About Generation X Catholics

by Tom Beaudoin

I have spent the last few years investigating the spirituality of my own generation -- the so-called 'Generation X.'

The first characteristic is what anyone who pays any attention to my generation's culture will notice as a widespread suspicion of institutions. I have learned from the many responses to my book Virtual Faith that suspicion may not even be a strong enough word. Indifference is at least as common as suspicion.

Whether from the culture of cynicism in which we came of age, the irrelevance of church teaching to much of our daily lives, the denigration of our experience in the formation of that teaching, or simply the overwhelming palette of religious options before us in the age of post-modernity, many in my generation have a spiritual identity that regards institutions with an underwhelmed dismissal: "Whatever."

This suspicion of institutions is fueled by the second characteristic of my generation: a widespread conviction about the importance of experience. The most obvious and controversial evidence of the centrality of experience is the saturation, the super-saturation even, of our popular culture and sexual images. Any pop culture event that lasts more than a few seconds is now almost required to make a sexual reference.

One experience among others is repeatedly expressed in Gen-X pop culture and is an important explicit or implicit part of our spiritual identities. That experience, the third characteristic of Gen-X spirituality, is suffering. The suffering is both psychological and spiritual, born of a fragmented existence, the experience of fractured families. It is a state expressed in the quintessential Gen-X musical Rent, a word that means both leased and torn. A generation without a theme is confronting its own theme-absence.

Some of this suffering is a result of the fourth characteristic of Gen-X spirituality: wrestling with ambiguity. Uncertainty does not permeate just one or two areas of our lives; it seems no segment of our existence is untouched. This ambiguity is evident in the uneasy relationship of many X-ers to their families, to church, to one's own future, and even towards one's sexual identity. The experience of 'temping' becomes emblematic of a generation's situation: ephemeral commitments, plural and versatile lifestyles.

Reprinted with the permission of Tom Beaudoin and America Press, Inc., 106 West 56th Street, New York, NY 10019.
Ph (212) 581- 4640. Originally published in America, November 21, 1998.

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