Generation in The Shadows: From Youth and Counter Culture to Generation X


Gurus of the Youth Culture—Intellectual indicators:  Generation X represents one of the most fundamental postmodern trends facing the Church in 2003 (cf. Toffler’s cultural topography describes three periods of radical change:  (1) Agricultural revolution, (2) Industrial revolution, and (3) Informational revolution).  Each of these typographies expresses radical shifts in the belief and behavior systems of our youth culture.  Perhaps a brief but representative trek will provide some crucial cultural indicators.


1920        J.B. Bury, Idea of Progress.

Resurgent Marxism (cf. after the 1929 economic fiasco in America)

1930        Carl Becker, Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers.  Becker’s Mentor at Iowa University was Richard Ely in 1873.  At Cornell in 1917, Frederick J. Turner was his teacher.  (Note the influence of Turner’s Marxist interpretation of the American Frontier in our Restoration Heritage.)  He also radically influenced segments of the Disciples of Christ historiography.  For Becker, the principle acid of modernity which dissolved veritus was historicism—the world is in constant flux.  Becker claimed that “every man is his own historian.”  Facts do not exist; all that we have is interpretation (cf. Postmodern Hermeneutics.)


1934    Ruth Benedict (1887-1943) was a guru for cultural relativism and multiculturalism (esp. patterns of culture).  Hers was a new day in cultural anthropology.  She was one of the first females to teach at a major university.  What message did she convey to her students?  She is without question a guru of cultural relativism and multiculturalism.  The following thesis appeared in Patterns of Culture (Benedict studied the Kuakiutle and Dobus tribes, the configurational approach to culture).  This was a study of the cultural potentialities of Japan as part of a peaceful and cooperative world.  Compare Benedict’s  style with James G. Frazer’s Golden Bough.  From 1943-1948 she studied how the development of techniques whereby the methods of anthropology could be applied to the study of modern cultures (see Margaret Mead, An Anthropologist at Work: Writings of Ruth Benedict (Boston: Houghton/Mifflin, 1954).


Benedict’s work affirms at least seven propositions that shape the youth culture of the 1960’s.  As a cultural relativist and a multiculturalist she sets forth these ideas:

1.      We abandon our illusions of cultural superiority; each culture makes its own claims.

2.      Human achievement is not dependent on any force external to human culture. 

3.      Western culture has assumed religious superiority in viewing other culture (cf. one of the assumptions of the postmodern culture is the rejection of Western superiority (WADA) based in scientific development and Christianity).

4.      Western Christian culture is plagued with the irrationality of race, prejudice, nationalism (patriotism, America, The Beautiful).

5.      Cultural anthropology encourages mutual cultural tolerance.

6.      Western Christian culture tormented women (witches in New England), discouraged races (heredity, genetics, environment (1960’s radical Feminist revolution and the development of the Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights, etc.).

7.      Demise of the normative, superiority of Christianity (cf. sin, guilt, responsibility after Freud, A Nation of Victims, genetic and environmental determinism).


1935    Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) moved to the USA in 1935 and wrote Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited.  Development of resurgent Marxism,  History of Religion, Psychology of Religion, Phenomenology of Religion, Sociology of Religion.


1940    World War II, Mortimer Adler/Hutchens, University of Chicago, Educational revolution, the Great Books (compare with Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.


1949    George Orwell (Eric A. Blair, 1903-1950).  He wrote the novel 1984 when he discovered that he was dying of cancer.  He was a committed Marxist as a youth.


1950    Communication revolution, reshaping youth and American family values, revolution in radio, television, cultural values regarding sex, home (family), and church.


1960    Gurus of the Counter Culture:  H. Marcuse, T. Reich, Roszak, and Toffler.  Marcuse and Toffler were avid Marxists.  Toffler’s attack on the family is apparent in Future Shock (NY: Random House, 1973, pp. 203-204).


1964    Resurgence of The Power of Myth through the influence of Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth and his media presentation during which he rejected Christianity, “True Truth, Judaeo/Christian morals, etc.  He is the radical source of influence in the development of science fiction (see especially Tom Snyder, Myth Conceptions:  Joseph Campbell and New Age (Baker, 1995); B.C. Lane, The Power of Myth  in The Christian Century  (July 5-12, 1989); Journal of Spiritual Counterfeiters, “The Mythology of Joseph Campbell’s attempts to erect a global faith” (based on The Myths of The World’s Religions (cf. his influence is visible in Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park – monistic, pantheistic New Age).  It would be very hard to over emphasize Campbell’s influence on Generation X (see my “World Views in Conflict, A Comparison of Joseph and Alexander Campbell”). 


1970    This decade was largely shaped by Dr. Spock’s revolution in parenting and child rearing.  This generation was “spooked by Spock.”


1984    Into the culture maze of Generation X another voice was heard.  Marilyn Ferguson’s, The Aquarian Conspiracy became the bible of new age pantheism (this phenomena is the fastest growing influence on Generation X in America; as Islam is the fastest growing religion in global perspective.


1990    Into the very arena of political correctness, Intervarsity Fellowship’s Baby Buster consultants identify five main characteristics that Generation X is looking for in faith groups (note that this generation has been influenced by epistemological and cultural relativism for decades).

1.      Authenticity – what they want is unity, love and acceptance.  They prefer honesty over politeness.

2.      Community – “I am homesick for the home I never had.”  This song reflects the Xers’ anger over the broken, dysfunctional families that the Busters hail from.  There is a possibility that Xers will play down family obligations; often the term “family” is not a safe concept.  Often members of this g group are isolated individuals who refuse community (cf. also responsibility and accountability because their moral relativism precludes personal and/or social consensus).

3.      Distaste for Dogma – Barna reports that 81% of Xers do not believe there is “absolute truth.”  This thesis is a widely held position even among some evangelicals; see esp. Apologetics in Our Post Modern Culture (IVP, 1995).

4.      Focus on The Arts – This generation has chosen a non-traditional preference for religious expression (cf. worship, preaching, ministry styles, etc.).  The centrality of music and television in Xers’ lives cannot be overestimated:  VCRs, 24 hours of MTV video, Wolf Man, CD players, DVDs and channel surfing “are part of the air they breathe,” says Fuller’s Richard Peace.  Pop culture has replaced classical evangelical modes.  Generation X also sees art as a primary vehicle for worship.

5.      Diversity – The Church is notorious for its radical division.


Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus

Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL