People came together in several American cities on the evening of Nov. 8, 2017, in an event called “Scream Helplessly at the Sky on the Anniversary of the Election.” The protesters who accepted social-media invitations to raise their voices against the Trump administration were far fewer than expected, according to news accounts, and most observers dismissed the activities as street theater. Nevertheless, this blip on the media radar gave participants a chance to vent their emotions in front of cameras and offered pundits an oddity on which to comment. Perhaps it warrants a moment of constructive reflection.
Without focusing on the political statement, caring Christians might ponder the basic idea—to “scream helplessly”—as the latest statement of society’s need for evangelization. The instinct for spontaneous combustion embodied no explicit messages, no authentic outreaches to specific audiences and no advances toward consensus- or awareness-building. The implicit message was an absence of hope. Like people sitting around a dinner table silently as they stare at their smart-phones, screamers were invited to gather as isolated individuals, seeking an experience but required neither to look at each other nor to share values. They sought only media attention.
“’Screaming helplessly at the sky’ is a symptom of the cancer that has been spreading throughout the country prior to the 2016 election—the cancer of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking,’” comments Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, a nationally known Catholic evangelist.
“It would have been much more productive to hold a symposium or a town hall meeting to civilly discuss the impact of the Trump presidency after almost a year, without yelling, screaming or polemical retorts,” the straight-talking permanent deacon said in an email interview with SPES. “People could have also come together to pray for our country.”
Deacon Burke-Sivers concluded, “Yelling at the sky serves no useful purpose whatsoever. Robust and honest debate, however, helps build understanding and moves the conversation forward.”
Evangelization, spreading the Good News and inviting people into relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, lays the groundwork for seekers of robust solutions. The Church can offer this groundwork. Even if there are no easy answers, the Lord offers His peace amid life’s screams and His path toward truth and hope answering the helplessness of lost sheep.
With fortuitous timing, the de-vangelization of Nov. 8 was partially explained when Bishop Robert Barron posted his latest “Word on Fire” video, reviewing a new book titled iGen. Its author, psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, probes the loss of faith among the generation born between 1995 and 2012. Bishop Barron noted that Twenge sees a correlation between the depression experienced by young people today and the amount of “screen time” they spend in front of smart-phones and other entertainment devices.
Twenge’s research also has found that “iGen” individuals, sometimes immersed more in technology than in flesh-and-blood relationships, demand unlimited personal choice and see religion threatening that world of choice, according to Bishop Barron.
The “iGen” population, which probably constituted a large portion of those assembled to “scream helplessly at the sky,” also is said to deem religion and spirituality incompatible with a scientific frame of mind. There is no such incompatibility, as various New Evangelization initiatives are striving to prove, but the binary view of science versus faith has helped to harden many young people’s hearts. Twenge reports one-quarter of the iGen never prays, and one-third does not believe in God.
Bishop Barron says such findings are painful but must be considered by those involved in evangelization, especially if they intend to stand up for family relationships, community, conversation and connection with reality as stabilizing forces in society.
One is reminded of the scriptural maxim, “Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) The New American Bible translation provided online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fleshes out the statement in an actionable way: “Without a vision, the people lose restraint; but happy is the one who follows instruction.”
On Nov. 8, the world saw—and heard—proof of an observation made by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2009: “The real problem at this moment in our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.”
The (still relatively few) people who would congregate not for prayer and fellowship, but for mere sound and fury, declaring helpless independence in a world whose limits threaten them, demonstrate a need for crowdsourced course-correction. Such an evangelization might say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own intelligence do not rely.” (Proverbs 3:5) It would highlight the joy of structure and instruction, communion and conversion. This evangelization requires consistent witnesses to hope who are good listeners, avoiding noise overload.
Deacon Burke-Sivers and Bishop Barron teach us that evangelization must deliver truth in charity and must help individuals connect to the truth which combines limits and freedom. This prescription for empowerment flows from the lesson of Nov. 8—that today’s angry screams are cries for help.