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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/12/16

A Correspondence on Hope: Letters between a Student and a Professor

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What interested me most out of your entire first response was the hope you find in God. I know you grew up Catholic. I also know that despite distancing yourself from The Church as an institution, you kept your religious beliefs. Even though I know all this, I was unaware of the extent religion affects your life. Honestly, I was taken aback. I was not so much surprised, I mean, it makes sense completely. I just found it very powerful. It took me time to fully digest the scope of what you had said.

Religion is most definitely not a source of hope for the majority of my peers. This may be why I was fairly surprised when first reading your response. I struggle to describe the magnitude of millennial anti-religious sentiments. I see most of my peers putting their faith in the scientific theories of life, rather than religious ones. Most young people do not hold any religious values; in fact, I often see them holding contempt for those who do, equating The Church and a belief in God with dated values and a staunch lack of intelligence. We are the first generation to be raised in a cultural climate where the most accepted intellectual/spiritual belief declares that humans are nothing more than irrational animals existing in an impersonal, morally neutral universe. Despite what this scientific theory of life offers, it lacks any element of metaphysical meaning, leaving us to fend for ourselves. In previous generations people would look to the church and to God for providing life's purpose; however, with the negative stigma people my age hold towards institutionalized religion, that is not the case. This leaves us to find our own sense of purpose, our own existential meaning, our own source of hope.

As you know, finding meaning in the lives we live is a difficult task, especially on your own. I was raised Protestant; and although I no longer identify as such, I still hold my own system of spiritual beliefs. I am not advocating for increasing the prevalence of institutionalized religion; I have just noticed that the lack of a religious crutch makes this generation's search for purpose, search for hope, exponentially more onerous. I could guess that this is a contributing factor in the existential hopelessness you sense within the American left, especially because those on the left are far less likely to possess/teach their children religious beliefs. The meaning of life is no longer thrust upon us by the church; and if one does not create their own meaning, they then often feel that their life has no meaning altogether. That is why I believe that a strictly scientific system of beliefs can often nurture a deep sense of meaninglessness, hopelessness, and can ultimately lead towards chronic nihilism.

This nihilistic aura is an extremely noticeable symptom of hopelessness in young people's lives. I have observed it through the increased interest in nihilism among my peers and in the popularity of "nihilist memes:" where young people's underlying dread of a meaningless existence is expressed through a cathartic, humorous medium. People my age have grown up in a world lacking inherent meaning, lacking hope: a war-torn world where human life has little value. For instance, I have been alive for 20 years, 15 of which the United States and its allies have been waging war in the Middle East, with no conceivable end in sight. My generation has come accustomed to a world where we send soldiers to kill and die and accept that little change will come of it. We have been raised with a desensitized awareness to the destruction of life. It's all we've known and we have little hope of change. I think that the combination of this devaluation of the human experience, coupled with the misconstrued sense of metaphysical meaninglessness, has made it increasingly difficult to value our own existence. And from what I can gather, we have learned to act in accordance to this; and therefore, will often indulge in hedonistic and egocentric behaviors in an attempt to cope, to distract ourselves from our existential hopelessness.

The prevalence of social-media can be attributed to this. You said it perplexed you. But when seen in the cultural context I have laid out for you, does it not make sense? I think that social-media serves as both a vehicle for self-praise as well as an endless source of instantaneous distractions, mental relief from the hard search for meaning.

Do I think my generation is completely hopeless? No, of course not. I think many of my peers find hope and meaning in political activism, fighting for a positive change in the world. When--key word when--my peers are active in politics, they aspire to do great things. For instance, look at the Black Lives Matter movement, or the millennial power behind Bernie Sander's campaign. Many young people exhibit extreme hope in their belief that they have the power to change the nation--the world--for the better.

It is far easier to submit to the more common nihilistic view of existence than it is to hold out hope of changing it. But you have helped to show me that there are still hopeful enclaves, waiting to inspire great movements for the future.

You gave me so much to think about. I could write so much more about this.

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Educated in the classics, philosophy, literature, theology, and sociology, I am a former professor of sociology. My writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. I write as a public intellectual for the general public, not (more...)
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