Listen To Article

Nihilism.

It’s the only explanation I can come up with, and I’m thinking more and more lately that it’s all our fault.

It’s the only explanation for why kids are using semi-automatic rifles to slaughter their classmates in shockingly routine fashion, and why the adults with the power to stop it are too feckless and compromised to do anything.

It’s the only explanation for why the Internet and ERs across the country are filled with young bodies voluntarily pumped full of toxic chemicals, and why the rest of us dismiss it with a chuckle and wonder why anyone could ever be so stupid as to eat a Tide Pod.

It’s exacerbated by a job market that leaves twice as many young people unemployed than it does other wage-earning adults, by a credit crunch that makes it almost impossible to build a financial life, and an economic future that will—for the first time in U.S. history—leave Millennials and Generation Z poorer than their parents, despite their record levels of education (and corresponding student debt).

It’s accelerated by the weakening of religious institutions that refuse to grapple openly with the questions of postmodernity being asked by the children of our congregations, coming off as out of touch at best and as hypocritical at worst.

It’s heightened by every 100-year-storm in Houston and New Orleans, by every historic drought and wildfire season in California and Montana, and by every evidence-based scientific report reminding the Climate Change Generation that the only one they’ve ever known—namely, a warming one—is only getting hotter, more dangerous, and more unpredictable.

It’s fed by a political reality so mired in petty partisanship and cynical one-upmanship as to be all but impotent to solve any of the problems facing the communities where our kids live. All the while, they watch helplessly as their friends are deported, their earning potential evaporates, and their very ability to thrive and flourish on Planet Earth is endangered.

But none of these are the cause of our kids’ nihilism. We are.

After all, economic systems are designed and maintained by humans. We are the ones who accept an economic system which exploits natural and human capital with ever more impunity. We are the ones who silently accept the unprecedented wealth accumulation for the top sliver of society while the rest of the world fights over the scraps rather than fighting for a more just and compassionate capitalism which would truly raise all boats.

After all, religious institutions are designed and maintained by humans. We are the ones who choose to keep ourselves at arm’s length from the curious and earnest questioning of a generation coming of age with the world in their pockets, reifying answers to questions posed centuries ago as ultimate and refusing to translate the transformative, hopeful message of the gospel for a new generation.

After all, the unprecedented levels of warming around the world is caused largely by humans. We are the ones who treasure our unparalleled level of wealth and comfort so much that we are willing to gamble with the lives of millions of people the world over who are bearing the brunt of stronger storms, more erratic weather patterns, and rising seas.

After all, political intransigence is perpetrated and normalized by humans. We are the ones who demand that our politicians adhere unflinchingly to our rigid set of ideological litmus tests and foreswear any form of compromise as base treachery. We are the ones who have paved the way for perhaps the most cynically nihilistic Administration in U.S. history, whose guiding principle appears to be that there is no guiding principle, there is only power and those who are willing to grasp and consolidate it (and lest we feel the temptation to absolve ourselves from responsibility for our current political moment, names like Huizenga, Hoekstra, and DeVos remind us that some of the highest-ranking and most vocal advocates for Trumpism have their theological roots in the Reformed tradition).

And the deepest tragedy of it all is that we are the ones with the answer to nihilism. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the true story of the entire world—a story of fathomless love, unexpected liberation, undeserved redemption, long-awaited reconciliation, rebellious hope. A story that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. But I’m worried we’ve been losing the thread. I’m worried we Christians are, in the words of Craig Gay, living as functional atheists—trusting in the market for our daily bread and the industrial-military complex for our security. Or worse, that Gay’s analysis is too rosy, and we’ve in fact been living as functional nihilists—and that the kids have picked up on it.

To be sure, not all of the kids are so hopeless. The Parkland teens, the Dreamers, and the young people in my own organization remind me everyday that there is tremendous leadership bubbling up to combat the apathy and cynicism of our time.

