Teens & Retirement: Two 20th Century Phenomena We Didn’t Get Right.

Teens & Retirement: two 20th century phenomena we didn’t get right.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw unprecedented economic growth and the improvement of life for many in the Western world. Out of this came two phenomena, teenagers and retirees. Although on opposite ends of life, they are intricately connected.

As life became more industrialised, education and work moved from the home to the factory and school. Child labour was reduced and education was encouraged, so that rather than girls starting motherhood in their teen years, and boys apprenticing during that time, teen years began to be a time of education and preparation. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries this time has increased to nearly 30, as education and career development set marriage and family aside. Sexual relations, however, for very many, begin in the teen years and continue with multiple partners until some sort of monogamous relationship is established. This is proved disastrous to the moral, emotional, spiritual, and economic health of children born to families only of “half” siblings, as many mothers bear children to different father s on each occasion. Teen bodies are ready for childbearing, but society has changed to the point that teen marriage and childbearing is scandalous and unsustainable. Given the educational requirements for even the simplest employment, teen marriage and childbearing is a sure ticket to permanent welfare.

At the other end of the age spectrum is retirement. Modern social security began in the United States during the Great Depression, and it was seen as a way to make way for younger, healthier workers and to free up families from the need to care for elders. Of course it was assumed that one wouldn’t live much past the 65 year retirement age. No one could see at that time the amazing improvement in health care from birth to old age, decreasing infant mortality and extending life well into the eighties as a matter of routine. The same scenario has been repeated in most Western countries, some predating the US model, some preceding it.

So education, work, and care of elders has been outsourced from the family to schools, factories, and nursing homes, paid for by social programs.

What this has meant practically is that families are smaller because they can be. Declining birthrates in Western nations attest to this. Mark Steyn has argued that of the developed European countries, Canada, US, Austrailia, Russia and Japan, only the US replicates itself by birthrate, and that only barely. The rest are dependent upon immigration. Large families, once seen as a guarantee against high infant mortality and as a means to support elders who cannot work, are now seen as unsustainable. This is largely because along with the outsourcing of education, work, and old-age care has come a massive transfer of wealth from the family to the state for education, daycare (for the majority who do work outside the home), and social programs for the aged. Add to this the expanding definition of disability, and it becomes easy to see why the family does not have the resources to have many children or to care for elders.

I wonder what the Christians thought of all this as it was developing? When work was removed from the home, and education was handed over to others, were there voices of dissent? I know that J. Gresham Machen objected to public education in his Christianity and Liberalism in the 1920’s. But as far as I know, only the Amish and Mennonite Christians resisted these trends on a practical level.

1 Timothy 5:8 strongly suggests that care of the aged is not to be left for others, either:

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

I think it is time for Christians to mount a Biblical response to teenagers and retirees. It is hard to resist culture, especially when it seems to improve life. But with each economic downturn, it may show that the improvements that allegedly come from our prosperity were often simply a case of borrowing against the future, and that future has arrived.

Is it possible to remove the temptation to sexual promiscuity by encouraging our teens to marry earlier, rather than putting it off? Is it not possible for Christian families to work together to help the breadwinner to accomplish the education and training necessary for gainful employment while being a father, rather than putting off fatherhood with the help of birth control and abortion? Is it not possible for younger women to be married mothers without scandal? Has the church become so infected by the world’s standards that it shames a young couple who want to marry and start a family in their late teens?

Now I know that our world is more technologically complex, and a high school diploma makes one ready for college or university, but as far as jobs go, much more training is needed. That is a reality, but is delaying marriage (and failing at celibacy) the only way to live with this?

As far as caring for the aged, the Christian church’s response may be much  more urgent. We are witnessing the end of retirement as it has been presented. Most people reading this have lived under the assumption that at age 65 (soon to be 67 in Canada), one can quit working and relax for the next 20 years. Is there a Biblical precedent for this? Is this what God intended for humanity, much less for His church? It sounds attractive, but so does all temptation. It also disappoints, as does all sin.

