by Thaddeus Williams
"There is a crescendo of concern about justice among the 87.2 million Americans born between 1978 and 1995—a.k.a “the Millennials”— and the 82.1 million born between 1996 and 2016—a.k.a. “Generation We.” Like their millennial forbearers, Forbes reports that Gen We is “passionate about equality and justice of every kind.”
A second factor makes the first far less inspiring. It is what we might call “fast food knowledge.” This last Sunday, I drove my family through [try to hold back your gasp of moral revulsion] McDonalds. The smiling window worker made me pull the Minivan up 20 feet to await our order. About three minutes and two cars passed before I began protesting the injustice of our plight.
Fast food knowledge is what happens when we want grand conclusions about the world with the same speed and convenience with which we want a Big Mac. We want it NOW, and so we bypass the traditional means of truth-seeking. We rarely immerse ourselves in the great thought-traditions of human history, wrestle with the best arguments of the other side, spend long hours in a distraction-free spaces to ponder the nuances and complexities of big issues. We prefer our knowledge all boxed up and handed to us through a window, or a glowing screen, in a matter of seconds.
But the “knowledge” we can now gain with ease often has the same nutritional value and long-term health benefits for our heads that a daily diet of Big Macs would for our hearts.
The combination of those two factors—immense zeal for a better world and a widespread aversion to the intellectual disciplines required to achieve knowledge worth having—should be cause for concern. Among the generations that are “passionate about equality and justice of every kind”…
… one-third think that more people were killed by George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin, according to a 2016 study by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
… forty-two percent are “unfamiliar” with communist leader Mao Zedong, whose over 50 million casualties make him the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century.
… with over 40, 000 concentration camps and ghettos operating during the Holocaust, 49% of millennials could not name a single one. Two-thirds were unable to explain what Auschwitz was according to a 2018 study from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
… twenty-two percent of millennials said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it.
With a lack of real meat and substance in our knowledge of injustice, how can we work meaningfully for a better world? A National Study of Youth and Religion found that 60% of millennials believe that, in any situation, they'll simply be able to “feel what's right.”
The old Proverb says it best, 'Zeal is not good without knowledge.'"
Dr. Thaddeus Williams serves as Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University and the author of REFLECT: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History The above post is an excerpt from his book “21 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice” (forthcoming 2019).