Hollywood’s gospel of ‘do what feels right’ is not serving millennials well

By now, most celebrities have completed their perfunctory condemnation (albeit delayed) of Harvey Weinstein’s actions. The Motion Picture Academy ousted him. Politicians donated his campaign contributions to charity (well, some did). "Saturday Night Live" finally roasted him. Soon, business will return to normal in Hollywood. And that’s the unfortunate part.

Hollywood elites will get back to their pulpits and preach the same message that not only allowed for Weinstein’s behavior, but continues to leave vulnerable Americans insecure and depressed. I’ve found that most of my friends raised on popular culture’s edicts of materialism and instant gratification are worse off. In fact, research shows that rates of major depressive episodes amongst millennials continue to increase.

Church attendance rates may be plunging, but—make no mistake—young people still hear sermons regularly, but we hear them in movie theaters instead of sanctuaries. And the new clerics are Hollywood writers lacing their scripts with the gospel of “do what feels right” and “have it your way.” However, the more we submit to our unrestrained desires, the more we are left with regret and despair.

As the son of a minister, I grew up attending church three to four times a week learning traditional, Christian values. My parents ingrained in me that an individual’s highest call is to serve God, family and country—in that order. They never insulated me from culture, but always warned me to stay leery of the messages I might hear. Fortunately, at age 23, I would still rather listen to one of my father’s lectures than a Jimmy Kimmel monologue any day.  But most don’t have that luxury.

If cultural elites genuinely cared, they would introduce other worldviews that might lead to a more fulfilling, joyful life. My friends would hear more about the immeasurable fruits of lifelong commitment and responsibility.

As marriage rates decline, millennials hobble around from relationship to relationship (or worse: hookup to hookup) desperately trying to find purpose.  Still, popular culture continues to sing the same tired tune. While my friends are hurting, all Hollywood’s doctrines have to offer are regurgitated lines about “find your own truth” and “discover the god-within.” It isn’t working.

My point isn’t to join the chorus of culture critics bemoaning the “me generation.” To the contrary, if cultural elites genuinely cared, they would introduce other worldviews that might lead to a more fulfilling, joyful life. My friends would hear more about the immeasurable fruits of lifelong commitment and responsibility. If the traditional values of faith and family were given a fair opportunity to compete in the free market of ideas, they wouldn’t be so easily dismissed as relics of the past. In fact, research already seems to vindicate them.

In a review of mental health studies, The Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society found a positive link between religious involvement and greater “happiness, life satisfaction, and morale.” They also found that regular religious practice is associated with individuals having greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life. There are even links between religious activity and reduced incidences of domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse, and addiction. While correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation, there seems to at least be a strong connection between faith and emotional health – just as there exists a compelling link between family life and economic stability.

In “The Millennial Success Sequence” recently published by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, researchers Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox find that “97% of Millennials who follow what has been called the ‘success sequence’—that is, who get at least a high school degree, work, and then marry before having any children, in that order—are not poor by the time they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34).” Their research shows that eight in ten millennials (86 percent) who have followed the sequence are in the middle or top third of the income distribution by ages 28 to 34—while only 29 percent of young adults who missed all three steps are in the middle or upper income groups.

The researchers conclude that millennials are more likely to follow the success sequence if they “have been exposed by family, friends, or members of their social network to norms, aspirations, and expectations that are conducive to education, work, and marriage.” It seems as though one of the greatest hindrances to economic success is culture. Citizens bound to institutions of faith and family seem to be better off emotionally and financially than their peers who subscribe to the teachings of secularism.

My parents gave me the greatest gift a child can receive in an era of uncertainty. They gave me a foundation. In a culture where everything is relative to the individual and lines are blurred, Hollywood leaves my friends navigating through the wilderness of life with nothing more than the broken compass of their own impulses.