Again, we see that our resources are taxed to provide for retirement, but there aren’t enough taxes (nor can there be) paid to really afford it. Hence the case for large families, especially among believers. Those who are young parents now would do well to consider how many children it will take to support them when they cannot work. There will, for a while, be money flowing from governments to support the elderly, but this will be curtailed in some often cruel ways. Is it not better to plan now for the inevitable collapse of the social safety net?

In the past 100 years, as in no other time in human history, childbearing is delayed and lifespan extended. I believe we have failed to successfully plan for and manage our retirements, and to counteract the only apparent  need to delay the creation of Christian families.

Both the teenager and retiree can vanish if they are products of a false and bankrupt economy.

©2012 Scott Jacobsen

A Memorial Day Reminder

This Monday is Memorial Day in the US. It is a day where soldiers who have died in service to their country are honoured. Those veterans who are still living, or who have died since serving, are also honoured.

The Sunday before Memorial Day  is tomorrow. While I know the urge is there to make much of those who served, especially those who died doing so, I wish to remind my brethren who preach the Gospel that Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day for honouring Him. There are many pressures to remove the Gospel from our presence, and even good things, like remembering the valiant, is no replacement for the greatest Honour due the Lord. In Canada, on Remembrance Day (November 11th), the same tendency is present.

Whatever sermons you may preach tomorrow, ask yourself: 1) is it Gospel, or is it patriotism? 2) is God honoured, or man? Honouring human achievement, dedication, commitment and sacrifice can have a valid place, but never in the place of the living God who judges all nations.

1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV):  “. . .  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

2 Timothy 4:1–5 (ESV)

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The Next Great War Will Be Between Generations, and Unwinnable.

As student protests in Quebec show, the issue isn’t really about tuition fees. Quebec has the lowest fees in North America, and after adjustment for inflation, reflect those of about 40 years ago. Now that the protests are starting to spread across Canada, and with the Occupy movement, mostly made up of youngers, it is easy to see the divide: those elders who have had job security, a good lifestyle economically, and look forward to a secure retirement verses those who see only entry level jobs, higher taxes to pay for elders’ retirements, and no secure future no matter how much education is acquired.

Mainstream media almost seems giddy about the prospects of civil unrest from this war—it is a simple thing to draw up battle lines, ideologies of those expecting entitlements and those who think everything should be earned. The real hypocrisy of the whole thing is that no one in my generation (the elders) earned everything they now have. Ours has been one of the most selfish generations in human history. We wanted it all: government programs, low taxes, and the deficit spending to pull it all off. The youngers rightly ask, “Why should we be taxed heavily on our minimum wage jobs to pay for your retirement, since you didn’t save enough for it?” But the youngers, however, don’t have the moral high ground either, because they have yet, for the most part, to repudiate the materialism our generation bequeathed them. My generation believed  mostly in capitalist-materialism, with a socialist’s expectation of benefits, and the youngers assume a socialist, or communist materialism, with no clear means to pay for it. So the priorities might be different, and how the benefits of society are shared are certainly different, but in the end the same problems will remain: nothing can be had for nothing, and no one wants to pay.

We elders began to teach that everyone had equal opportunity, that with hard work most anything is possible. Perhaps because that isn’t entirely true, we changed the story (to soften the ugly truth that we are not all equally gifted) and started to teach that all outcomes will be equal. So we hear children being told that they can be anything they want to be. Women were told that they can have it all: a mother equal to stay-at-home and an exciting, fulfilling career, social life, etc., and etc.

So now at this point, youngers see the elders has having had it all, and passing the bill on to them. This is not entirely untrue. Elders see the youngers as spoiled and whiney, asking for everything to be handed to them by the government, forgetting just how much government-love they received over the years. Youngers see the elders as needing to get out of the way. What we don’t hear so much is what the youngers might want. Do they want the same benefits we had? Probably, and more. Who will pay for it? Their great-grandchildren? That generation probably won’t be any more accepting of the debt than they are. Take if from the elders? That pool shrinks with every day, although with confiscatory taxation, estates can be divided up among the masses, rather than handed on to the children of the deceased.

