The Disciple Generation
While pundits are lauding the death of the Religious Right, Lauren Sandler, a journalist who has worked for NPR and was a fellow at NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program, suggests that this larger label occludes the rising generation of youth and young adults that live and breath conservative politics and conservative Christianity. In Righteous, she explores the ways in which evangelical youth culture subverts and reinvents the political tactics of their predecessors, like the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson.
The “Disciple Generation” is her moniker for this movement, which includes disciples that like punk rock, Jesus tattoos, kitschy shirts about salvation, dreds, piercings and skateboards. These young men and women are unabashedly pro-life, Republican, pro-Intelligent Design (see Randall Stephen's previous post on ID), supporters of “traditional” gender norms, and often anti-institutions. Sandler documents skateboard preachers, pro-life concert organizers, Christian rappers and tattooed adherents that somehow have not found their spiritual needs fulfilled in the evangelical churches of their mothers and fathers (or sometimes, the lack of religion among their parents), but they support the religious and political ideologies of their parents. Moreover, Sandler believes that the tactics of the Disciple Generation are quite effective to recruit teens and disaffected twenty-somethings to this “emerging” movement. Rather than holding “old-time revivals”, the ministers that she documents hold concerts, skateboarding exhibitions, and create church spaces in which the young are more comfortable. (By this, I think she means those of my generation prefer to sip lattes, listen to rock, and have sacred space without traditional iconography of Jesus. Instead, we would, of course, prefer abstract, metal crosses, purple interiors, and “cool” lighting.)
What Sandler alludes to is simply that this generation is being ignored in larger discussions of the Religious Right. Instead, many (as we can see from the two previous posts by John Turner and John Fea) are seeing the old vanguard of the Religious Right as a dying breed. This, naturally, means that the Religious Right is declining, and that those of the religious left and the secular left can breathe a deep sigh of relief. However, if we take Sandler’s claim of a rising Disciple Generation that encompasses a multitude of subcultures in an attempt to reclaim Christian prominence in America, then maybe the label of Religious Right is not so effective any more. For Sandler, there’s a new movement a brewing, and it’s “scary.” She writes:
For all their oblation, one must not overlook the fact that the Disciple Generation is foremost a growing fundamentalist population. The apocalyptic imagination, the annihilation of the individual, the subjugation of women, the resistance to competing ideas—all these startling facets of the movement are conventional aspects of fundamentalism of any kind, anywhere (Sandler 239).
This generation is “slouching toward Babylon”, and Sandler is most concerned because they seem to be off the radar (Sandler 233). All of the teens and twenty-somethings imbibe the ideology of the Religious Right, but they use their own, possibly more effective, methods to accomplish their goals. Despite her insight into this “emerging” movement, Sandler’s work often reads as a nightmarish tale of what might happen if these movements take over, and I get a keen sense that she wants the reader to be terrified of these young evangelicals and their powers at grassroots organizing. Yet her book is provocative because of the population she sheds light on (the numbers of this generation seem to be murky) and because it leads me to question, as previous posts have, whether we should ring the death knell of the Religious Right. Or if we can deny that some movements still see the necessity of Christian prominence in America to right the wrongs, even if the adherents are skateboarders.