Tag Archives: youth culture

Non-conformist Christianity


Christianity in the West has, for quite some time, been about cultural conformity, and very little, if at all, about the life and teachings of Jesus. It used to be that growing up in the United States meant you were exposed to Christian values, even if you chose to ignore or rebel against them. Not so today. To conform with Western culture, more specifically the American version, is to be at odds with the values of Christ. Therefore, in order to be a Christian, the kind of Christian that lives according to values taught by the biblical Jesus, you will need to become a non-conformist.

There are still vestiges of Christian culture, and plenty of people who appreciate it— even if they don’t really live by following Jesus— so, you’ll have a few friends. However, genuinely following Jesus Christ’s teaching will put you at odds with the majority. Your lifestyle will appear strange, and many of your choices will alienate you, even from church people. This is okay… if you believe what Jesus said.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV).

Don’t assume that “the world” in Jesus’ statement refers only to secular culture. It includes the church and its culture too. Remember, it was the most religious and well respected people who were the architects of Jesus’ execution. These were the guardians of culture in a society founded on religion. It was they who failed to recognize that God had come to visit. They confused their system of ritual, liturgy and law with God. The Romans worshiped strength and their own power. These first century Jewish leaders actually worshiped their own religious power. Jesus threatened that; he made them jealous; they had him killed.

In our day I’m no longer surprised when priests and ministers are exposed as frauds or moral failures. There are too many who are in religious leadership for the wrong reasons. I would be more surprised if every high profile leader or celebrity pastor were actually as pure as they pretend to be. Freud had at least one thing right, there exist ego defense mechanisms employed by people to protect their public personae. Among these defense mechanisms, Sigmund identified what he called “reaction formation,” wherein a person comes out publicly against something that they are actually practicing (or at least are harboring).

An example of this may be observed in the 1999 movie American Beauty. Ricky is the son of a homophobe. Ricky becomes friends with his next door neighbor Jane. Jane’s father is Lester (played by Kevin Spacey), who has a crush on one of Jane’s female friends. One day Ricky’s homophobic father comes on to Lester. After Lester rebuffs the surprising sexual advance, Ricky’s father shoots and kills Lester. The idea, I believe, is not that the man hated Lester, but he was driven by shame to kill what he hated about himself. Reaction formation is what is behind the shooter’s public hatred of homosexuals. One wonders about the late Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church…

People are attracted to money, sex and power. When religion offers a way to obtain any of the three, there will those who pursue it for that reason rather than the purported spiritual purpose. So, the answer to non-conformity with the world is not conformity to a religion, denomination,or church’s cultural expectations. In fact, the conservative expressions of church in the U.S.A. may be little more than the conservation of an older iteration of American culture, which may have some values that derive from the teachings of Jesus, but some that do not.

We seem to have selective memory when it comes to our longing for a bygone era. Peruse the fiction aisles of a Christian bookstore and you’ll encounter many novels which are set in the pioneer days. This seems to be a golden era in the minds of conservative Christians. The women all have long dresses and bonnets on their heads, the men are strong, family oriented and honorable. However, an honest examination of history would find many non-Christian values and religious expressions, during this time period. Then there’s slavery and racism. The pictures on the covers of these books are of white people. People of color probably do not look back at the 1800’s with nostalgic longing.

It doesn’t matter if you attend church or fancy yourself an atheist, you cannot escape the influence of culture. Those of us who seek to follow Jesus, however, need to stage a rebellion. I’m not thinking about a new monastic movement, or withdrawing from society like the Amish. We need to change our thinking and change our ways. We need to eschew conformity to either the secular or religious cultures and have our minds renewed by the truth of God. We need awakening. We need transformation. We need a resurrection.

This all begins with dissatisfaction. If think you’re all you need to be, if you have all you want, then you’ll never change. Jesus said he came to cure those who are sick, not affirm those who think they’re well (Matthew 9:12-13). He is the light of the world, but those who think they see, never will. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Dissatisfaction with the world system, with our culture, may then lead us to a willingness to look elsewhere for happiness and fulfillment. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), so the ability to look elsewhere requires faith. Believe in the existence of a loving, almighty Creator. Trust him. Seek God by looking to the one who claimed to be his only born son. Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). No one has ever seen God, but Jesus has explained Him (John 1:18). He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and “in him all the fullness of God lives bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus boldly proclaimed, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If you want to know the truth and be free, then follow Jesus Christ and his teaching (John 8:31-32).