This battle is unwinnable, because age is not a fundamental differentiator between people. All youngers will become elders. Whatever punitive measures they mete out to elders will be waiting for them as well, in spades. For if the youngers attack to elders, which, has been suggested, extends even to the limiting of lifespans, how do they think a different fate would await them? And only an elder knows how quickly we age! Furthermore, by attacking the elders, the youngers set a precedent, and teach their children to do the same.

Likewise, the elders cannot hurt the youngers—we need them to be happy, productive workers who earn enough for a good lifestyle and who can pay taxes to support us in our last years.

Where Christians need to be in this

I don’t think Christians have done generational thinking very well. The secular world brought us age segregated education, after removing it and apprenticeship from the home, and the church has been all too happy to buy into it. Churches are still the most segregated places found on a Sunday; today not so much by race but by age.

We need to learn to think Scripturally.

Jesus said a disciple is not above his master (Luke 6:40). We cannot learn more from a teacher than that teacher can teach. The youngers will be like their parents, unless a true conversion takes place, and they receive a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Christians must present a new way for youngers and elders to live together.

The resentments between generations should not be a part of the Christian experience.

Since I was quite young in the ministry I thought this would someday be a problem. There are many things I didn’t know when I was young, but I did know this: “I shall go to him (old age) but he (youth) will not return to me” (a not entirely invalid application of 2 Samuel 12:23).

I remember seeing a ministry posting in a church magazine that said, “we are looking for a man under 35, with a family.” This bothered me, because at 27, if asked to serve there, I could expect to be dismissed from that church in a mere eight years! This ad was not an anomaly, but was very common then as it is now. But is that a Scriptural approach to ministry? To the relationship between generations? The Bible seems to say that youth have energy, elders have wisdom. Youth is something that, with God’s grace, you’ll get over (Proverbs 1:4, 2:17, 5:18, 7:7). When I see such advertisements for ministers, I immediately assume that that particular congregation doesn’t value wisdom or experience. Now that I’m 55 I’m just as bothered by it, because it switches the world’s obsession with youth with God’s blessings upon the aged.

The battle between the generations is not only unwise, it is ungodly.

 As with all problems the Christian churches face, the solution must be found in Scripture. We must become so immersed in the world view and thought processes of Scripture that we do not fall for the faux solutions and satisfactions of the world.

If you are a younger, remember to respect elders.

1 Timothy 5:1–2 (ESV): 1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

If you are an elder, be the kind of person you want the youngers to be:

Titus 2:2–8 (ESV): 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Do you see the relationships here? The elders must never say, “I raised my family, I’m done with youngers,” and the youngers must be teachable, willing to honourably listen to their elders. Being older is something that should be aspired to, not despised. How does that compare to the messages you’ve been getting in media lately?

Those who wish to stoke the flames of discord will push the elders toward more selfishness and stinginess, and will urge them to limit their compassion and mercy toward the youngers. The world says, “The younger generation is a generation of losers” (I think my elder generation thought the same of us). They will also encourage the youngers to be resentful and jealous, “Shove the elders out of the way and take what’s yours.” This is the world in which we are to be light and salt.

Thinking Christianly, we need to understand that retirement is a pagan concept, and no one who is able to work has a right to a 20 or 30 year vacation, no matter how much money they have been given. Christians must re-define aged-ness. Of course some kinds of work has to be curtailed as physical and mental limitations occur, and Christians have a responsibility for compassionate care. Likewise, no younger generation should think that they are entitled to gain benefits without labour:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV)

10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Older Christians need to share what they have with the youngers, being money, food, housing, and if possible, employment:

2 Corinthians 12:14 (ESV)

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Deficit spending for decades was and is morally wrong, and older Christians must learn how to compensate for that. The church is the model of that community.

Everything you hear from the world on generational relationships will be a lie. Christians, follow God’s leading.

©2012 Scott Jacobsen