Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement
by Lauren Sandler
(272 pages, $24.95, hardcover)
reviewed by Ryan T. Anderson
Depressed by the re-election of George W. Bush—which, she says, “knocked the air from my lungs and the hope from my heart”—Lauren Sandler set out across the country to discover exactly who the “values voters” were, particularly the young ones.
Socially liberal, ethnically Jewish, and theologically atheistic, Sandler—a fellow at New York University’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program who previously worked as a producer of cultural segments for National Public Radio and as the Life Editor of Salon—had the advantage of an outsider’s perspective. Or so she hoped.
Her results, offered in Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, are provocative. The “Disciple Generation,” her name for Christians aged 15 to 35, have rebelled not only against their parents but against everything secular as well. How? By appropriating the trappings of popular culture but saturating them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tattoos & Suits
This results in tattooed, skateboarding Jesus freaks; rapping, prosperity-gospel-preaching fundamentalists; and grunge, Rock-for-Life anti-abortion groupies—alongside three-piece-suit-wearing collegians; Bible-carrying Capitol Hill staffers; and frappuccino-sipping, mega-church-attending suburbanites. In other words, for every secular walk of life, there is the Disciple Generation equivalent, breathing in the same cultural air but exhaling the name of Jesus.
Sandler offers many amusing, sometimes disturbing, vignettes from her journeys with the “Disciples.” Reporting from a skateboarding festival, she tells of pro skater Josh Casper, who became a Christian after “depression set in” when his father passed away. He tells the crowd during a break in the skating: “It’s all about God. That’s what I’m skating for. That’s what I’m living for.”
For the skater who is often a cultural outcast, Josh’s message offers “hope, connection, and community all mixed with cool,” Sandler argues. “This is how they got these kids to buy into religion, by delivering something larger than themselves, their troubles at home, and their adolescent pain.”
But with the religion comes the politics, and the t-shirts Sandler sees at Rock for Life, Stand True, and Cornerstone events speak volumes to her. She describes “a black shirt with an image of the American flag, only a white swastika replaces its fifty stars. Under the flag, his shirt says WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON’T VOTE. . . . Beside it another is printed with the words PERSONHOOD REDEFINED: DRED SCOTT, THE NAZI PARTY, ROE VS. WADE.”
At first, she thinks these are a “nice reminder of the importance of participatory democracy.” But later she concludes, “ I’m what happens when they don’t vote. To these dissidents professing Christ’s love, I’m a Nazi in the abortion holocaust.”
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