Our churches must become communities of non-conformity by virtue of taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and doing what the Lord commanded. Our lives must be consumed with love for God, rather than love of money. We must love one another the way Jesus loved us, rather than loving ourselves and seeking our own agendas. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, instead of loving stuff and envying those neighbors who have more than us. We must learn to be sacrificial servants, rather than self-seeking and self-serving consumers.

We must learn to worship and enjoy God’s presence in our everyday activities instead of constantly seeking to be entertained. We must reign in our insatiable and increasingly perverse sexual appetites. Pornography, fornication, adultery and homosexuality, all of which are practiced widely (even in churches), must immediately and completely stop in the lives of Christ’s followers. The love of guns, love of violence, bloodlust, all must become abhorrent to us. Guns are tools. I don’t love my shovel, my crescent wrench, or my blender.

We need to stop depending upon chemicals to make us happy or keep our moods positive. Alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, energy drinks, cocaine or meth: it doesn’t matter, if I’m relying on the chemical instead of God, then it’s an idol and it has to go. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12); “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

If this is going to happen it will require a death. The death is the old me, my old self. That will not happen, indeed it cannot, through my own efforts. I don’t have the desire or courage to begin the process. Self-denial, self-discipline and harsh treatment of my body won’t change me on the inside. Faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, however, will. “For I have been crucified with Christ and no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

I don’t think a non-conforming community of Jesus should avoid the world or avoid the culture, though. We need to engage people who are enthralled with culture and inured to religion with a real and relevant and renewed counter-culture centered on Jesus and his teachings. I’m not sure how all this looks yet, but I’m seeking and getting a sense of how it feels. Anyone else interested in joining the non-conformist revolution? Start with a serious reading of Jesus teaching to his followers about what it means to live out life like a follower. You’ll find it in Matthew chapters five, six and seven.

Are You Unique?


Are you unique?

That’s what they tell me.

Then why are you trying so hard to be like everyone else in your subculture?

What are you talking about?

You have a group, or maybe a type, that you strive to be like. You identify with them, or some representative or archetype of this subculture. For young people it is usually easier to see. They identify with a particular celebrity in sports or music, or with a style that is modeled by one or more successful or notorious people in a subculture. For example, you have the teens and twenties who have what might be called a ghetto-style (not judgmental, many aren’t ashamed of the term ghetto). They sag their pants low to show their underwear, or basketball shorts worn like underwear, athletic shoes are vital, especially Nike, and representing a particular team or player by wearing a jersey is typical. They wear big, very expensive, Dr. Dre Beats headphones, which signals that they are listening to rap artists like Lil Wayne, Drake, or whoever is speaking the values of their subculture.

What values?

Sex, money, drugs, misogyny…

Mis… what?

They hate women.

That’s not true.

Of course it is. When a “song” calls women bitches and whores, it is expressing disrespect and hatred, toward women. When sex is an act of violence expressed by the ubiquitous f-word, it demonstrates hatred toward the object of the sexual encounter. Sadly, too many women simply allow themselves to become the object of some boy-man’s sex play, presumably with the thought that love or acceptance will result. The reality is, she has been used like a piece of toilet paper and will be flushed just as quickly from his life.

That’s harsh.

It was reported to me that a young man boasted after one of these brief sexual encounters, “I f’ed that bitch.” These are learned values. They are taught and reinforced by the artists these people idolize.

You’re just an old man. You don’t understand.

I’m old enough to understand. I’ve observed the youth culture for several generations now. There are standard values that don’t change, even though outward styles change dramatically. There are other values that have been taught in schools and through the media, which are now normative.

What do you mean? What do you see that’s the same?

Young people are looking for an identity, initially one that is different than their parents, or authority figures in their lives. The need to be seen as unique, even though, ironically, they act and dress alike, is a part of adolescence. Dressing and talking like others in a group or subculture expresses another need that young people have: acceptance by the group. This latter need is exploited when the military recruits young people. It is so great a need that young people are willing to do, well, all of the foolish things that we associate with teenagers and twenty-somethings.

