carl Trueman: Trapped in Neverland

From Carl Trueman’s monthly post at Reformation21 (the emphases are mine):

If the poverty and hard work of my grandfather’s era left men middle-aged at thirty, the ease and trivia of today’s society seems to leave us trapped in a permanent Neverland where we all, like so many Peter (and Patty) Pans, live lives of eternal youth. Where my grandfather spent his day hard at work, trying – sometimes desperately – to make enough money to put bread on the table and shoes on his children’s feet, today many have time to play X-Box and video games, or warble on and on incessantly in that narcissistic echo-chamber that is the blogosphere. The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all.

Numerous incidents over recent years have brought the sad effect of all this home to me. As a professor at university and seminary, I have had too many run-ins with students who act like five year olds and, when held to account, express all the pouting resentment that one comes to expect from a generation that demands respect but refuses to put in the time and effort to earn it. You see them on the blogs, screaming their abuse and demanding to be heard, carrying on their tirades long after the threshold of Godwin’s Law and any semblance of decency or credibility has been passed for the umpteenth time. They have achieved nothing – but they demand that you respect them!

But it gets more disturbing than simply finding people in their twenties and thirties acting like spoiled children. Parents are becoming increasingly involved as well. […] I have stood on too many touchlines where parents act like frustrated two years olds as the game does not develop as they would like; and, again, as a professor, I have had unpleasant experiences with parents too. Being told by a parent that their child is ‘young and immature’ works for my wife – she teaches at a church nursery, dealing with three year olds – but it wears a bit thin when the problem child is eighteen, nineteen, twenty….thirty…. And that this kind of stuff seems more common in the church than in the secular world is disturbing. It does not inspire much confidence about the future and, if anything, provides anecdotal confirmation to those who see religion in general and Christianity in particular, as a refuge for the emotionally retarded.

The answer, then, is not a naïve, nostalgic hankering for a return to an era of poverty and cruel hardship. Rather it is surely obvious: we need to put aside childish things and start acting like adults. Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people – even the people to whom we are close – then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth. My grandfather was lucky in this one thing: he did not have time to be immature because he did not have the surplus income that would have granted him that luxury. That is not to exalt the virtue of poverty – poverty is an evil – but it is to underscore the dangers that come with wealth in abundance.

Second, we need to stop idolizing our children. […] Touch the child, even the one with the beard, the wisdom teeth, and the warm fuzzy memories of the time when New Kids On The Block were all the rage in High School, and you touch the sacred idol; you can expect the parents to come a-calling.

You are, of course, what you worship, as Psalm 115 reminds us, and thus, as long as we idolize our children and the culture of youth, we can expect to – well, be just like them: pouting, irresponsible, hormonal, unpleasant and, frankly, as creepy as those sixteenth century portraits of little children with adult faces. Trapped in Neverland with no hope of escape.

Source:Trapped in Neverland” at reformation21. Carl Trueman is a professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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