Angsters, Inc.

Are you post-evangelical?  Are you postmodern?  Are you post-caring?

If so, a publication Adam just showed me may be for you.  It’s called Patrol Magazine, and according to its editors, it “comes to life amid the angst of being a believer in the modern world: the conflicts between faith and science, religion and politics, the church and the arts, humanity and technology.”

I was only just exposed to the website (it’s not actually a magazine), so I’m not in a position to praise or criticize its content.  But much like the Magi with the Christ child, I find the circumstances surrounding its birth to be of great interest (for slightly different reasons).

Patrol tells us it was born “amid the angst of being a believer in the modern world.”  Since the word “angst” is usually associated with the word “teen,” I wondered why whoever wrote this lengthy mission statement chose it for a womb.  I checked a couple online dictionaries, thinking perhaps there was something about the word I didn’t understand.

Angst, apparently, is “a feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression.”  Such a feeling always motivates me to start magazines.  And more, it comes from a mid-20th century German word meaning “a neurotic fear, anxiety, guilt, or remorse.”  Wow, makes me want to start a daily.  And “It is usually applied to a deep and essentially philosophical anxiety about the world in general or personal freedom” (American Heritage Dictionary).

No surprises from the dictionary.  One sentence into a publication’s statement of purpose, one thing has been made abundantly clear: it was founded by unhappy, moody people.  Not to make a snap judgment, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any movements born out of angst that brought much good to the world.  The hippies come to mind.

The strategy strikes me as an unwise way to gain readership.  Describing yourself as being “born out of angst” is like talking about how your mother was an alcoholic while pregnant with you—it might make people uncomfortable, but it is unlikely to make them want to listen to your ideas.

But perhaps there is a reason for the angst that is so compelling it outweighs such discomfort.  The Patrol editors speak of conflicts between faith and science, religion and politics, the church and the arts, humanity and technology.  And they speak of being a forum in which young writers can “work out their ideas.”

In my experience with angst-filled young writers who want to work out their ideas, I have usually found them to be poorly-read in the literature that might allow them to have good ideas.  The result is that they write 1,200 word articles thinking through questions that were answered centuries ago, thinking themselves profound but brandishing their ignorance.  Generally, reading, listening and private discourse are the forum for working out ideas—publication tends to be reserved for people who have already worked them out.

The purpose of this stern reaction is not to bash the unhappy founders of this forum for anxious ideas, but rather to highlight the significance revealed in the “conflicts” cited by the editors, none of which is a conflict in historical Christian theology.

The burden angst-filled evangelicals take upon themselves is the burden of a child who has rejected a parent—the past.  Rightly recognizing something wrong with the way many American Protestants do religion, they seek a new way through a murky, bitter future they understand even less well than the past they have abandoned.  One who knows nothing of the past can only criticize, not contribute.  If certain anxious evangelicals are dissatisfied with the present, it would do them well to learn how they got there.

Patrol may or may not turn out to have good content as time goes on.  But its mission statement is that of a baby with a bad mother and no future.

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