Millennials & the Time to Remember

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Millennials & the Time to Remember

Born in the early 80s, I joined the largest generation so far in history, later referred to as the “Millennials” by Neil Howe and William Strauss.[1] Growing up with the Internet, this new generation is pragmatic, nomadic, impatient and technologically savvy. Raised in a world of virtual technologies, we are always expecting to be updated with cutting edge inventions. Immersed in social media, we are always eager for new tweets, posts, comments and, yes, emails are shockingly still being used!

Due to the global presence of the Internet, the wide geographical variety of newscasts on television, and the accessible possibility of knowing new people and visiting new places, Millennials see themselves as global citizens. Because we are globally minded, we tend to be more impacted by news of events that have occurred on the other side of the globe. It is therefore no surprise that, when compared to other generations, we feel more worried about the state of the world, and more prone to take a personal stand in trying to improve things.

In this sense, Millennials are the most progressive generation. We are not content with the status quo, but are always on the lookout for newness – always expecting change. This means that we are constantly finding things that can be improved. Since we tend to think independently, keeping track of culture, history and how things “used to be” is not one of our favorite hobbies. We like to focus on what’s ahead, and leave the past to the past. Rituals, memorials, and activities that were created to help us remember the past are left aside, and exchanged for more upbeat, dynamic, and creative options. To us, history is literally a thing of the past. If, in any event, we may need to recall something, Google is there to help us!

Because we are so eager to be on the front seat when new things happen, we have difficulty maintaining old objects (old cellphones, old laptops). If modernity is transient, or as Zygmunt Baumann calls it, “liquid,” Millennials live to surf on the liquidness of new discoveries. To many, attachment to old things is a weird lifestyle. Every time we are forced to reflect on the past, we do so sarcastically, condescending to the behavior of those who were not lucky enough to be part of the “millennial generation.” Whereas old customs are treated as primitive, present reality is viewed as evolved.

This behavior is slowly shrinking our horizon of the past. In consequence, the bond that exists between us and the institutions to which we belong is slowly being erased. The trust we display towards our family, society, and even our church is decreasing. This is not so difficult to understand. After all, “trust needs a history, a past” to build upon,[2] and that is something society is slowly erasing from us.

When we think of the growth in historical sciences and the growing capacity of producing information, one would assume that our growing access to information about the past would deepen our interest in history. The opposite, however, seems to be what is driving the new generation – forgetfulness. New generations are growingly disinterested with the past and increasingly concerned with the immediate future.

Eric Hobsbawm noted this phenomena when he wrote that “the destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in.”[3]

 

Paul Connerton, in his book How Modernity Forgets, shows that the growing changes that are taking place in our society – the topography of our houses, streets, and cities, our working, traveling and family routines, the decreasing lifespan of consumable products, the production speed of new artifacts, information and media – have all contributed to the characteristic forgetfulness of our generation. Indeed, forgetfulness is not only happening, affirms Connerton, it is accelerating.[4] As he calls it, we are living in a “culture of hypermnesia.”[5]

 

Millennials, like no other generation before them, are a generation more prone to forget, despite all the technological help at their disposal. Never has collective amnesia been identified in such a large scale. That can have serious consequences for the future! Although some may advocate that in order to learn new things we must forget others, in the religious realm, forgetting our history and the reasons why we maintain certain religious practices can be detrimental to our fellowship with one another, and to our relationship with the Creator.

The relevance of remembering

Remembering is of significant importance to human society.  It is by recalling our memories and remembering our past that we generate, consolidate, and transmit our identity as individuals or as a community. As Connerton highlighted, remembering my past is important for my conception of myself, my self-description and my self-knowledge. “My view of my character and potentialities is to a large degree determined by the way in which I view my own past actions.”[6]

This is true not only on the individual level, but it can also be applied to an entire society. Once the history of an individual or a whole society is altered, molding their new identity becomes much easier. As R. J. Rushdoony once noted, “The purpose of stripping men of their past is to reshape them into whatever form their elite rulers choose. The result, however, is not a new man, but a lost and dying man.”[7]

Jews, for example, understand clearly the importance of remembrance for the survival and transmission of their cultural heritage and identity. Remembering not only helps them understand who they are, but provides meaning to their lives. The art of remembering is deeply embedded in their cultural practices. After the Holocaust, remembering became of even greater importance to humanity. It secures us from making the same mistakes of the past, or at least we hope so. George Santayana nailed this concept when he coined his now-famous phrase: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[8]

But more than being a safety trigger, remembering, thinking and pondering about the past helps us understand why we do things the way we do, and provides meaning to our actions. Our experience of the present largely depends upon our understanding of the past. Take, for instance, the act of eating a piece of cake. In and of themselves, cakes taste really good. But once you are informed that the cake you are tasting is the exact recipe your grandmother used to bake when you were a kid, that experience transcends to a whole new level.

The act of eating that piece of cake becomes much more enjoyable because you recall the times you had with her, the relationship you nurtured, and the feeling you have towards her. This whole new range of experiences can only be explained through the memories you have kept of that person. Remembering gave new meaning to that piece of cake.

Because remembering is so important, human beings have invented a whole set of memorials to help remember people, places and events. The Bible, for instance, mentions different memorials that were created by the people of God to help them remember different aspects of their religion. The Passover feast (Exodus 12:12-14), for example, was instituted as a memorial to help the Israelites remember their deliverance from slavery of Egypt.

