Evangelizing people who don’t trust beauty.

Gen X and the New EvangelizationI received a bit of a baffling email after I posted, of all seemingly innocuous things, my review of a Catholic gardening book.  In the review, I mentioned:

I’m also a true member of Generation X, and as a rule, we don’t trust beauty.

In a roundabout way, someone sort of, well, not challenged that statement, but expressed bafflement.  The gist was that evangelizers seem to be told nowadays that beauty will solve everything and evangelize the hardest of hearts, etc.  Then I came along and casually mentioned that, well, no.  Some of us don’t trust beauty.  Sorry, we just don’t.

Here’s what I wrote in response.  What do you think?

Painting with a broad brush, we’re a generation of cynics.  We are the first generation to only know a world of airbrushed photos and special effects.  “The beauty of traditional marriage” rings false to ears that grew up in broken homes, listening to our parents marry again and again and again.  “The beauty of Christianity” runs in black rivulets down the face of the Tammy Faye Baker of our early memories.  “The beauty of the Church” rings false to ears that can’t remember a time when priests weren’t considered pedophiles by the culture around us.
“The beauty of liturgical art” sounds like a waste of money that should be spent on the poor.  Arguments that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world fall flat on ears who’ve only ever heard the liberal media’s point of view, pouring ceaslessly out of the TVs our parents kept on in the living room, morning to night.
We’ve only ever known a world with birth control, abortion, and 24/7 news radio that turned into 24/7 cable news.  We were told that birth control and abortion would set us free.  Now, in our aging bones we know that’s not true, but saying so is taboo and would jeopardize the sexyfuntimez we’ve been taught to worship, sex being the closest thing we’ve had to intimacy.
“Life–what a beautiful choice,” sounds laughable to us.  Life isn’t beautiful when comfort and ease are the best things we’ve been taught to expect.
And don’t get me started on, “The beauty of feminine genius.”  To people who grew up being told that women and men are the same and no different, and you’re a sexist brute for thinking otherwise, “feminine genius” sounds patronizing at best.
So how on earth to do you go about evangelizing a generation of Fox Mulders, who Trust No One?
By having integrity, again and again and again, until integrity becomes beautiful. 
Truth is what we crave. Truth is the only beauty we can trust.
On the nose? Too on the nose?  Brushstrokes are too broad?  I’m curious.
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15 comments

  1. Speaking broadly, I tend to agree with what you said as applying to the population at large. I’m personally fairly idealistic, had a great childhood, and am not too cynical about the big things, but I’m not immune to all the stuff you mention going on around me. I’d say that people have settled for the superficial over things of substance although in their hearts they crave that substance, that integrity.

    1. Yes, again, we’re all speaking pretty broadly here. If you’re commenting on my blog, chances are you’re not the run-of-the-mill grunge graduate. We crave substance and integrity, but living that out ourselves is so darned hard, and the worst thing you can call an American is a hypocrite, so…

  2. I don’t tend to mistrust beauty, but I’m probably unusual in Gen X. (And can I publicly state that I can’t STAND that name? Come on, Baby Boomers, are you too bored with us to even give a name to our generation?)

    Anyway, I see this even more-so in my children’s generation. I even see tinges of it in my children, and I’d like to think their childhood hasn’t been all that bad. But they are surrounded by — bombarded and assaulted by — the ugliness of the world and their fledgling faith is constantly being torn down by the culture that surrounds them. I feel like we’re swimming upstream through a sewer, and I can’t help but feel like I’m losing the battles, even if I know Who wins the war. It terrifies me, thinking of how difficult it is to grow up and go out into this world as a Catholic, and I worry constantly that I’ve not done a decent enough job of nurturing my children’s faith before they have to make all the decisions on their own.

    But there’s a craving for Truth and Beauty. We all crave it, but we don’t see it often. And when we do, you can be sure the elites of the world will tell us it’s stupid and backwards and Not How Things Work, so we ought to reject it because it’ll Turn Out to be Fake. (Look at some of the negative reviews of Cinderella, for goodness’ sake, or even Meghan Trainor’s song “Dear Future Husband”!)

    Sorry for getting ranty on you.

