Peter Gomes Talks About America's Youth

Question: How do you explain the resurgence of religion among today’s youth?

Peter Gomes: I think these young people have been brought up in a culture of enormous wealth, enormous power, enormous opportunity.  The least well-off of them is considerably better than the best of their ancestors.  I think they recognize that. They see the signs off success – as the world defines success – and opulence on every hand.  They’re surrounded by sensation.  They’re surrounded by violence.  They’re surrounded by politics.  None of these are capable of delivering the goods and I think they recognize that.  And I think there is a desire to find something that will last, something that will endure, something that will not disappoint.  And when you do that, inevitably you are tempted to turn back to the elders, to the wisdom of another age, to something that might not seem to have appealed to you in your earlier phase; but your earlier phase, you recognize, was a deceitful and deceptive one.  You ask Harvard graduates where they’re all going, and they’re all going to go … 90% of the seniors in any given class say they’re going to three cities. They’re going to go to Washington to put things right: power.  They’re going to go to New York to make lots of money: the material world.  And they’re going to Los Angeles to have fun: fantasy.  And I think they come back from all three of those cities discovering that, like Oz, there’s no there there. Washington is not going to turn the world right side up. All the money in New York doesn’t spare it the troubles and tribulations of living in New York.  And all the fantasy from la la land doesn’t dull the pain from living in a life with no meaning and no value.  And that’s a modern symbol, I think.  People say, “Okay.  There must be another way.”  Maybe Jerusalem is the place.  Maybe a pilgrimage to a holy city is the place.  Maybe some … somewhere.  Maybe sitting under a … tree.  Who knows?  But there are wiser people than we who, years ago, have discovered some of these truths.  Maybe we even heard them in our youth.  And maybe the trick is to try to recapture, recover some of that for ourselves now.  I think that’s part of the excitement.

Recorded on: 6/12/07

No matter where they go after college, young people discover there's no there there.

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