VIRTUAL FAITH: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X.

VIRTUAL FAITH: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X.

Christopher Stump

By Tom Beaudoin. Jossey-Bass. 210 pp.$22

Read Time:
2m 33sec

VIRTUAL FAITH: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X.

By Tom Beaudoin. Jossey-Bass. 210 pp. $22

Public brooding over the supposed anomie of Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1976—peaked in the early 1990s and seems, mercifully, to have waned. Movies (Reality Bites) and books (Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture) chronicled the existentialist crises and unassuageable grievances of a new lost generation. Foremost among the themes was the desire to foist perfection upon an imperfect world while at the same time resisting individual discipline.

The secularized social activism of Gen X exemplifies that theme. Martin Luther defined the "freedom of a Christian" as manifest in one who is "a lord over all and a servant to all." In other words, as Harvard historian Steven Ozment has pointed out, knowledge of one’s destiny and righteousness breeds the resolve, boldness, and self-mastery—hence the freedom—from which benevolence flows. In contemporary parlance, free people get their own act together before striving to right the world.

Many Gen X-ers, however, seem to lack the self-knowledge that is the prerequisite to effective charity, particularly any self-knowledge rooted in faith. For them, religious belief and commitment represent a betrayal of intellectual honesty, personal freedom, and chic cynicism. At the same time, the diversity of religious options induces in them a kind of spiritual vertigo, exacerbated by a watery respect for "tolerance." Many worship freedom of choice but have no basis on which to choose. The views of singer Sinead O’Connor, a Generation X icon who ripped apart a photo of the pope on television, are illustrative: "I’m interested in all religions, and I don’t believe in subscribing to one because I believe in order to subscribe to one, you’ve got to shut out all of the others." Two paths diverge in a wood, and Generation X strives to follow both—to the detriment of coherent belief, or belief altogether.

In Virtual Faith, Beaudoin portrays Gen Xers as spiritual seekers on a quest for "theological clarity." He argues that through little fault of their own, they have become creatures of evanescence, in thrall to videos, music, and fashion. Through his chilling description of identities in flux, of selves engulfed by the kaleidoscopic flood of pop culture, the author reminds us of the perils faced by a generation for whom so much is so precarious.

Oddly, though, Beaudoin depicts popular culture not as a flawed substitute for faith, but rather as a fount of religious significance. His characterization of Madonna as "a saint of liberation" on a par with Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena will strike many readers as a bit over the top. By attempting to discern a spiritual dimension in music videos, the author expands the concept of the religious so broadly as to lose all meaning. In this regard, Beaudoin offers the spiritually hungry not bread, but stone.

—Christopher Stump