Forty years later, they used 12 stones from the bed of the Jordan River to build a memorial, while commemorating the parting of that river and the entrance in Canaan (Joshua 4:3-9). When Jesus was about to be crucified, during the Last Supper, he created a memorial that would keep us regularly remembering his death, resurrection, and near return (Luke 22:17-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). He even predicted that the remembrance of His anointing by a certain woman would serve as a perpetual “memorial” to her (Matthew 26:13).

But there is one memorial which I would like to discuss at this point – the seventh day. Sabbath observance is a deeply cherished practice perpetuated by Seventh-day Adventists. It is one of the most popular characteristics of our denomination. Keeping the Sabbath holy, however, is an issue that doesn’t seem to be attracting new generations for the same reasons as it used to.

Millennials and the Sabbath

A fresh out-of-the-oven poll done by Deseret News with about 1500 respondents highlighted that over the past thirty-eight years, “the personal importance of the Sabbath Day [taking one day of rest during the week] to Americans has dropped by 24 percentage points.” While back in 1978 74% of those interviewed felt that Sabbath observance had a particular spiritual meaning to them, the same feeling could now only be expressed by 50%, and decreasing.

Although the growing disenchantment was expressed by people across all ages, Millennials appeared to be the age group most affected by it. When compared with other generations, such as Generation X, the Baby Boomers, or the Silent Generation, only 40% of Millennials felt that Sabbath observance was important to them. The study shows that, when compared to 1978, people are spending less time visiting friends, relatives and neighbors, spending less time in religious meditation, reading the Bible less, praying less, and, not surprisingly, attending church less on Sabbath. Researchers also found out that Millennials are spending more of the Sabbath hours working, resting at home, and shopping.[9]

In another study entitled Beyond Beliefs, 82% of the Adventist Millennials who answered “emphasized that the Sabbath was a day of rest.” Although most manifested a positive stance toward Sabbath doctrine and rest, many participants contextualized their Sabbath rest as “a time not to do study, school work, or chores.”[10] Although these results may be reflective of their university background, one could question whether resting is truly the best reason we could give for keeping the seventh day holy. These results seem to be pointing to an erosion in Millennials’ understanding of the Sabbath. In other words, are we keeping the Sabbath only for practical reasons? Or are we forgetting the historical value of the Sabbath as a reminder of creation and redemption?

The most worrying part is not that we are slowly ceasing to observe the Sabbath. It is that we are slowly forgetting why we do it. This has already become evident. If so, Sabbath observance risks the possibility of becoming a tradition – something we do but can’t remember exactly why. Many Millennial Adventists affirm that they keep the Sabbath because during those hours they can get some rest, and that is exactly the problem we are trying to highlight here. Resting should be what we do during the Sabbath, not why we do it. It seems that some of us are already beginning to forget the reason why the Sabbath was created in the first place.

Remember what?

“The Sabbath is God’s specially designated memorial of the relationship between the Creator-God and those loyal to His plan and purpose (Ex 20:8–10; Ex 31:13; Eze 31:16, 17).”[11] It is the opportunity we have to spend some time remembering what God has done in history and in our lives; it is an opportunity to cherish what should be most precious to us – an intimate relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. It is a time to remember that God is present in our lives.[12] And because we were created and delivered from the bondage of sin, the Sabbath is a sign of our freedom and our dignity.

When Jesus was on earth, the Sabbath was so much more than just a time to rest. The Sabbath was so important to him that it literally defined His ministry – a ministry of healing, freeing, restoring, and reaching out to the sick, lame and deaf. As it was for Jesus, the Sabbath will only be a pleasurable experience and make sense to Millennials if we remember Who “baked” the Sabbath in the ovens of time, and why He did it.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato once told a tale of the god Theuth as he was boasting to Thamus, the king of Egypt, about his new technological invention – writing – which would help humanity grow in wisdom and memory. The king, however, was unimpressed by the news: “Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely upon writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of on their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a recipe for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality. […] And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.”[13]

This tale makes me wonder: are we experiencing what Thamus decried centuries ago? Namely, as our lives are filled with new gadgets and technological advancements, we are being conquered by this new way of understanding reality – a state of always looking forward, and forgetting what we were supposed to remember. Could it be that our forgetfulness could turn our Sabbath observance into a “burden” to our religious communities? In this context, it seems ironic to me that God would choose to begin the fourth commandment with the word “remember”. But once you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense, considering my generation.

______

Notes:

[1] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2000).

[2] Paul Connerton, How Modernity Forgets (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 144.

[3] Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes (London: Pelham Books, 1994), p. 3.

[4] Connerton, p. 132.

[5] Ibid., p. 146.

[6] Ibid., p. 141.

[7] Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), p. 347.

[8] George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense (New York, NY: Scribner’s, 1905), p. 284.

[9] Quin Monson and Scott Riding, “Sabbath Day Observance in the U.S.” http://www.deseretnews.com/media/misc/pdf/DNN-Ten-Today-Sabbath.pdf.

[10] Leanne M. Sigvartsen, Jan A. Sigvartsen and Paul B. Petersen, Beyond Beliefs 1 – Results: What Millennial young Adults Really Think of the 28 Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (ClergyEd.com and Andrews University Department of Religion & Biblical Languages, 2014), p. 320.

[11] S. H. Horn, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1979), p. 726.

[12] Siegve K. Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009), p. 35.

[13] Plato, Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eight Letters, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 96-7.

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About the author

Glauber S. Araujo

Glauber S. Araujo is a PhD student in systematic theology at Universidad Adventista del Plata. He holds a master's degree in Sciences of Religion and works as editor at Casa Publicadora Brasileira. Passionate about Physics and Astronomy, he enjoys reading and writing about the intersections between science and religion.