Hitler Youth | Rebuilding the Structure | The Problem of the Next Generation


In the previous post I tried to explore how Christian community could move away from the sociopathic tendencies it naturally develops in worship of an omnipotent God by a passive congregation directed through a ‘hero’ priest.

In doing so I proposed that what we find in the radical Marxist view of Christianity is a community gathered around the divestment of power – around the celebration of God ‘making himself nothing’, and dying. We cannot build the structure of this disempowered empathetic community without the scaffolding of orthodox Christianity. But, as I discovered at a recent gathering over New Year, once that structure has been built, the scaffolding can actually get in the way, and should be deconstructed.

However, as I look around at the remnants of the ‘Emerging Church’ movement, the key issue that keeps coming up is that of the next generation. If we have arrived at a nuanced view of faith, and have dismantled the scaffold, how are the next generation meant to follow us? Will the construction skills still be present? Should we even worry?

The problem is this: most of us from the current ’emerging’ generation had a very traditional, ‘hard story’ Christian upbringing. Like it or not, we were immersed in the story and thus able to critique it and respond to it. If the next generation do not get this backstory – through Sunday School or whatever – are they actually going to understand the structure/scaffolding paradox and go back to attempting to build community without the Christian scaffold, which my atheist friends suggest will not lead to proper empathetic community.

Hitler had it right in this sense. He knew full well that a single generation was not going to be enough to create change. The second world war broke in ’39. The Hitler Youth was created in 1926. Hard stories and hard training. Thirteen years of tens of thousands of young people indoctrinated. No wonder Nazism was such a hard force to break.

The issue of the next generation is a thorny one for any faith. Is it even right or ethical to give children a ‘strong story’? Should they be left to make up their own mind? Is fundamentalism a normal, healthy part of adolesence? (I mean, I grew up taking The Smiths far too seriously)

The issue is more complex for those who are forging radical critiques of their own tradition. Perhaps we are going to need to develop careful pathways for people to grow into and out of. These will paradoxically hold dear to their truth-claims, while always knowing that people will doubt them and move on beyond them.


11 responses to “Hitler Youth | Rebuilding the Structure | The Problem of the Next Generation”

  1. I’d be interested to hear from parents on this. Presumably Mam & Dad don’t always get to leave the baby behind when they’re off building and then deconstructing the structures of Orthodox Christianity.

  2. Well, as a parent, discussions I’ve had with other parents do reveal some big questions people have about exactly how to raise their children in faith. It may well get easier as children grow up some, but the stories I’ve heard from those with older kids (11 or so) suggest that things aren’t simple – and that creating their own resources/events etc is tough, as is taking them along to a traditional church ‘to get the stories’ when it’s frankly boring as hell.

  3. rodney neill

    The next generation in the UK will be very unfamiliar with the Christian tradition and will be indifferent, apathetic or uninterested to any version of Christianity which will be seen as irrelevant – secular materialism will be the predominant ideology. The emerging conversation in the UK will die out shortly as it is composed of people reacting against an extensive period of socialisation in the orthodox Christian tradition with a post or non-theistic liberal religious humanism such as your theoretical zizek model.

    all the best


  4. rodney neill

    If the inner gnostic or enlightened truth of the Christian faith is a commitment to Marxism why bother with the veneer of Christian language – just go out and join a Marxist orientated party/movement/campaign


  5. This is the thing Rodney, and something that surprised me too: to hear atheist secular-materialist friends saying that they didn’t see that a gathering like they had experienced could happen outside of a faith tradition. So it seems that there is something relevant which needs mining. And that’s why it’s not going to be good enough to simply go for a Marxist movement, as it doesn’t have the right ‘scaffolding.’

    I’d agree about the emerging conversation dying out – or at least mutating beyond recognition. And irrelevant forms of faith dying out. But I actually think there is a kernel in the model I’m talking about (not very coherently, and others will do so better) which could become very important.

  6. I find this quite interesting…

    I’m surprised by your friends response that a faith tradition was necessary for your gathering. While part of me would like that to be the case, I have trouble shaking Rodney’s question/comment (the “why bother?” question).

    And is something like you are tentatively exploring sustainable as a community/movement/religion/faith? Or is it just the last step on the way out of the faith altogether?

  7. Construction’s over and the scaffolding dismantled, but at some stage slates will slip and the brickwork will need re-pointing. So the scaffolding is reassembled according to the state of the building, no?