I hope they will begin to feel more like the rule rather than the exception that proves the rule.

I hope the church will start to feel more like a conspirator in their holy mischief, rather than a hinderance.

I hope.

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap is the national organizer and spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap serves as the National Organizer and Spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

12 Comments

  • Jean Scott says:

    Thanks for telling it like it is!

  • June A. Huissen says:

    Thank you.

  • Shannon Hollemans says:

    Amen, Kyle!

  • Kathy Vandergrift says:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking analysis. May I add another important dimension that ties together the presence of both despair and hope among young people? In my view, it is past time for a re-think of how many churches and religious institutions talk about and treat children and young people. Do we consider them fully persons with rights rooted in dignity and equal worth as created and love by God, or do we treat them as “becoming-full-persons” someday? Do we practise rights-respecting relationships when it comes to policies and practices that impact young people or do we treat young people as either future-potential, investments for economic growth, or private “commodities” that extend family and class divides in society? A re-think of our theology of childhood and the transition to adulthood is much needed.

  • Emily Brink says:

    Thank you, Kyle. All this corporate talk of “we” gives both hope and complicity. Bravo for all, young and old, who identify with all who advocate for and stand with those who seek justice and mercy for our world and all that is in it. That’s the “we” I long to identify with by word AND deed. Blessings on your work!

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hey Kyle, quick correction: automatic weapons are not being used in school shootings (or really anywhere else, for that matter), but rather semi-automatic. You may want to make the change.

    • George Ertel says:

      Please leave facts out of this. It violates the spirit of the rant.

    • Kyle Meyaard-Schaap says:

      Thanks for engaging the post, Eric, and for your helpful catch there. You are quite right! It’s been edited.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Thanks Kyle. I would view and frame some of your concerns here differently, and I would strike a much more optimistic tone, but we are lockstep on the one unique and uniquely effective solution that the church possesses and must never abandon: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks for keeping the gospel front and center and reminding us of the church’s birthright.

  • Alina A. says:

    Nihilism arising within the ranks of children raised in Christian homes is not surprising. Nihilism is usually preceded by recognition of dissonance within the church. Some would call it hypocrisy, but I think that what some people visualize as hypocrisy is more intentional than what I am talking about here. Dissonance is what happens when people unintentionally, and very sincerely, believe that two opposite things are true. Christians are notorious for this.
    We must love science, because it reveals the glory of God, but we must fear science because it might reveal things that conflict with our interpretation of scripture.
    Everybody is welcome in our church, but gay people that want to get married are not welcome in our church.
    Every child’s life is sacred, so we will fight to prevent abortion, but children dying in a school shooting is just something that happens and there’s nothing we can do about it.
    One president had an affair with an intern and that makes him a horrible, horrible person, and another president has a sex romp with a porn star but oh well.
    We want to protect all unborn children, but when a family will be financially devastated by the cost of health care during a difficult pregnancy, that’s too bad.
    We must love and show compassion to the poor, but let’s scoff at all those bleeding-heart liberals that want to love and show compassion to the poor.
    It is any wonder that young people are rejecting the “morals” of the church? Is anyone really surprised that intelligent people are looking at this dissonance and deciding that it is meaningless to be a part of it?

  • David E Timmer says:

    Kyle, thank you so much for writing this, and for including the link to Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. I followed the link and explored the site, and I highly recommend that every reader of this essay do likewise. Frankly, I found myself weeping with gratitude to find such a group of clear-minded, confident, and committed young Christians mobilized around the issue of creation care. I hope you represent the future of evangelical Christianity in America, which desperately needs to break with many of the “leaders” who currently profess to speak for them.

    • Kyle Meyaard-Schaap says:

      David, thank you for engaging the post, and for your hugely encouraging comment about the work of Y.E.C.A.! I am proud every single day to be able to do what I do with the people that I do. I’m going to share your comment with my colleagues so that they can be as encouraged as I was!

Leave a Reply