In his research on spirituality and aging, Paul Higgs asserts that since the 1960s a growing trend toward individualism among Baby Boomers has led many to reject the traditional family. The emphasis is on personal choice. People derive greater social capital from lifetime friends and partners with whom they choose to spend time than they do from the traditional family. These changes have been described by Ulrich Beck as constituting a “revolution by side effects.’ Esping-Andersen suggests that we are witnessing a ‘new logic of family formation.”
Higgs notes that the above trends have also been accompanied by ideologies of youthfulness and opportunity, “symbolized by the consumerist quartet of choice, autonomy, pleasure and self-expression.” This has further impacted people’s spirituality. Those who came of age in the sixties, now in the third quarter of life, regard belief primarily as an issue of choice rather than of religious affiliation.
What is disturbing is that many now in the third quarter of life regard the fourth quarter, not with dignity, but rather as a kind of “black hole”, something to be feared and avoided. The constant parade on TV and social media of ultra-youthful images of people in their senior years only serves to reinforce the bias against aging. Many feel that if they can buy enough pills, anti-aging cream, and hair transplants that they will be able to avoid getting older. The advertising market that pushes these products only serves to further stigmatize the elderly and leave them feeling undesirable and unwanted. Currently those who feel this way, says Higgs, may choose to bypass the fourth quarter of life altogether through suicide and the legalization of euthanasia.
Yet, this view of the fourth quarter of life is entirely at odds with what we find in the scriptures. In Proverbs 20:29, we read: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their gray hair.” In Job 12:12, the author writes: “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” And Proverbs 16:31 proclaims: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Then there is Isaiah 46:4: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Finally, in Psalm 92:14: “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.”
Unfortunately, Higgs believes that the culture of the Baby Boomers with its emphasis on free choice and autonomy and the constant pursuit of youthfulness means that the fourth quarter will be met by denial and fear and possibly lead to more instances of euthanasia. This is sad and, as we have seen, completely negates the loveliness of the elderly and the wisdom with which God has crowned them. The senior years have a beauty of their own. I pray that more of us who are in the second and third quarters of life can lift up the value of old age. To strive only for eternal youthfulness is self-deceiving and vain. A world without our very elderly would be greatly impoverished. Don’t you agree?