The Age of Disappointment

There is much excellent writing by talented authors on the cultural, social and political challenges of our times. This is one of the best.

David Brooks in The Atlantic on ‘America is Having a Moral Convulsion’

It could also be called ‘The Age of Disappointment’ or ‘What Happens When Trust Disappears’ or ‘Why Trump is in power’ or even ‘The Disintegration of America’.

Some clips below – but well worth a read in full.

And for followers of Jesus, Brooks’ forensic analysis raises all sorts of questions. And not only in the USA – many of the trends he talks about are present throughout the West, and are certainly here in Ireland.

Christians are to be people of the gospel – of good news. The story Brooks tells is an unremitting tale of bad news. Societal fragmentation, injustice, fear, despair, depression, insecurity, anxiety, familial breakdown, rage, violence, selfishness, individualism, the collapse of a civic commons and institutional decay.

A tragedy for the church, it seems to me, is when it mirrors the distrust, fears and hopelessness of the world. Brooks’ comment about (some) American evangelicals is telling

Evangelicalism has gone from the open evangelism of Billy Graham to the siege mentality of Franklin Graham.

Any Christian leader reading this article and especially Brooks’ final paragraph, should, I think, be asking ‘How can I, how can our church, embody Christian virtues of trust, faithfulness, kindness, justice, love of God, neighbour and even enemy?

Not in order to ‘save’ America, but to fulfil the Christian calling of being people of the gospel, people of hope, faith and love.

From David Brooks

Trump is the final instrument of this crisis, but the conditions that brought him to power and make him so dangerous at this moment were decades in the making, and those conditions will not disappear if he is defeated.

… The emerging generations today … grew up in a world in which institutions failed, financial systems collapsed, and families were fragile. Children can now expect to have a lower quality of life than their parents, the pandemic rages, climate change looms, and social media is vicious. Their worldview is predicated on threat, not safety.

Unsurprisingly, the groups with the lowest social trust in America are among the most marginalized …

Black Americans have been one of the most ill-treated groups in American history; their distrust is earned distrust …

The second disenfranchised low-trust group includes the lower-middle class and the working poor…

This brings us to the third marginalized group that scores extremely high on social distrust: young adults. These are people who grew up in the age of disappointment. It’s the only world they know … In the age of disappointment, our sense of safety went away. Some of this is physical insecurity: school shootings, terrorist attacks, police brutality, and overprotective parenting at home that leaves young people incapable of handling real-world stress. But the true insecurity is financial, social, and emotional.

… In this world, nothing seems safe; everything feels like chaos.

… When people feel naked and alone, they revert to tribe. Their radius of trust shrinks, and they only trust their own kind. Donald Trump is the great emblem of an age of distrust—a man unable to love, unable to trust.

… By 2020, people had stopped seeing institutions as places they entered to be morally formed, Levin argued. Instead, they see institutions as stages on which they can perform, can display their splendid selves. People run for Congress not so they can legislate, but so they can get on TV. People work in companies so they can build their personal brand. The result is a world in which institutions not only fail to serve their social function and keep us safe, they also fail to form trustworthy people. The rot in our structures spreads to a rot in ourselves.

The culture that is emerging, and which will dominate American life over the next decades, is a response to a prevailing sense of threat … We’re seeing a few key shifts.

From risk to security

From achievement to equality

From self to society

From global to local

From liberalism to activism

For centuries, America was the greatest success story on earth, a nation of steady progress, dazzling achievement, and growing international power. That story threatens to end on our watch, crushed by the collapse of our institutions and the implosion of social trust. But trust can be rebuilt through the accumulation of small heroic acts—by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability in a world that is mean, by proffering faith in other people when that faith may not be returned. Sometimes trust blooms when somebody holds you against all logic, when you expected to be dropped. It ripples across society as multiplying moments of beauty in a storm.

