By Doni Joszef
A life of faith in the modern world is becoming harder and harder to swallow for many tech-savvy digital natives, who refer to Google rather than G‑d to solve life’s deepest riddles.
Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Modern Teens in Search of a Soul” (5TJT, October 26, 2012), describing a growing sense of spiritual apathy, particularly among younger, over-curious, under-obedient members of our tribe.
A recent New York Times editorial entitled “Children Choosing Their Religion” touched on this very topic, exploring religion’s place (or lack thereof) in the process of raising children in an ever-modernizing world.
“The fastest-growing religious affiliation in the United States is no religion at all. That has meant an increase in parents raising their children outside of the community provided by a church or synagogue.”
Indeed, statistically speaking, religion is gradually losing its steam in the U.S. The rigid rigors of religious life strike younger American minds as outdated, irrelevant, and—most acutely—restrictive. Modernization and assimilation tend to go hand-in-hand, and this is something Jews have struggled with ever since Fiddler on the Roof put a theatrical face to this cultural shift.
The slippery slope slides so swiftly that we hardly pause to wonder how we got here. To appreciate the present predicament, let’s first retrace the path which led to its actualization.
Behold the history of modernization in a nutshell:
“A thousand years ago, when the earth was reassuringly flat and the universe revolved around it, the ordinary person had no last name, let alone any claim to individualism. The self was subordinated to church and king. Then came the Renaissance explosion of scientific discovery and humanist insight, and, as both cause and effect, the rise of individual self-consciousness.
All at once, it seemed, Man had replaced G‑d at the center of earthly life. And perhaps more than any great war or invention or feat of navigation, this upheaval marked the beginning of our modern era.”
(New York Times Magazine: “The Me Millennium,” 1999)
In essence, the sum of our collective whole gradually compartmentalized into ever-isolating individual parts. We went from a “We Culture” to a “Me Culture.”
And then came the Internet.
And then came social media.
A century ago, nobody cared about what you were eating for lunch, because you were eating the same potatoes as everyone else in town. Today, you can share a picture of designer cuisine on Instagram and get hundreds of people around the world salivating over your plate, posting comments such as #yum, or #luvvv, or, #gimmee.
We don’t just have last names; we have profile pictures, and we have blogs, and we have followers, and we have doppelgängers. The ethos of the Internet is overwhelmingly individualistic, and self-asserting.
“Question everything. Accept nothing.” This is the motto (conscious or unconscious) which pervades the subliminal subterrain of the Web, and it’s one we need to face—both in our children and in ourselves.
While many see this as a reason to cry, I see it as reason to smile.
Chazal (Sotah 49b) describe pre-messianic society as a youthfully rebellious, socially restless bunch. The young will mock the longstanding norms of establishment and ritual. The generational divide will run so deep that it will thrash the very fabric of functional family life.
A man’s worst enemies, we are told, will be the members of his own household. They will wonder why they need G‑d (or parents and teachers, for that matter) when they have Google. There will be self-absorption and self-promotion. There will be chutzpah, and there will be lots of it.
Sound familiar? Sure does.
But why cry when there’s reason to smile?
Perhaps we’ve arrived at the last stop.
Perhaps the generation which wonders “Who needs G‑d when we have Google?” is precisely the generation which will see the “v’nahaphoch hu” reversal to “Who needs Google when we have G‑d?”
How dark it is before the dawn. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.