God Lite, or: a Girlie Religion for a Girlie Culture

The last time I did jury duty I was outside on the courthouse plaza smoking during a break when a young man, a millennial, approached me and asked for a cigarette. I was surprised. Sixty years ago, when I was his age, the majority of adults smoked but millennials generally do not. For as long as they have lived smoking has been illegal in most places and socially unapproved.

My millennial demonstrated he wasn’t accustomed to it when he looked at the cigarette I gave him. “I didn’t know they made cigarettes without filters,” he said. I have no idea what moved the young man to bum one from me but I watched him after he walked away, certain of what he would do next. Sure enough, after a few tentative puffs he dropped the cigarette onto the pavement, crushed it with his foot, and now that he had both hands free to work the device turned his attention to his smartphone and the social media by which, like most persons his age, he stays “connected” to the very many acquaintances he calls “friends.” Those would be other millennials who share his “passions,” including the belief that nothing is more important than “love” and “tolerance” and therefore would never be guilty of uttering the “hate speech” you’ll be hearing from me here.

Let me further describe their type. Intellectual curiosity is not typical of them but if they were ever to wonder whether their life has purpose they would conclude that if it has it can’t be much of one. They resemble someone standing at the edge of a lake deciding whether the water is too cold to go in and who finally splashes around a bit before quitting altogether.

Of course they are capable of acting energetically when they are with others like themselves in a group, as when they join a mob and cheer as a Confederate statue is taken down or crowd into a college auditorium to shout down a speaker for being a “racist sexist homophobic bigot.”

Perhaps the young man who quickly discarded my cigarette would arrange to meet one of his “friends” in the flesh. Where? Since neighborhood bars no longer exist, and millennials seldom drink anyway, it would probably be a Starbucks where the two of them would sip café lattes.

If he and his friend did meet someplace with alcohol on offer, the beer he ordered would be lite.

If they decided to move on to a restaurant it would be one serving daubs of unrecognizable semi-vegetarian foodstuff arranged ever so prettily on cute little plates.

I should make it clear my intent here is not to champion smoking, drink, and steak medium rare, though I confess to enjoying these pleasures as well as others no longer as common as they used to be, like reading books and listening to nothing except classical music. However, I’ll also admit that I do see millennials’ preference for filtered cigarettes, designer coffee and near vegetarianism as symptomatic of a society that could aptly be described with a word Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously used when speaking of some men: “girlie.”

Of this society, the world in which we have our lives today, three things will be said here. The first is that the millennials may be shaping it to their taste, as every generation does, but they did not bring it into being. That was the lamentable achievement of their parents and grandparents. Most responsible of all were the “greatest” generation, the World War II-era cohort. It was in their time Americans left the farm and moved into suburbs, women left the home and took jobs, and husbands by and large agreed with their wives that making money and having things was more important than making babies so that life prevention (a.k.a. family planning) soon replaced child-rearing at the core of marriage and thence the family itself.

The second thing to say is that a substantial number of millennials must sense that, as enmeshed in it as they are by modern culture, their way of life is not as it should be. How else explain, for instance, the very striking current popularity, especially among young men, of Dr. Jordan Peterson?

If you are unfamiliar with him, he is a Canadian clinical psychologist, author of the Amazon number-one bestseller 12 Rules for Life, and star of a series of YouTube videos in which he criticizes political correctness. As lifestyle gurus go, Peterson is far from being the worst He is a lot better than, say, Oprah. The trouble with him is that his prescriptions are finally as thin and unsubstantial – as lite – as the notions held by his fans before they discovered him. He does not stand on solid ground. He used to describe himself as Christian but more recently does not. Asked if he believes in God, he has answered, “I think the proper answer to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist.” I’d say, in sum, that he promotes an ethos that is basically Christian but unencumbered by the conviction born of faith that a Palestinian peasant two thousand years ago is God. This is to speak of a kind of Christianity without Christ, a form of the religion that is not religious and thus can be practiced only for as long as it is convenient. It is perfect for a filtered-cigarette and lite beer generation, a generation that could be described as liking life lite.

This brings me to the third thing to be said of our girlie culture: It is a natural development to go from living lite to believing in God lite if you’re going to believe in Him at all. I am fortified in saying this by a poll conducted in December by Pew Research and whose results were reported by Religious News Service last month.

Asked “Do you believe in God or not?” 80% of those polled answered yes. That sounds pretty good until you learn that ten years earlier, in 2007, 92% answered affirmatively. That’s a sharp decline. Further, when asked “Do you believe in God as described in the Bible?” the percentage fell to 56. (Only persons identifying themselves as Christian, Jewish and atheist or agnostic were polled.)

A real trend was shown when respondents were asked if they believed in “some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe” besides the biblical God. 23% answered yes. Worse, no more than 69% of Catholics affirmed belief in the God of the Bible, and persons under the age of fifty are less likely to believe in Him than older Americans. Finally, only 45% of college graduates believe in the biblical God.

I said the poll results fortified my view, but my view matters not one iota compared to how God Himself must look upon the persons I’ve written about here – those who believe in God lite when they believe at all. He tells us how He does. It is in Rev. 3:16 of the Catholic Douay-Rheims translation of Holy Scripture: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”