The Age of Apathy

Chelsea Houghton - Age of Apathy


I was born in the late 1980s. I\’m too young for wars, civil right movements and the Age of Aquarius. The Cold War and the Berlin Wall fell before I started school. Major epidemic illness is limited to SARS scares and Bird Flu, with the odd chicken pox thrown in. I don’t remember a time before cellphones and computers.

I live in the 21st century.  I live in the Age of Apathy.

An age where we consider ourselves to live in progressed, civilised society. A society where we have increased education and access to information, poverty is far off and we all live in comfort, achieving our dreams. We can all get what we want, when we want it. Where children may go without food but not television. Where social justice is sold to us via advertisements telling us it only costs a cup of coffee a day.

Where hundreds of thousands of people can March for Life in the United States of America and the media will ignore it. (Outside of the US like me? Ever heard of the March for Life? )

Where we all feel good by making a difference by liking or sharing something on Facebook or twitter. Changing the world one “Let your smile change the world, but don’t let the world change your smile” at a time.

An age which the Catholic World Report calls “upstart, materialist, shallow, ignorant, willful, and willfully misinformed”.

Our generation are supposedly an \”active audience\”. Past generations were passive in the sense that they simply watched. They had no control over what was played on television in limited stations or in their newspapers. They could participate by sending in a letter to the editor, and perhaps it might be published (abridged?).

We are an active audience as we have social media and the internet. News can be chosen, recieved, commented on, blogged about, googled and edited. Sound never leaves our ipod-ed ears. Television channels are many and can be paused, rewinded, fast forwarded and recorded. We are with media 24/7, carrying it with us like prior generations would a handkerchief.

But how active an audience does this really make us?

Far from rising up, it seems we are muted and dumbed down. Pope Benedict XVI says in his 2013 letter for World Communications Day what is effective is what is popular, which is usually “linked to celebrity or to strategies of persuasion rather than to the logic of argumentation. At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner.”

Everything is more infotainment than informative. We are chained to pop trash about celebrities who are famous for being wealthy, thin or “crazy” beyond actually achieving anything. Social media is riddled with junk and porn. Modern music seems to be an excuse for sex and degradation of women. We have limited choice about exposing our children to our sexualised culture from an early age. Our media is our world and our world only has one moral code.

Two quotes recently came up in my Facebook newsfeed. One said, “Think too much and you will create a problem that was not there in the first place.” The other said, “What luck for rulers that men do not think.” The former was anonymous but shared over 3500 times. The latter was said by Adolf Hitler.

I recently read \”The Book Thief\” by Markus Zusak about Nazi Germany and how the German people were swept up in the Nazi movement.  As an active audience we are not changed by this. Humanity still gets swept up in issues like Religion, Homosexual Marriage, Euthanasia, Abortion and such. Society’s tagline is: “Think too much and you will create a problem that was not there in the first place.” Apathy is central. We have too short an attention span to really care. We care about small tragedies, but don’t have time for bigger tragedies and issues, as Joseph Stalin once said,  “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

As the Pope says, online media offers a “new “agora”, an open public square”.  We need to utilise this. But more than that we also need to be an active audience. We need to challenge beyond the arguments of cyberspace, and into the way we live real life. Our church needs to not ignore the younger generation. While many church offices are staffed by the older generation, the mindset of the world has changed and the younger generation need to be utilised and tapped into for the New Evangelisation. The message of the Catholic church needs to be tailored for different audiences, and be more soundbyte savvy than ever before. We need to use the same tricks of persuasion that everyone else does. Pope Benedict is aware of this, stating, “The ability to employ the new languages is required, not just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all.”

As Dietrich von Hildebrand says, “The Christian vocation was … to bring the Kingdom of God into the world, to Christianize the world. But, and this was the critical point, not only was the transformation in Christ the one overarching and sovereign end of Christian life, unless one sought to imitate Christ before all else, a genuinely Christian culture would neither flourish nor grow.”

© 2013 Chelsea Houghton. All Rights Reserved.

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11 thoughts on “The Age of Apathy”

  1. Well said Ben in SoCal. That’s one of the things I struggle with the most. Neither side is free from blame. But where do we draw the line. And how do we even begin to take the good from each side in order to build the Kingdom of God?

  2. Conservatives are just as responsible for this Age of Apathy as liberals. Liberals may be responsible for the severe decline of sexual morality, but conservatives are guilty of promoting a soulless culture of rampant materialism.

    Catholics are challenged by both sides. Our culture is horribly polluted.

  3. I think the reason for the apathy is no one really knows what to believe as the truth. There are so many biased news sources, people recognize that I think but it is too difficult to discern the truth based on the loose moral upbring so many young people have.

  4. Hi! I’m 23 years old from the Philippines. I understand what you are saying about the youth and apathy.

    In my country, much of the youth don’t even bother registering to vote. And it’s easy to feel good when you can donate to typhoon victims by texting away an amount of your cellphone load.

    In my experience, the biggest catalyst for emerging out of apathy is immersion. I mean going out, spending time with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized sectors of society. Ideally a weekend at least. Long enough to know the struggles of people face to face. My college had this for college seniors. And I think it helps…at least they go out into the world knowing the injustices others face…

    You are right that its hard to care when you are so far removed from all the tragedy. We don’t have legal abortion or divorce yet here. But it seems to be looming over our heads with the Reproductive Health Bill passed last year. A bill which over 90% of students in my law school were in favor of. 🙁

    Many people don’t realize the implications, nor care about the tragedies abroad…as long as it doesn’t happen to us, as long as it doesn’t happen to people in our social class…

    Sorry for the long comment. Your post really made me think…
    New Evangelization, the world really needs it.

  5. Extraordinary, marvelous article! Any comments on the source of youthful apathy? I think you are saying there is a contradiction. More choices and outlets and abundance doesn’t lead to more action and more time for deeper faith but more apathy. Why is that?

  6. Quick question: Is there a March for Life equivalent in NZ? If so, when and where?

    I had the pleasure of being in NZ (1976-77), so your posting gives many happy memories.

    1. Not currently. NZ is very secular and abortion is a non issue here. We had one in 2010 in Christchurch and had an ok response but then the Christchurch earthquake happened and we tried but havent had one since. Definitely something we are keen to start again in future.
      Where were you in NZ?

  7. Pingback: Forty Hours Devotion in New York City | Big Pulpit

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