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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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I understand the point attempting to be made, but I am sad by having such a broad-stroke of negative, even pejorative, hyperbole published in as a World Opinion piece. "in those days, the U.S.A. had no adults."? Really? That is not a balanced, moderated, winsome or gentle rebuke. Mr. Trueman, this is the kind of provocative, "the sky is falling" propagandist non-journalism that I thought I could generally avoid in my reliance on World News Group for Biblical journalism. With respect to the event in question, Houston is a metropolis of 7 million people, and there were probably many attending from other parts of the state and the country, so the people there hardly represent the state of maturity in our country. The same is applicable to the reporter and her lack of critique or hard questions. She does not represent adults in America. I'm not defending these folks' moral choices, but the point could have been made better, I think, if it was presented using these examples of poor judgment, not trying to pin the ugly picture as representative of all.

Steve S

Sadly, I bet similar examples could be found for just about any country and culture since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden...


Malachi 4:5–6 (NIV84)
5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”


Excellent article and true.


I wasn't all that aware of this phenomenon, but it is a horrible thing to see. A lot of people in the picture look kind of thuggish and don't seem very bright. I remember in high school surveying some of the other students and asking if they thought that the government should censor music with explicit lyrics, and one response was "Read the constitution," which is interesting, because I don't believe obscene or profane speech is protected under the First Ammendment.


Your comment characterizing the people in the picture as thuggish and unbright is completely uncalled for and unhelpful. I do not ascribe to or defend their musical choice, but stooping to calling them unbright and thugs based on how they look in a picture is ridiculous. Why not just remove the sentence completely? It has no bearing on your arguement.

Mamma Peachclamchowder

"Thuggish" was completely off, but I can get the "unbright" part. They are all fan-geeking. One web comic I know refers to such as the "zombie hordes", and that's not to far off for a mob of people centered completely on their idol and not thinking of much else. It's not that they don't have intelligence to start with. They've just thrown it all away for that moment to get closer to the object of their fandom.


My impression is much parental influence and authority began to be challenged with the introduction of television into American homes. The electronic influence expanded into internet access and the unsupervised use of personal devices by children and teenagers. One result was the entertaining and subtle subversion of family and civil values necessary for young adults to effectively participate in society.


The concert venue stampede was tragic. My initial thought was like Trueman's. Who takes a small child to a concert with such lyric contents? And why get so close to the stage? The amps and sound decibel level easily exceed the tarmac sound level at your local airport and please note thoses folks with the flashlights and yellow vests are wearing noise reduction ear muffs!!


Anyone who takes a child to concert like that should not have a child. Their child should be taken away from them.

Phil WTommyLebowitz

You may be exagerating, Tommy, but listen to yourself. No one should have their children taken from them except for the most serious crimes. Conservatives and Christians should encourage laws that seek justice, love mercy, and allow for maximum freedom to worship as possible. As soon as we support a nanny state who takes away children for things like this, we have ushered in a systemic level of abuse that we have only seen in pockets before.

Push for respect, due process, and liberty under law for all.


So true. So sad. Excellent review.