Call Me Millennial

There's been a lot said about Millennials, but I don't think Millennials are doing the talking. Let's change that.

 A few months ago, John Green wrote an article for the World Economic Forum about why he doesn't like the word "millennial." When it was first published, I read the article, shared it, liked it. I thought it was smart and accurately described why my generation came to be known as "Millennials." "The word 'millennial,'" Green writes, "as a descriptor of a demographic group, was coined by two men born just after World War II. Generation X named themselves Generation X. Millennials were named by Baby Boomers." And so goes the back-and-forth "Baby Boomers did this, so Millennials suffer from that" refrain, and honestly, it's gotten a little tedious.

And more, the word "Millennial" doesn't seem to be falling out of favor, so we may as well work with what we've got.

I, like most people, don't enjoy being described as entitled or self-centered or lazy, and neither do I like the idea of an entire generation—a very diverse generation, at that. The Pew Research Center states, "Millennials, born after 1980, are more ethnically and racially diverse than older generations..."—being homogenized into a uniform group, but I am interested in the implications of calling something or someone "millennial."1 (I'm ignoring the obvious bit about the fact that all of us millennials were born right around the turn of the millennium.)

I'm most interested in thinking about what the name for our generation might say about our generation.

Millenarianism, in the context of religious studies, refers to a belief held by certain religious groups in which there will be an eventual coming of some sort of radical societal shift. Most popularly, this is used in reference to millennialism (or millennialists), which is loosely used to describe a subset of Christian denominations who believe that there will be a golden age or a reign of peace upon the Earth with the second coming of Jesus Christ. Millennial, here, denotes that this reign of peace will last for 1000 years.2

Millennialism has distinct iterations, though, depending on which religious group is being discussed. Some believe this second coming is imminent, likely to happen in their lifetimes, a transformation that they will personally witness. Others understand this second coming to be further off in the future, an abstract, of sorts, that doesn't necessarily interfere with daily life.

Millennialist understandings also shift over time. Mormons, for example, in the late 1800s believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, but today, LDS church members don't have quite the same notions of an end time. They are still encouraged to keep food stores of canned goods and non-perishable items in their homes, which used to be kept in preparation for the second coming, but the language of an imminent coming of Christ has faded. Now, food stores are more often spoken of in the context of "[ing] the vicissitudes of life" or to supply a family with basic necessities, should they fall upon economic hardships.3

Millennialism, though, also differs among certain groups in the way they believe the second coming will be brought about. Pre and postmillennialists have different understandings about when exactly Christ will return to the earth, which also informs how they understand the purpose of the second coming.

Premillennialism, a belief popular in contemporary Evangelical Christianity, suggests that a reign of peace will come prior to the final judgement, that Jesus will come to the Earth to gather his loyal followers and live out his thousand-year reign. Postmillennialism, on the other hand, understands the second coming of Christ as occurring after the final judgement.

Pre and postmillennialists, therefore, have different notions regarding the "preparedness" of the Earth. For premillennialists, Christ's second coming prior to the millennium means that Jesus, himself, will prepare the earth for a final judgement. In contrast, postmillennialism suggests that righteous men will be saved during the final judgement, which then prepares the Earth for the second coming.

All this is to say that there's a lot of nuance and variance in how millennialism (and millenarianism) manifests itself among different religious groups, regardless of how it's portrayed in popular media as a crazy, Bible-bashing preacher who thinks he's predicted the date of the apocalypse. But one thing remains the same among all of this variation: the belief in a radical transformation of the earth, which brings about peace and justice and salvation.

So when we talk about Millennials, I don't really care that the media flattens our generation into one lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed group. I like to think that my—our—generation, in all of our difference and diversity and variance, is truly millennial.

I think we can be a generation that imagines a radically different future for ourselves and for our children, one that betters the world we live in and prepares our world for the success of future generations. So, yes. Call me millennial. I can work with that.

  1. "Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change." Pew Research Center (February 2010): 9.

  2. Bishop Keith B. McMullin. "Lay Up In Store." Liahona (May 2007).

  3. I'm giving a pretty crude overview here, but I recommend checking out a few wikipedia pages for a better intro into some of the words and concepts I'm bringing up.