Jonathan Haidt, made infamous for his article on trigger warnings and coddling of the American Mind, was recently in the news again concerning the well-being of teens and young adults (see article, and Haidt’s own words in article1 and article2). The argument once again points to social media as playing a significant role in the well-being of youth (see also Twenge’s now famous article on whether smartphones have destroyed a generation).
Another part of Haidt’s argument about the decreased well-being of young adults is his articulation that certain ways of thinking, “say identifying with, or privileging victims and a victim status, tends to disempower people because it puts someone else in charge of your life.” (Robinson) While we should acknowledge that many of us, and some more than others for various reasons, have been and continue to be victims of unjust behaviour and/or institutions, the problem comes not from recognizing that we are victims, but by allowing being a victim to become one’s sense of identity. Victims have limited agency and there is limited focus on resiliency. Without conversations about resilience and agency, people are more likely to become depressed.
While this is an interesting conversation to be had in terms of how such thinking is affecting young adults, especially at university, it’s also an interesting conversation in wondering, like Robinson, “if there is some cross-over to all this in churches.” Have we lost our sense of agency in the church? Or, more accurately, have we forgotten God’s agency?
Robinson notes that in the “more liberal and progressive church context, there’s a lot of emphasis on the problems of the world, and on what you should be doing about it. Which begins to sound a lot like law, not gospel. It’s all about what you should do or feel or think. If God is in the picture, it’s about what God needs us to do, demands that we do. There’s little emphasis on what God has done or is doing on our behalf or on God’s capacity to bring good out of or in the face of evil. So it’s kind of all on us.”
That sounds exhausting and debilitating.
In a world where so many are exhausted and overwhelmed, when we feel like we have too little agency and too much responsibility, church can’t be a place that tries to give us more of that. Church – and all Christian organizations – need to be places of grace and hope.
Please pray with us that we in the ministry might indeed be one of those places where we extend grace and help people hope.