3 THINGS THIS WEEK
From Snapchat to SCOTUS
What it is: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Levy (a former high school cheerleader) vs. the State of Pennsylvania.
Why it will set a standard: Freshman Brandi Levy was furious when she discovered, four years ago, that she wasn’t going to advance to the varsity squad. So she did what many teens her age might do; she posted an expletive-filled rant to her private Snapchat account, which she anticipated would disappear after 24 hours. Instead, a screenshot of her post was shared with one of the cheer coaches, and Levy was kicked out of the program completely. A federal court ruled that Levy’s speech took place off-campus, making it within her rights to post whatever she wanted. But social media has changed the way that many people define a “place,” and the school argues that it’s hard to pin down where “campus” ends and private life begins. Current free speech protections for students are mostly based on a SCOTUS hearing on students’ rights to protest the Vietnam War, a ruling that came down in 1969. The SCOTUS verdict, expected in June, will likely set a landmark precedent for students’ free speech rights on social media.
Willow Smith Gets Candid
What it is: Willow Smith, twenty-year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, has revealed that she is polyamorous. Because it is 2021, she naturally made the pronouncement public on her family’s Facebook talk show, Red Table Talk.
Why it reflects a changing norm: Willow’s openly-stated desire to be in a relationship with both a man and a woman at the same time might seem pretty bold. But the younger Smith says that her polyamorous preferences come not from a desire to be promiscuous, but for a deep longing for multi-dimensional and personal connections. Smith implies that relationships that are open to other partners don’t run the risk of concealed infidelity. Of course, polyamory isn’t anything new (we can think of a few Bible characters whose relationships fit the bill) but unfortunately the lifestyle is becoming more and more visibly mainstream. We can pray and have compassion for Willow, who, like many others her age, is grappling with how to frame sex in the context of her life choices. But we must outright condemn polyamory as a lifestyle in our family conversations. Polyamory is an option being presented to teens, and not as a fringe one, either, so we have to be willing to address it head-on. In conversations with your teen, note how even “consensual” non-monogamy has historically led to heartbreaking and explosive complications, particularly for women.
What it is: Publishing companies and online cultural observers agree that tarot is experiencing a surge in interest from 18-24 year olds. Tarot seems particularly popular on Instagram and TikTok.
Why it’s all over the For You Page: As Religion News Service notes, an interest in tarot deck readings is not as constrained by religious conviction as it used to be. Young Catholics and evangelicals seem to be open to divination, psychics, the zodiac, and other practices that were once deemed to be occult. Popular tarot readers will post open-ended readings on TikTok without tagging a recipient, letting “the universe” do the work to reach the person who they believe is supposed to see it. Because of how TikTok sorts content, this means that these readings can end up on anyone’s For You Page, even if someone isn’t particularly interested in seeing them. But for the uninitiated young person, consuming tarot images (even unwittingly) can provoke some spiritual confusion at the very least. Get ahead of this by letting your teen know that while some spiritual questions and practices are worth asking about and experimenting with, others are definitely not.
Slang of the Week:
issa vibe: When all the details of a situation come together to provoke one sensory feeling or experience. (Ex: “Ice cream, flip flops, my favorite tank top, the smell of the lake and an old beach blanket. Issa vibe.”)
The New Atheism Isn’t Woke Enough
Evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins recently tried to spark some discussion about gender and race identity. He wondered why Rachel Dolezal (a White woman who identified as Black) incited such fury for her identification, while when it comes to transgender identity the fury is directed at anyone who questions it. Dawkins tweeted, “Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.”
People couldn’t believe that such a well-known scientist would encourage such a discussion. The role of science, many seemed to think, should be to provide support for the current cultural orthodoxy. The American Humanist Association (whose mission statement includes advocating for “freethinkers”) retracted their 1996 Humanist of the Year award to Dawkins for “making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups”. Many former fans of Dawkins likewise began advocating for his cancelation.
Just a few years ago, Dawkins rode evolutionary biology into battle against Christian faith in every way he could, and biology departments like his were often considered edgy, progressive, and dangerous to faith. Today, those same departments seem out-of-touch with the current cultural moment. And someday the transgender discussion too, with all its complexity, will likely yield its spotlight to some future cultural conversation.
Brett McCracken sees all this as an opportunity for the church: “In a world where we increasingly walk on eggshells—unsure when, if, and how we’re allowed to speak publicly on contested issues—Christianity can become a grace-filled haven for curious questioners, doubting dissidents… We should foster environments where the smart kids, the curious artists, the scientists, and the “freethinkers” feel welcome and—perhaps more than anywhere else in the world—inspired. Let the world be in the business of de-platforming, disinviting, and shutting down debate. Christianity should invite it.”
Here are some questions we hope might spark discussion with your teens:
- What do you think is more important: creating safe places where people can ask hard questions, or creating places where people don’t have to hear ideas that offend them?
- Is it ever wrong to ask questions, even about hard things? Why or why not?
Keep the Faith!
The Axis Team