Today I tried to make the best of a Priesthood lesson on how the world is just getting worse and gay marriage is bad and the world will hate us and call us bigots for standing strong, etc. by reflecting on what it means to rebel.
(For the record, I dislike such lessons not necessarily because of my disagreement with the topic, but rather because I almost invariably recoil at the tone that such lessons dredge up in people. It’s usually 30 minutes of people complaining about liberals and the “gay agenda” and crazy things they read in the paper that somebody somewhere did, and it’s all incredibly vacuous and shallow, and sounds like a Glenn Beck routine. But additionally, I also happen to disagree with the categorical assertion that the world is getting worse, and I’m pretty liberal in civic matters including gay marriage, so I guess I’m part of the problem according to some people.)
It’s interesting that when young people “rebel,” it basically means doing “bad” things and becoming/dressing/listening to the same music as/consuming the same media as the “bad kids.” When I wanted to rebel as a teenager, I grew my hair long and listened to heavy metal. I told my parents I was going to play in rock bands for a living. I emulated prog and heavy metal musicians (I went through a Nick Drake phase, too – gosh I was insufferable). When teenagers rebel, it’s just a quirky sort of conformity, really.
But I was thinking about the life of Christ, and it seems that Jesus’ Gospel was fundamentally one of rebellion. Jesus rebelled against the Romans and the Jewish theocracy in ways that annoyed and enraged both. By eating and spending time with sinners, he was flouting society’s conventions about right and wrong. It was a message that appealed to the disenfranchised, dirty, poor, and sinful in society. It really was an amazing type of rebellion, and it’s a message that seems to be lost wherever Christianity is the majority, and we get all upset when non-Christian minorities actually get some legal recognition. I feel that the rebellious part of Jesus’ message makes more sense when Christians are actually in a position to rebel.
Subcultures today are filled with young people wanting to fight for the truth through rebellion against this world. The punk subculture is a rebellion, but it is false rebellion that if one follows it to its end will lead to complete nihilism and despair. These rebellions within subcultures can be effective, but the truth they are fighting for is usually not the truth as we know it, Truth as a person, Jesus Christ. Unlike the rebellions of this world, death to the world is a rebellion without a dead end and the acceptance of something real, something otherworldly. This is why it is “The Last True Rebellion” because it is the only true one.
I remember specifically there was an instance in high school where I could have stood up for a kid who was bullied regularly by my friends. The kid actually had used to be my friend – he lived down the street when I was younger and we hung out now and then. But years had passed and I was hanging out with the “cool kids” now. Unfortunately this kid had a strange voice and an unusual set of interests, combined with a tendency to lash out towards his aggressors (now I know through my developmental psychology studies that kids who are bullied tend to behave in ways that reinforce the aggression against them, causing a vicious, cruel cycle). I could have intervened, but I didn’t. I didn’t join in on the ridicule directly, but I laughed and failed to intervene.
If I really were a rebellious person I would have intervened and stood up for this bullied kid, but I wasn’t interested in that kind of rebellion – the kind of rebellion that would cause me to lose cool friends. Rebellion, for me, meant listening to metal and wearing denim jackets. But I wish I could go back and tell myself to stick up for that kid.
And now as an adult with children, it’s the moral failures such as failing to stick up for the bullied kid that really stick with me.
And so it is. Rather than take the whole “The world is going down the toilet, everyone is against us” line of arguments, I’ll just say this: if you really want to rebel, be good. Make the free choice to be good. I think if the Gospel is true, it is truly a rebellion – and not necessarily against the structures that we commonly think. It’s a rebellion against ourselves.