Such as?

Experimenting with drugs, getting drunk and high, multiple sexual encounters which both boys and girls now boast about, violence against those outside the subgroup, especially against those who hold different values.

What do you mean, like gangs fighting each other?

Okay, yes. Many times those gangs are racially homogenous and they attack a rival gang comprised of a different racial or ethnic group and its values, which are seen as foolish. Blacks vs. Mexicans, Whites vs. Blacks, Blacks vs. Asians. There is also generational division and disrespect. I think this has been expressed on a number of occasions via the recent, so called, “knock-out game,” wherein groups of young people target older people, whom they try to hit hard enough to knock unconscious. Resentment for the establishment represented by young people attacking middle aged well-to-do people may be another underlying motive. The base, animalistic tendency to take advantage of the weak for profit or to demonstrate superiority is actually degrading for those who participate.  Worse, when young men rape, rob and murder the elderly for fun, they have sunk lower than any animal.

So, is that new, or did you see those kinds of things in, like, the 80’s?

I don’t really think it’s new. Maybe the form it takes, like the knock-out game, is new, but violence against the elderly has been around for a long time. In fact, that’s what the cult classic movie A Clockwork Orange is about, and it came out in the early 70’s. I’ve never understood the fascination with this movie, or the reason it is considered a classic.

What do you think is new, then?


What, you think there are more gays?

No, the percentage of people who persistently pursue that as their sexual preference has probably not changed all that much.

So, you agree that it’s genetic?

Not really, but I think the proclivity, or tendency, which may bring about attraction to the same gender may be. There are also social issues that may lead some people to act out sexually to fulfill certain perceived needs. However, I think homosexual acting out is a choice. The so called LGBT subculture has become well respected due to media and educational forces. The acceptance of this subculture among young people, who are most susceptible to those forces, is relatively new.

That’s good.

It is good if fewer people who self-identify as gay are being bullied or ostracized. It’s not good if, as a teenager journeys through puberty and feels some type of fascination with their own gender, they are made to believe they have been born homosexual.

Well, if you’re a guy and you are attracted to guys, then you’re gay. No big deal.

It’s not that simple. Many people go through phases of attraction as they move through puberty. This attraction is not necessarily a desire to have sex, so much as it is natural interest that can result in exploration. First a young person is fascinated with their own changing body, then with the bodies of those who are like them (their own gender), then with those who are unlike them (the opposite sex). If the normal progression stalls for some reason, and a young person is convinced by their culture that they’ve been born this way, it is tragic.

So, what if they stop at the beginning when they are still focused on their own body? What would you call that person? What would they be like?

That is a narcissist, which I believe is a huge problem among young people today, not just sexually, but socially.

I’ve heard people your age call us narcissistic. It’s probably just jealousy.

Maybe the ease with which some older people have recognized it is driven by envy. They wish they were still young and are affronted by your unwillingness to accept them. However, this is a real problem, and I think parent and grandparents must share guilt for your generation’s narcissism.

Really, how?

Many young people have a sense of entitlement, which is established by caregivers who give them whatever they want without any requirements. Previous generations of youth had to work hard to obtain what is taken for granted by young people today. I see teenagers from poorer homes whose parents buy them expensive athletic shoes, smart phones, Hollister, American Eagle or Polo clothing.  You have been led to believe that you deserve the best. What did you do to deserve it?

Because I’m good.

Really, and what good have you done and for whom have you done it?

I don’t know. I just am.

No, you’re not. Nobody is, really. Jesus was called good by a man one time and he answered, “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good but God.”

So, Jesus wasn’t good either.

He is the only one who was, and is. He was trying to get the man to recognize that he was God come in the flesh, and that’s why he is good. Only when we are connected to God do we become in any way good.

Well, it’s unconditional love, right? Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to be about?

Love means acting in the best interest of the person you love. Giving your kid a pair of new Jordans won’t make him a better person, and it may make him the target of some jealous bully or robber who covets those shoes. Buying a kid an internet enabled smartphone if the parent fails to monitor what that kid is doing with it, is not a good idea. Many young people send sexually explicit pictures, access porn, film fights, use Vine, Instagram and YouTube to share and glorify bad and evil things. That is not love.

So, I go out and get a job, buy what I want, and it’s the same thing.

