That’s my experience. It’s the impenetrable wall of the millennial generation. There is no acceptable response — outside of total affirmation — to that three-word phrase, a death knell to any sort of conversation about absolute truths.
I have to admit I am not too well acquainted with the wildly popular YouTube duo Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, the two guys behind the daily show “Good Mythical Morning,” which currently boasts some 16 million subscribers. But I’ve learned a bit more about them recently, since they chronicled their “deconstructed” faiths and “came out” as agnostics.
This week, they went on fellow YouTuber Philip DeFranco’s show, where they talked about their collective decision to walk away from their Christian roots — a choice they made separately but also at the same time.
You can watch that discussion here:
Their Christian backgrounds really aren’t surprising; I always thought the pair looked a bit like youth pastors or Young Life leaders. Their decision to walk away from the Christian faith isn’t stupefying, either, though it is unsettling.
Half-jokingly, Link said at the beginning of their talk with DeFranco that all of his and Rhett’s work is about “clamoring to maintain relevance.” There’s probably more truth to that statement than those three men — or you or I — want to admit. And it probably plays a bigger role in Rhett and Link’s “deconstructed” Christianity than they might know.
In a blog post written by Shelby Abbott, a Philadelphia-based writer and speaker on staff at Cru, a popular parachurch organization for college and university students, he explained how Rhett and Link both used to work for the ministry but decided to step away from it in 2006 to go into the entertainment industry. The three guys stayed in touch for a while, but eventually, whatever friendship might have been there petered out.
After having listened to their journeys away from Christianity, Abbott believes their “deconstruction” wasn’t really of the Christian faith. Instead, he wrote, it was a deconstruction of the “Christian subculture.” For Rhett and Link, Christianity seemed to have been more like a shadow whose sharp edges formed the lines that divided the good from the bad. They grew up and lived in a culture — like many of us do, particularly if you’re from the Bible Belt — in which there’s already a conclusion, and you just work backward to make sense of it. It’s like taking a nearly complete puzzle and, just to be done with it, shoving a square piece into a round hole.
In reality, we should look at the round hole — our imperfection and our need for someone, Jesus, to make us right with God — and build out the rest of the puzzle from there. But the Christian community, for more reasons than one, failed Rhett and Link. Christianity, for them, was the justification for a bunch of cultural rules, and when those rules were no longer relevant to them, the justification behind that structure came crashing down.
They have found new community in the floundering and morally fluid world of entertainment. The rules are different now, and so are the justifications.
A lot of Rhett and Link’s shift is built around one thing: their experiences. That’s the idol of the millennial generation. We think, “If I feel it, it must be legitimate, and since it’s legitimate, it must be right.” But here’s the truth: we feel wrong things every single day, and anyone who’s being honest with themselves, whether Christian or not, knows that’s true. We think all kinds of things we choose not to act on, and that’s a good thing.
But on this — much like with sexual orientation — people dangerously assume their feelings are tantamount to truth. And Rhett and Link have insulated themselves from challenges, dismissing their critics as people who just want to drum up controversy and spew hateful comments.
Link even described challenges to his newfound agnosticism as inherently “hurtful,” as if the only true motivation for a thoughtful challenge is meanness. He likened his experience of “coming out” as agnostic to that of a closeted gay person announcing his or her sexual orientation and hearing in response, “You’re wrong.” At another point, Rhett suggested adhering to mainstream Christian doctrine on myriad issues, including sexuality, is “delegitimizing people’s humanity.”
Link told DeFranco he initially liked being “different” in the YouTube world. Looking back, at the time, he thought he could use it to spark conversations about his Christian faith. But now, on the other side of his “deconstruction,” Link said he thinks he was “uptight” and “judgmental” back then.
The irony is both Rhett and Link are now just on the other side, living in the same way they perceive their former selves. These days, they exist in an echo chamber and are judgmental of those on the outside.
If nothing else, Rhett and Link’s shared journey is a cautionary tale about the danger of idolizing our momentary feelings and experiences.
Speaking about sexual orientation and mainstream Christian teaching on the issue, Rhett said:
Can’t you see that you guys have lost this argument? History is going to leave you behind. … You can hold out. You can get into your little crevice as long as you want to. But in the same way that we had to argue about — we had to convince the church that slavery was wrong, we had to convince the church that interracial marriage was OK. Now we’re having to convince the church that it’s OK to be gay.
“No one except a fringe cult is gonna be anti-LGBT in 100 years,” he said. “Eventually, the church says, ‘OK. We’re gonna incorporate that, too, because if we don’t, we’re going to die.’”
Without missing a beat, Rhett just dismissed years and years and years of intellectual and spiritual thought. Why? Because of his feelings. Rhett’s argument here against Christianity wrongly — very wrongly — assumes questions about sexuality are in some way new, as if, despite having survived thousands of years, Christianity is unable to withstand the whims of human desire.
“If something is true,” he argued at another point, “it should be able to withstand investigation and inquiry.”
The truth of the matter is this: if Christianity couldn’t hold up to challenges, it wouldn’t still be the world’s largest religious tradition. The Gospel has withstood investigation and inquiry, and it will withstand Rhett and Link, too.
In the matter of a few years, the YouTube stars have shortsightedly dismissed thousands of years of belief and hundreds of years of research steeped in discipline and study. With a massive audience of impressionable young people and a media culture that rewards worldviews built on feelings, Rhett and Link’s abandonment of faith will have a ripple effect. And that’s why we need to be prepared.
We don’t need to be prepared to have the best argument, or to prove something. Because we have nothing to prove. Instead, we should focus on making sure our worldviews are built around Jesus, rather than fitting Jesus into our worldviews.
If we don’t center our faith on Christ, there’s a good chance we could all go the way of Rhett and Link.