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Are there any adults left in America?

Carl R. Trueman | The call to adulthood means protecting a child’s innocence


The crowd watches Travis Scott perform in Houston before the stampede on Nov. 5. Jamaal Ellis/Houston Chronicle via Associated Press (File)

Are there any adults left in America?
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The crowd stampede at the Travis Scott concert in Houston in early November seized the news headlines for a number of predictable reasons: the number of fatalities; the lawsuits; and the injuries to a nine-year-old boy, Ezra Blount, who was caught up in the chaos. The usual questions are being posed. Could the organizers have prevented the tragedy? Is Scott liable and do the lawsuits therefore have merit? One question which it is no doubt tasteless to ask at this point but that probably touches on a more important facet of contemporary American culture: Is it appropriate for children to be at a concert given by someone whose lyrics, to the extent that they are at all coherent, speak of the vilest aspects of human behavior in the crudest terms?

A similar issue arose some years ago in Britain, where an Ariana Grande concert was subject to a terrorist attack. The newspapers accented the despicable nature of the attack by underlining the fact that many of the concertgoers were young teenage girls. The question of whether it was appropriate to take children to hear a performer whose lyrics are saturated with sex was never, as far I could see, seriously asked. But then again this is a world in which my wife and I recently saw a toddler in an airport with (presumably) her father who was wearing a Pornhub tee shirt and nobody seemed particularly fazed.

Such incidents speak to one of the major scourges afflicting our society today: the lack of adults who are prepared to act like adults. And that is a problem being driven by the very organs of influence within our culture. Take, for instance, a recent article in the Washington Post on a teenage witch. In many ways, it is standard fare: a teenager who ticks all the trendy boxes, from ‘they/them’ pronouns, to an eclectic religion constructed out of the bits of a faux-historical paganism that make her feel better about herself. It is therapy, dressed up in the cool idiom of Wiccan new age gibberish. The teenage witch is entirely open minded and accepting of everyone, except, of course, for those who might take a critical stand towards her self-constructed religion. And, as we are told, this witch and her boyfriend are not anti-science—they disagree strongly with anti-vaxxers. This witch is pro-science, then, except for the fact that she uses plural pronouns to refer to herself, a decidedly singular individual. Then there is the awkward fact that she claims to be a witch. All scientific facts are equal, it seems, although some are considerably more equal than others.

Yet it is not the nonsense this teenager spouts that is so striking. While teenagers have no monopoly on talking drivel, they are frequently rather good at it. It is one of the things they do best. It is not a shock, therefore, to come across one who is deeply confused and yet at the same time utterly and assertively confident in the correctness of her confusion. That is what teenagers are like: they never allow their comparative inexperience and ignorance to chasten their view of the world or moderate their trust in their own wisdom. That is standard fare.

What is odd, but sadly emblematic of our age, is the way in which the Washington Post reporter simply goes along with this. Rather presenting the rambling thoughts of a very confused young woman as just that—rambling thoughts—she offers no pushback and no critical perspective. The adult in the room simply indulges the confused fantasy of the child. And the only religions criticized are Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As strange as it may be to claim that a man rose from the dead, surely it is a little more plausible than offering goody bags to Hekate? But rather like the parents who take their children to concerts where explicit and ugly lyrics saturate the air, this journalist sees her role as an enabler, not as an educator. And in that she is no different from the movers and shakers of modern America, from Hollywood to Congress. Is it any surprise that in such a world the McDonald’s CEO is currently performing acts of ritual repentance for having dared to state the truth—that irresponsible and criminal parenting makes children innocent victims?

I wonder when it was that adults in America abandoned their responsibility and started to see pandering as their primary role. Whenever it was, it is now a social catastrophe and its evil harvest—kids killed in cars as their fathers do drug deals, young boys and girls who find it entertaining to hear songs about rape and murder, middle class teenagers with no idea of who they are—has yet to be fully reaped.

In describing Israel during the time of the judges, the Bible says on several occasions that “in those days in Israel there was no king.” In years to come, when the history of 21st-century America is written, the phrase is more likely to be “in those days, the U.S.A. had no adults.”


Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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