    1. Rant away! Please! Sadly, I think that we are just the first of many generations to come who don’t trust what our eyes see. We’re also the first generation raised to think god=comfort, after our parents’ generation fought to make it so. Why do you think our generation so often says, “I find God in nature, not in church?” It’s because we can choose to experience nature when it makes us comfortable and go back inside when it’s not; notice nobody’s saying, “Wow! I truly saw God in Hurricane Katrina!” Church makes us uncomfortable: we hear things we don’t want to hear there, and we have to deal with people we’d prefer to avoid. It takes discipline to see God in Church most days, and discipline is something that takes a whole village to encourage. Our villages have long been encouraging comfort, not joy. And here we are.

      1. Seeing God in Hurricane Katrina! Perfect example.

        Really, though, as Dominicans we aren’t called to snark at people who can’t get to God the ways they’ve tried before. We have to show them the way.

      2. To my chagrin, I’ve heard of a number of people who have seen God in Hurricane Katrina. Just not the way you meant it. I find God in nature, too, but not as a substitute for church.

  3. I have to agree with everything you wrote. Like the others who commented, I grew up in a good household, parents stayed together, it was a happy childhood, blah, blah, blah … but I saw what was going on around me. I may have been naive to much of it as a kid, but in hindsight it is clearer just how much changed within one generation. And it keeps changing. The cynicism abounds in Generation Y and beyond (speaking generally, of course). I’m scared of the world that my children will end up in and I hope I can provide them with a childhood and young adulthood that gives them the opportunity to see the beauty around them, to trust it, and to know that God is always with them. I think this is all we can do: raise our own kids to be different from the secular world around them and to pray. Lots and lots of prayer!

    1. I agree. I also think it’s soooo important to be trustworthy ourselves, so that our kids know that EVERYTHING we say is true (and if we do lie, come clean and make up for it BEFORE getting caught). If they can’t believe us about the little things, why should they believe us about God? It all comes down to integrity on our part plus prayer and sacrifice. Keep fighting the good fight!

  4. I’m a bit younger than Gen X (too old for Gen Y) but I know exactly what you’re talking about. I think this is one of the biggest walls to any dialogue between Catholics and Secularists nowadays in that they tend to come from completely different worlds that say things in a completely different way.

    We worship the cool, new, and subversive. We are taught that anything that existed before us is a waste of time because, hey, old people did all those horrible things that we’re never going to do. Because we see through their lies. Every other generation was a lead up to me. We’re unique and special– we get trophies just for showing up. What do you have to offer me with your old ideas and outdated ideals?

    It’s not an easy mentality to crack.

    Suffice to say, if I didn’t have a very personal experience of something far beyond myself, I would probably still be one of them.

    1. “Suffice to say, if I didn’t have a very personal experience of something far beyond myself, I would probably still be one of them.” YESSSS! And that’s the part that, no matter how much integrity we ourselves show, only God can provide that ‘experience beyond self.’ That’s why prayer is important, but that’s also why surrender is important.

  5. I think you hit it on the nose. I know I’m a generation past y’all (Gen Y?), but your comments make a whole lot of sense. Despite my amazing family and upbringing, I have so many friends who have dealt with broken families, emotional and physical abuse, depression, and spiritual malaise. And sometimes, beauty just doesn’t make sense to them.

    This makes me stop and think, how can I best communicate beauty and integrity to my generation? It’s not an easy task – and I’m not sure there’s a straightforward answer – but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take up.

    1. Do! Keep fighting the good fight, but keep surrendering the victory to God. That seems like the best we can do. There’s your unsolicited advice from your elder, you young whippersnapper.

  6. So true, Erin! I am bordering on Gen X or Gen Y/Millennials, as I was born in 1981, the cutoff date for Gen X and start date for Gen Y/Millennials. I identify more with the values of the GI Generation – those who survived the Depression and lived during WWII. Somehow I’ve always been more of a traditionalist, but I see the generational decline in understanding true beauty, as you described. I see it everywhere, yet my husband and I read works of literature that we find to reflect true beauty. Likewise, we listen to music that does the same. We believe true beauty “elevates the soul to Heaven,” which is why we hope to model appreciation of true beauty to our daughters. Excellent post!!

    1. Thank you! And if you could send some of that attitude my way, I sure could use it. I’m often too much like my age peers for my own liking, alas. I suppose God let me be this way for a reason, however, so I shouldn’t complain. Or brood moodily, while drinking espresso and writing sad poetry or something…

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