4 thoughts on “The Age of Disappointment

  1. Contemporary scholars like Scot McKnight, N T Wright, Matthew Bates and Jeannine Brown have helped me come to an understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom that has revolutionised my Christian faith. However I struggle with one area: can one hold to Kingdom theology and still lean conserative politically?
    David Brooks is a “liberal conserative” New York Times Columnist who admires Barrack Obama and endorsed Hillary Clinton, as did the The Atlantic, in 2016.
    This article is another viscious attack on President Trump under the disguise of analysing social conditions in America.
    Justice is key to understanding the practical outworking of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. What about justice for the unborn child? Obama, Clinton, Biden all advocate late term abortions. Large numbers of Christians voted for Trump in hope of stacking the Supreme Court with Judges who may overturn Roe v Wade. It is hard to deny the hand of the just God in Trump nominating his third Justice.
    The article refers to the marginalization of black Americans and the lower middle classere. Trump won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan in 2016 partly because the lower middle class voted for him. PreCovid, black employment figures were at record highs as were women and Hispanics. is this not “justice” in action even though much more still needs to be done?
    It is time to stop the anti-Trump rhetoric that I see on blogs whose hosts sincerely believe in the Gospel of the Kingdom and its implications. The American people will address their issues on November 3rd. We should remember Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Paul proclaimed the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah and left Caesar to govern. We should do likewise.

  2. Greetings David and welcome to the blog.

    I’d say yes to your question about kingdom theology and leaning conservative. Following Jesus will mean no political system will ‘fit’ – nor should it. If it does, I think it’s a sign that the kingdom has been co-opted to a poltical and or nationalist agenda. We’ve had plenty of that in Irish history. So there are going to be some issues that one particular side are closer to a Christian perspective on. If I was in the USA I’d find myself drawn to aspects of both Democrat and Republican platforms – and others I’d be in deep disagreement with. Democracy is the least worst option we’ve got. What I reject, and have written a book about in the Irish context, is where God is co-opted on to ‘our’ side to give spiritual legitimation to a political agenda.

    But this is not really what the article is about. I posted about it because how well it describes what is undeniable – a cultural and political fragmentation, the erosion of the commons that holds a society together. My question was one for Christians regarding witness to the good news in an age of very bad news.

  3. Thanks for this link to the Brookes’ essay and your thought provoking article Patrick. Your insights engender much warranted discussion.
    While the relationship of the Church to Caesar has always been a tension of being a citizens of two kingdoms, one earthly (Irish) and the other of God (heaven), your article highlights the degree of that tension in our modern era. What seems to essential here is the matter of identity. In reading Exodus lately I was struck by the insistence of God that the Israelites were to be a ‘distinct’ people as they lived amongst the nations. This distinction was not be rooted in merely being distinct ‘from’ the nations, but instead as being faithful’ “to” YAHWEH. For if our identity is merely reactionary, in mere opposition or in allegiance, with our nation/culture, that nation/culture continues to exercise power of being the evaluating point of reference. Instead we are to be defined as a people of God by being faithful to our Lord and His identity-shaping word, while living in a ‘nation’ bent on self-salvation projects. As you aptly described it: how can the Church be faithful to her calling by her Lord while living as aliens and pilgrims in our (any) age? It would seem that the States has yet to learn from its European counterpart what happens when the Church weds Caesar. When there is a confusion of identity as to who or what holds ultimate sway in that shaping of the people of God, the kingdom of God becomes syncretistic with the State or the surrounding culture. And this embedded, and often unseen influence, blinds us and stifles us to being the Church of God as her calling demands as a distinct people. The world will not grant us applause, nor should we expect it as Jesus warned in John 15-17. This moment is one of opportunity to see afresh who we see ourselves to be.

  4. You put it so well Roy, I don’t have anything much to add. Being an alternative body politic is a different form of political engagement which witnesses to a different kingdom. To seek to advance ‘morality’ through marriage to profoundly immoral means is repeating the Christendom error that so damaged the church in Ireland. It subverts the gospel. It dishonours the Lord. And it speaks of a hubris that says ‘we will not be corrupted by power but will use it for good ends.’ But power corrupts and is not the way of Jesus.

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