Monday, January 16, 2017

Lacking Hope

There is a great need for the comfort and hope of the gospel today.  We can see it in the culture around us. And no I don’t mean politics.  Politics is downstream of culture.  I think it is most obvious in young adult literature and movies. 

Take a look at what is popular and for the most part is dystopian futures and zombies.  Both have been around for a long time, but never were they so popular.  You have your “1983” and “Fahrenheit 451”, but they did not start a rage in dystopian writings.  Even 1993’s “The Giver” did not jump start the idea, although Lois Lowery’s book did have the main character as a teenager, which is what future dystopian writings would capitalize upon.  Enter “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins in 2008 and we have our beginning.  This series of books not only sold millions of copies, but launched a film franchise that made big time bucks.  Also, it was followed by books like “Divergent” (2011) by Veronica Roth, and then the “Maze Runner” (2009) by James Dashner.  Each selling millions and spawning movie franchises although not quite to the same level of success as Hunger Games.  Those are just the big massive successes.  We could also count “Uglies” (2006) by Scott Westerfield, “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis, and “The Knife of Never Letting Go” (2008) by Patrick Ness just to name a few. 

All of those books have teenage heroes, fight against a corrupt system, everything is already ruined and will not get better even when the protagonist wins, and is easily comparable to aspects of high school (I am not the first to state such similarities). 

Now add in the popularity of zombies.  Again “Night of the Living Dead” has been around for sometime, but the genre has really taken off thanks mostly to “The Walking Dead” (2003) comic book, which is still on-going, and its resulting TV series, and “Resident Evil” (1996) video game, which has since become a film franchise as well.  This has helped spawn both movies and books such as “I am Legend” and “World War Z”.  The genre is popular enough that it also has some comedy books such as “Pride Prejudice and Zombies” (2009), which is now coming to a theater near you and “Shaun of the Dead” (2004). 

The majority of these books, movies, and games have little to no real hope and often the real threat is not the zombies, who seem to be more of the setting than the problem, but other non-zombie survivors.  “The Walking Dead” particularly dives into the idea of living in a world without morals because it is without structure.  What does civilization look like in such a world and is it even possible are regular themes. 

This is a change in what young adults have traditionally read.  In times past people read “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which is full of hope and goes from disorder to order, or they read “Little House on the Prairie”, which is about hard work and finding a good life without things, or “A Wrinkle in Time” which is a good vs. evil fight.  The difference in themes is stark and obvious.
It is not hard to see that this change reflects something lacking in our culture and something that speaks to young adults.  They are hopeless.  Just look at the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  They have fought this profound evil of making kids fight to the death for sport to keep people in line, and when the “good guys” win, they want to re-instituted the same thing.  So, the heroine kills the new leader rather than the old one.  They are both the same.  No real hope.  Even the brief glimpse of her future she and her husband suffer from the scars of their life mentally.  Yes they have kids, but we learn nothing of the outside world then.  There is no real hope in it.

Or if you want more proof look at what has happened to a beloved movie trilogy in Star Wars.  “The Force Awakens” takes the original trilogy and makes it all for nothing.  The original ends with the Emperor defeated, Anakin redeemed, and the Empire crumbling.  Now we join in some 20 years later and what do we see?  The Dark Side has once again ravaged the galaxy.  Even Luke Skywalker could not stop the killing of Younglings again.  The Empire appears fine in the guise of the First Order, which whatever government or Republic was put in place could not stop and indeed it was so bad that there is a group called the Resistance in this government.  Han and Leia could not stay together, Luke no longer comes to the aid of his friends, and we are left to wonder how is the galaxy better off thanks to the Rebellion?  This is the culture we live in. 

Previous generations of both writers and readers have faced their share of hardships and toil, but produced far different literature, and literature with very different themes were popular.  Tolkien, Lewis, and Milne (creator of Winnie the Pooh) all fought in World War I, all got seriously ill, and yet they created beloved children’s and young adult literature.  Laura Engels Wilder lived life on a prairie, survived harsh winters, threat of Native American attacks, and illness without doctors, yet she wrote young adult literature that looked back on her life not with gloom, but with a sense of family, optimism, and hope.  One could argue that this generation of writers and readers has had a much easier life, yet they have created and enjoy a much bleaker style or writing.

What does this tell us as the church?  It should tell us that kids seem to believe they are in a hopeless situation.  That young adults don’t trust the system (probably including church), and they seem in desperate search for meaning.  Thankfully, Christ is the answer.  We just don't seem to be communicating this truth the young very well.  It is the young who are growing up for the first time in a post-Christian world.  Their parents remember the vestiges of Christian civilization, but this new generation has been taught there is no truth in school, won't remember marriage before its redefinition, and live in a world that is hostile to the Christian faith.  The challenge for the church is how do we communicate meaning and truth in Jesus to this generation of people who are floundering without hope in the world today?  There is hope for the hopeless, and a name for the condition they rightly see the world suffers from: sin.  But we must make sure we are communicating to young people as well as adults.  This literature is telling us we had better not wait until they are adults to start communicating the gospel.  They are in need now.  They need Christ now.