We Are All Orphans of the West

This First Things review of HBO’s The Young Pope has been tumbling about my mind the past week. This segment in particular has stood out.

The young pope is an orphan, you see, having been abandoned at a young age by his parents—two freethinking hippies. It is because he has lacked a mother and father that he has come to see the value of traditional authority. An exchange between him and an old cardinal is telling:

‘You surprise me, Holy Father. You are young, and yet you have such old ideas.’
‘You’re wrong about that. I’m an orphan, and orphans are never young.’
‘But the majority of churchgoers are not orphans.’
‘Says who? You really think the only orphans are those without a mother and father?’

With a single line, The Young Pope hits on what life has been like for the children of the baby boomers. These young people make up a generation of orphans, and not just because so many of their parents divorced and remarried. The baby boomers defined themselves by revolution, and even after that revolution failed, they refused to take on the stern trappings of authority. Rather than forbid and command, they sought to be understanding and therapeutic. They refused to take on the hard roles of father and mother, and so they made their children into orphans.

Our parents need not have embraced the ‘friendship’ model of parenting for this to have been true. Our institutions and churches, in pursuit of contemporary relevance, have unmoored themselves from the foundation of the communion of saints. The West has made orphans of us all.