But that doesn’t promote narcissism and entitlement. You may still enjoy the same things, and some of those things may be wrong, but you learned the value of earning what you have. And if you mistreat it or break it, you have to replace it with your own money. Maybe you discover that something you have to work for is more valuable and should be used for better things. I think a young person would benefit greatly from having to work to get their first car.

I hope my Dad buys me something really nice.

I hope your Dad makes you work to pay for it. I had to work the whole summer after I turned 16 to buy my first car. A few months later I totaled it and had to pay payments on the next car. I did it all, though. Paid for the car, the insurance, the gas and upkeep. I learned the value of working for what you want. I got kicked out of my house when I was 17. I didn’t live on the street. My step-dad provided me with an inexpensive place to live on my own. I paid my own way, though. I went to school full-time and I worked hard to make a living. I went to college on my own and got my degree. Nothing was given to me.

The world had changed.

People haven’t changed all that much, though. Back to my original question: Are you unique?

I don’t know. Yeah, I guess so.

You are if you choose to be different than the mold into which our culture wants to press you. The Bible says it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by getting your mind renewed, then you will be able to test and prove what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, my paraphrase).

What if I don’t want to do God’s will?

That’s your option. But if you don’t do God’s will, you’ll just be another culture clone, a drone doing what the world around you dictates.

I do what I want.

You do what the world leads you to believe you want. It gets worse. The world is controlled by a prince who seeks to destroy you. The Bible calls him the Prince of the “Power of the Air,” and the “god of this world.”

Satan, right?

Yes. That word Satan means Enemy. He’s a fallen angel. Once he was close to God, but he chose to rebel and do things his own way. He wanted to be god.

Well, you said he is god of this world, so it looks like he got his wish.

When you get what you want apart from God, it falls apart sooner or later. Satan will eventually get what he deserves, and he’s already been defeated if people will start believing in Jesus and stop believing his lies .God allowed Satan to deceive people and gain control of the world. It’s a test. That’s the only way he stays in control, by deceiving us. Earlier I said when you do what you want you are only doing what the world dictates. You are really doing what Satan wants you to do. He lies and leads us to do his will by luring us with evil desires.

This is where you tell me that sex is evil.

No, sex is good, assuming you do it the way God designed it. Pray for a lifelong mate and best friend, marry that person, and learn to become intimate with them.

So, homosexuality is okay as long as you’re married?

No. Homosexuality is not God’s design. It doesn’t produce life. It falls short of his plan for sex, marriage, family, and intimacy.

People are born gay though.

That’s one of many lies Satan tells. I’ve already explained one reason that people may feel that way, if they find themselves attracted to the same gender and continue to reinforce that attraction sexually and socially, and then choose to self-identify as gay, they will probably believe the lie that they were born that way. The world is fallen, so I”m not saying someone who feels homosexual feelings is just freely choosing to be attracted. The attraction is there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean someone has to give themselves over to feelings of same sex attraction, or pursue it as though it were something God created and wills for them to do. People are tempted to do all sorts of self-destructive things— some people do heroin, some people like to fight, some people overeat— that doesn’t make those things are right. God has a better plan.

Like what?

Follow Jesus Christ.


He is the perfect example of what God created every human being to be. He came to earth, lived the kind of life we are supposed to live, but cannot live apart from God, then died on the cross to pay the death penalty we owe for the self-centered, sinful, rebellious lives we lead, and then rose from the dead to pave the way for us to get back to God. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ and start following him, you’ll really be unique.

Christians are boring, though.

Religious people are boring, church people can be boring. Following Jesus is a risky, amazing adventure. Start by talking to God and telling him you believe in Jesus. Confess where you’ve gone wrong. Ask God to become real to you. Start reading the Gospels in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, and you’ll get to know what Jesus is like. Ask God to fill you up with his Holy Spirit, Start following the leading of the Spirit.

And that will make me unique? Won’t I just have to stop doing everything that’s fun and go to church and listen to preachers and sing songs I really don’t like, and hang out with old people?

Church is a family. There are old people, young people, and everyone in between. In a good church there are people from different cultures and races, all worshiping the same God, following the same Jesus, and yet everyone is unique.

Maybe I’ll think about it.

Start believing and you’ll be unique.