I’m not wildly keen on exercise. Irina Dunn might famously once have said “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, but I need a bicycle like a fish needs a woman – the result in both cases being a male left gasping for breath and entirely out of his element. In any case, I have found a marvellous way of getting a full cardiovascular workout without even having to get up from my chair. I refer to the LTBS Quarterly, even the most summary perusal of which is guaranteed to take my blood pressure on a little hike. ‘LTBS’ stands for ‘Let The Bible Speak’ – excellent advice, which I wish the authors would take more often.
It is the publication of the Free Presbyterian Church in Ulster. ‘Free’ sometimes appears something of a misnomer in this context. The path to heaven may well be a narrow one, but there are those in this denomination who perform the theological equivalent of the policeman’s drink-driving test: they paint a narrow line and you have to walk it, never putting a foot wrong and all the while touching your nose with alternate hands. This line may well lead to Heaven, but it does make it very hard to stop at the side of the road and offer assistance to any Samaritans you may find there…
Anyway, that’s something of a digression. I have before me the October 2009 edition, which features as its theme ‘evolution’ (and contains several articles by members of the clergy who demonstrate all too clearly that they are not equipped to deal with the subtleties of the scientific issues involved), and includes an article by Rev. Michael Patrick, of Perth Free Presbyterian Church (yes, that’s the Australian Perth) on Genesis 1:1, which includes the following little sideswipe:
With God there is cosmos and meaningfulness; without God there is chaos and meaninglessness. Meaninglessness – how pervasive is nihilism in our modern culture! Its influence in the ethos of the rising generation is pernicious. It is the philosophy that permeates the rock culture and rap music of our day. Such is the bitter fruit of atheistic and evolutionary thinking.
There are some clergymen who wonder at the falling numbers of young people in today’s congregation. Speaking as a member of ‘the rising generation’, there are one or two points to which I would like to draw the good reverand’s attention. First of all, despairing of the rising generation will not encourage them to darken the doors of your churches. Some of them, you see, will know history, and will say – with perfect validity – “Well, what about the nihilism of previous generations? Go back one generation and we have the Cold War, the world divided into powerblocs, one of which, Communism, was the ultimate expression of atheistic ideology; and both of them, while we’re on the subject of nihilism and the not-unrelated idea of annihilation, pointing +/- 40,000 nuclear weapons at each other.” The nihilism of the previous generation (which coincidentally seems to include Rev. Patrick) was sufficient to wipe out all life on Earth several times over.
What of the generation before that? They were the chemical kids making use of mind-altering substances on large scales for the first time, seeking ‘alternatives’ to just about everything, up to and including God, religion, and the whole deal. The ‘Beat’ poets of the 50s, for instance, got their name because they declared themselves ‘beaten’ by society and were, therefore, giving up on it. The generation before that? They had the horrors of Auschwitz, mass aerial bombardment, and civilian casualties measurable in tens of millions. They faced the mass trauma of humankind. The generation before that? The killing fields of the Somme and Passchendale, an entire generation wiped out in the mud of Flanders. And so on and so forth. If Rev. Patrick’s great concern about the nihilism of my generation is contained in our music, then I suggest that the problem is not anywhere near as severe as he implies. Furthermore, if he wants my generation to be hopeful, isn’t it better to spend time talking to us about Christ than berating us for our ‘rock culture’? And isn’t it better that he draws attention to some of the good things my generation is doing? My generation is more ecologically aware, more poverty-conscious, and arguably more socially active than any for the last hundred years – and yet there is a war, in the British media, declared on anyone my age and younger. ‘Broken Britain’ is the cry, and my word it’s getting dull for us accused of breaking it. Or, as I heard recently: “Alistair Darling, clearly identifying the culprits of the worldwide financial crisis, has levied a 10% tax increase on cider. Binging teenagers and tramps: these are, obviously, the monsters who plunged us into global recession”.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things about the current state of Britain that I very much dislike. But, as is often the cry of young people standing next to some smashed object: “It was like that when I got here!”
It was like that, indeed, a couple of thousand years ago. Philippians 2:15 says that we are to “become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars of the universe.” Or we can go back further again, to Deuteronomy 32:5, where God says of the Israelites that “they are a perverse and crooked generation“. Or we can even go back further still to Genesis 7:1, in which God says of Noah “among all the people of the earth, I can see that you alone are righteous in this generation.” So if we’re nihilistic, if we’re perverse; if we’re crooked or corrupt or sinful, it really isn’t anything new. And it’s certainly not the fault of the music we listen to.
Speaking of which…
And finally, your moment of Zen: