KEVIN LEININGER: Will millennials’ views on God, economics threaten even Thanksgiving?
“What’s the younger generation coming to?”
Incredulous geezers have probably asked that question since Cain killed Abel, but new polls suggest very contemporary and interrelated reasons to worry about young Americans born between 1981 and 1996.
If you thought the “millennials'” fascination with avowed socialist Bernie Sanders in last year’s Democratic presidential primary was a mere short-term fling, (his support among the group exceeded 80 percent in some states), think again. On the 100th anniversary of the revolution that created the Soviet Union, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation reports that 44 percent of millennials would rather live in a socialist society than a capitalistic one. Even worse, 23 percent expressed favorable views of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and 19 percent liked Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, whose regimes slaughtered millions of political opponents.
The results reflect a certain degree of ignorance, at least in an academic sense. Just 33 percent of millennials were able to correctly define socialism as government ownership of the means of production compared to 51 percent who could define capitalism as an economic system based on free markets and the rule of law with legal protections for private ownership. In other words, when millennials think of a socialist utopia, they probably envision Scandinavia, where everyone is happy, taken care of and the rich pay their fair share, and not a Siberian gulag in which everyone is equally miserable.
Almost simultaneously, the Pew Research Center released its latest poll on Americans’ religious attitudes that revealed the number of people between 18 and 29 who “never doubt the existence of God” fell from 81 percent in 2007 to 67 percent in 2012, with a corresponding increase in enthusiasm for the occult and astrology, which is wrongly considered a “science” by more than half of young people.
Americans are often lectured about the importance of separating church from state, but these polls — and many others like them — indicate millennials are in fact combining the two in a way that could take the country in a very different direction in the years to come.
Think about it: The traditional American view is that each of us receives our rights and possessions from God. Today, however, an increasing number of young people seem to believe God has unfairly distributed his gifts and instead look to government to even things out. The individual must bow to the collective.
Government-directed redistribution of wealth is hardly unknown even in the United States, of course, and the perceived benefits of such a system range from the relatively benign (much of Europe) to the disastrous (Venezuela). But the shift from God to government, from the individual to the collective, from eternal objective truth to ever-shifting relativism represents much more than an economic model.
Consider today’s college campus, where speakers (usually conservative) are threatened, “safe zones” established, “microagressions” punished and political correctness enforced with a ruthless zeal that would have made Stalin proud. A CBS/New York Times survey last year explained why: Although 71 percent of millennials said free speech should be protected, 48 percent also said it should be limited on social media and 45 percent wanted it curbed on campus in order to avoid offending anyone. What the Constitution would free from government control would instead be controlled by government.
Where will this paradigm shift lead? It’s said that eventually we all become our parents, but millennials weened on economic uncertainty, student debt, church scandals, family breakdown and a host of other events that have undermined once-reliable institutions seem eager to seek reassurance where they can find it — even if that means trading a degree of freedom for the promise of security.
But such promises are as false as they are cynical, which may be America’s greatest hope. As the Washington Post noted last year, “As they reach the threshold of earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year, the majority of millennials come to oppose income redistribution.”
Just like their parents did? I wouldn’t put money on it — unless you can force somebody else to pay for it, of course.
Happily, next week will provides America another chance to ponder what it means to be truly blessed. If you are “entitled” to something government took from somebody else, why should you even be thankful at all?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.