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1. A New Low

What it is: Gallup polling conducted in May found that 81 percent of Americans believe in God, continuing a steep slide in belief in a higher power.
Why it’s more than just an attention-grabbing headline: It’s certainly provocative to state that we are approaching a point where a quarter of Americans don’t believe in God. There’s more to the story, though, as the Gallup poll provides several other data markers worth considering. Out of those surveyed who do profess belief in God, 42 percent believe that He hears prayers and intervenes on behalf of the individual. (Only 30 percent of young adults 18-29, however, hold that belief.) Gallup notes that belief in God has dropped significantly, but not as significantly as religious metrics like church membership and church attendance, observing that “the practice of religious faith may be changing more than basic faith in God.”

2. Can’t Find It

What it is: People are expressing dissatisfaction (language) with the way Google’s flagship product, its search engine, has changed over the past few months as it seems to rank sponsored content and ads more highly than before.
Why it’s an insight into how young people use the internet: Charlie Warzel reports in the Atlantic that the way young people use search is dramatically different than their older counterparts. People in older demographics tend to search for simple keywords, but younger folks speak to their search engines much like you’d speak to a person (or a device named Siri or Alexa), querying entire questions or sentences. It’s possible that Google is simply adjusting to these differences in search habits between these two generations, resulting in some gnarly-looking search result pages in the process. Some savvy searchers have taken to finding workarounds, like tacking on “+reddit” to their search queries in hopes of returning forum results written by real people rather than soupy, SEO-ladled sponsored blog posts. Google’s reps say that their product is working better than ever, but there’s always that outside possibility that the golden era of interesting, organic information available at our fingertips is fading into memory.

3. A Jury of His Peers

What it is: A profile (language) in New York Magazine examines what it means for a high school boy to live “canceled” by his peers because of his actions. This essay is hard to read, and be advised that the writer has chosen to use some profane language in her condemnation of certain actions.
Why it’s important to understand: The profile follows a pseudonymous boy called “Diego” who showed an explicit photo of his girlfriend to peers at a party. He lost his girlfriend, almost all of his friends, and ended up with his name graffitied on a bathroom wall of “abusers” in his high school. That school, like many at the moment, happened to already be a percolating brew of barely suppressed rage from students who felt unheard, unsupported, and unsafe from sexual abuse. Diego became an object of contempt as the result of his own actions, but also as a sort of scapegoat for incidents committed by others that had never faced punishment. The story ties into an overarching theory that what adults see as “cancel culture” is the product of an entire generation feeling that faith in any traditional institution is impossible; for Gen Z, whisper networks and mob justice may feel like the only way to enforce repercussions on abusers and bad people. Teens’ frustration may be warranted, but they still need to understand that individual people cannot perfectly enforce or even define justice.

Song of the Week

“Jimmy Cooks” by Drake featuring 21 Savage: one of the only songs people seem to like from Drake’s new album Honestly, Nevermind, and the only one to feature another rapper. With a handful of explicit lyrics, pop culture references and menacing braggadocio, the name “Jimmy” is a reference to Drake’s character on the Canadian show Degrassi, and “Cooks” refers to his enduring ambition as a rapper. Song lyrics here. 

Translation: A Jury of His Peers

In his book The 3D Gospel, Jayson Georges describes three main kinds of cultural paradigms. He calls them guilt/innocence, shame/honor, and fear/power. Guilt/innocence cultures are individualistic and primarily concerned with objective right and wrong, shame/honor cultures are communal and primarily concerned with social status and reputation, and fear/power cultures are highly spiritual and primarily concerned with appeasing the spiritual realm around them. The main point of his book is that sharing the gospel persuasively always requires knowing which of these culture types we’re addressing.

During the formative years of Gen X, America was arguably a guilt/innocence culture. The gospel was primarily understood as moving individuals from a state of guilt to a state of innocence before God. Meanwhile, according to Georges, traditional shame/honor cultures like Asia and the Middle East considered social reputation and status paramount, and tactics like shunning were used to separate the honorable from the dishonorable. In many ways, Gen Z’s culture today looks more like these traditional shame/honor cultures, and the practice of canceling can be compared to what was called “shunning.” As Weil puts it in her article, this is exactly what happened to Diego: “There was no community that, as part of holding you accountable, made space for you to learn; no presumption that you could—and will—change.”

In Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father forgives his son for squandering his wealth and living immorally. Western Christians reading from a guilt/innocence paradigm may not realize that the father is also covering his son’s shame with honor when the prodigal comes home. This father tells his servants: “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!” At its best, the church of Jesus can cover shame with honor, too, creating a new community and a new sense of belonging, even for those who have lost or been disavowed by a previous community.

Are there important conversations to have about justice and the state of institutional accountability? Absolutely. But ultimately the church of Jesus should be a place where guilt, shame, and fear are dissolved in the ennobling and empowering gospel of Jesus.

Here are some questions to spark conversation with your teens:

  • Is there anyone at your school who has gotten canceled for something? What do you think about it?
  • What’s worse: shame from others or guilt for wrong actions? Why?
  • How should Christians balance grace and accountability?