May/June 2010 - Vol. 40

The New Rebellion
(The Rebellion Against Rebellion)
.by Peter Stine

“Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt, from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left – sanity.”
These words, from G.K. Chesterton’s novel The Man Who was Thursday, are (whether we want to admit it or not) very relevant for today’s world. We are surrounded on all sides by a culture screaming to be released from what it deems to be a restrictive and destructive mode of thinking and acting. Sometimes we ourselves can become caught in this; seeking freedom from governmental authority or independence from a parent. It seems to me that this rebellion against all things that were – even up to 15 years ago – held dear, has been slowly but surely eroding our culture. So the question becomes for people in their teens like myself, how do we respond to this slow moral decay? However, before we can create a solution, we must identify the problem. 

In the human person, there is a natural tendency to rebel, a tendency that goes back to the Fall and continues throughout human history, leaving numerous examples of human rebellion in its wake. The example that probably jumps to the forefront of most of our minds is the example of teenage rebellion. Many of us have been around teenagers (some of us still are teenagers) and therefore are constantly reminded of rebellion. We see disobedience, disrespect for parental authority, and many other things.  Although part of this is due to simple hormonal changes, in it we can catch a glimpse of what this deeply ingrained rebellious streak is. 

This streak, or should I say, concupiscence (unruly desires), is more or less the assertion of one’s ego (or belief system) over that of another person. This is otherwise known as pride. Continuing with the example of teenage rebellion, the teenager is trying to find his place in the world, first by asserting himself towards everyone else to see what gets pushed over and what stands firm. When this is done in a constructive manner, the teenager finds his place in society and knows his role. But, when this practice is not checked early on, it can cause catastrophic results. If a teenager is allowed to challenge everyone he comes in contact with – parents, teachers, youth group/small group leaders, and pastors – he becomes disruptive, both to the people around him and to himself. As he continues to posture and the authority figure continues to do nothing, he reinforces in his mind the idea that no authority has any sway over him, that he can do whatever he likes, and no one can tell him otherwise. From that point onward, he begins to see as freedom this being able to get away with anything he wants, and challenges everything that seems to get in the way of maintaining this idea.

So that’s the problem. How do we combat it?

 I would suggest a few things that might sound counter-cultural today, but I think are really timeless wisdom, especially from a Christian point of view:

Be an example of humility. 
I know that this particular virtue is talked about a lot, so we tend to ignore it. However, it is the only way to combat pride, since it is the direct opposite of it. Giving deference where it is due, listening to other opinions, and not having outbursts of anger when things don’t go exactly how you had hoped, these will go a long way in showing people that there is a different way of living. If you also do this with joy, it can show others what they lack in their own self-centered way of living.

If you are in a position of authority, exercise the authority confidently.
Even if you want to be a person’s friend, not giving them boundaries isn’t helping the relationship. In fact, it’s probably showing them that you don’t have much of a backbone. So, use the authority both for your own good, but especially for theirs, helping them to see how they are rightly related to others in a good way.

Define freedom.
This can be a very tricky area, but it is where the crux of the issue lies. Most people believe that “freedom” is the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want to do it. The truth, however, is the same truth that the Russian people discovered after overthrowing the Czar, in their attempt to establish a “free and common system of government.” This “freedom” unfortunately did not lead to a just government. It resulted in a blatant, barbaric tyranny in which millions suffered and died and the rest became enslaved to a totalitarian regime. If we try to gain freedom by overthrowing legitimate authority (e.g. our parents), and say that we can do whatever we want, we actually lose what it means to be free. This is because we enslave ourselves to our passions, no matter how misguided they are and regardless of the consequences. 

Define rules.
Most rules are put in place for our protection and wellbeing. Think of a children’s playground. If it is near a road, more often than not there is a fence. The children could think: “I wish the fence wasn’t there, it’s hampering my freedom.” But if a child decided to disregard the fence and play in the road, there is a very high chance that he would be hit by a car. So it is with most of the rules that are in place today. If you can explain to someone the logic of a certain rule and that it actually benefits them in some way, they are more likely to follow it.

This cannot be emphasized enough. It is only by God’s grace that people change, and while we can do what little we are able in order to catalyze change, it is only God who can truly bring it about.

Therefore, in short, the response to rebellion, as odd as it may seem, is rebellion itself. In order to make a difference, we must be the difference first. If we behave in a way that is upright – a rebellion against rebellion – then we are in a better position to bring others along with us. Through our efforts and by God’s grace, we can help end the rebellion. The words of St. Paul often echo in my ears: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). 
Peter Stine, age 18, is from DeWitt, Michigan, USA and is part of the Work of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan. He is currently in Belfast, Northern Ireland, doing a GAP year with Youth Initiatives.
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