  8. “In the previous post I tried to explore how Christian community could move away from the sociopathic tendencies it naturally develops in worship of an omnipotent God by a passive congregation directed through a ‘hero’ priest.”

    So, two basic hypotheses that I don’t have time or training to fully carry to their logical end, but would love to…

    1) As a culture, in general terms, we are caught in the incomplete revolution of Martin Luther. The incompleteness of this revolution lies in the fact that what he proposed was only realized in theory, not in reality, as the social forces he saw unleashed were horrifying to him, and his project was brought to a rather substantial close in everything but theory. I imagine the final days of Luther were filled with a similar regret as that of Einstein post-Manhatten project. Though Luther spoke of every person being his or her own priest, I would argue that it was still acknowledged with a wink that the pastor-as-hero still served as a necessary intermediary of sorts to contain the social force of the masses. Accordingly, we today still need our Luther-figures to promise us the revolution never to come, lest we actually revolt (which, interestingly, perhaps has some parallels to the inter-Testimental period in Jewish culture in terms of Messianic anticipation…)

    2) If hypothesis one is true, then there are two logical courses – finish the revolution, or abandon it as false and accept the paradox that in its incompleteness it is finished, that it can not and never will go any farther. The former has been the approach in both protestant religious and secular philosophy, as we’ve seen revolution after revolution. However, if the logic of these revolutions is such that by their nature the “revolution to end revolutions” is only a myth that sustains the entire operation, I think this approach is flawed. If we were to apply this notion to history, there is a lot to rethink, as a lot of our current social organization lies in the logic of this pseudorevolutionary mindset, from capitalism and industrialism to democracy to our religious institutions. To point to one specific historical figure, which I only bring up because of other things I’ve read on this site, Marx viewed through this frame would best be understood as a priest-intermediary much like Luther, unable to really deliver the goods – and really, that seems to fit with anecdotal observations of how socialism has played out in the real world. Really Karl, religion is the opium of the masses? And what of you?

    Instead, perhaps its time to consider the latter approach. In this case, the return of the majority of people to secular humanism *is precisely* the answer to the problem. It is the abandonment of the false hope of a revolution that could never be completed, and a return to the cultural roots of the continent. This will actually make Christianity both more and less relevant – less relevant as a hegemonic social force, but more integral in terms of message and practice as those who remain are withdrawn from the burdens of social progress. It is for this reason that Marxianity makes me as skeptical as the orthodox church – because both have the same posture of the church as needing to be overarching in its social relevance to sustain a pseudorevolutionary logic.

    And I say this as a man of faith, with no feelings or intuitions that I have betrayed that faith whatsoever.


  9. Great thoughts Chris, thank you.

    Depressingly, I feel I don’t have the training either to currently go a great deal deeper on this. But I feel this is a direction of study that I’m very keen to mine, as I’m just not satisfied I’ve ‘got’ it yet.

    That said, I think you’re right about the incomplete revolution of Luther. Spot on. And this idea of the inefficacy of revolution is something that fascinates me – in a different way it was one of the driving forces behind The Complex Christ/Signs of Emergence, arguing as I did there that an emergent evolutionary approach was preferable to the violence of revolution.

    One aspect I’d also like to pursue is the technological side. In a recent talk Stephen Johnson quoted someone as saying something along the lines of ‘It’s not that socialism doesn’t work, it’s that we’ve not yet developed the social tools to make it work’ – and I’m really interested to see if social media can get beyond the current banality and actually draw people together in serious, non-hierarchical ways.

    But your abandonment of false hope… the return to secular humanism… may be you are right. Lots to ponder.

  10. Karsten R

    well, I’m still wondering about all the symbolism from architecture.
    A scaffolding is expected to be temporary and the next time it is built up it’s done for a different building. So what’s the scaffolding, the building, the retaining walls, the foundation here exactly?
    A second thought, there was a comment that claims to know what will be the predominant ideology of the next generation. No matter if it will turn out that way, is it not very important to ask whether that will be an advance or simply a step in a disastrous direction?

  11. It’s not so much symbolism as metaphor. Symbolically, everything would have to fit: the foundations would have to symbolise something, as would the retaining walls etc. I’m simply using the metaphor of a scaffold and a structure that rises within it.

    And yes, just because we might be able to predict – or think we can – what the future holds, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.