At Between Two Worlds, Justin Taylor points to this great article by Marvin Olasky from World magazine.
Olasky has some great insights into the younger brother/older brother phenomena, as it touches the Christian and secular world. He says “We all know of the younger brother’s libertine living.” But he describes the older brother’s problem as more subtle, “He is self-righteous and lacks joy.” He goes on:
Part of the evangelical political problem in contemporary America is that much of the press and public sees us as elder brothers..
In the realm of “social justice,” younger brothers want governmental redistribution so that everyone, regardless of conduct, gets part of the national inheritance. Some recipients of Washington’s largesse are widows and orphans, but others are younger brothers or sisters who should go home but do not because government checks allow them to keep destroying themselves. Elder brothers, though, wax sarcastic about wastrels while they overlook the needy. “Social justice” turns into either social universalism or Social Darwinism.
He analyzes journalism, higher education, and more with the younger/older brother lens. I found it helpful. The first time I recall reading the parable of the prodigal was as a grade school kid and I thought “What! Why wouldn’t the dad give the older brother a party too?” I didn’t get it.
He goes on to say:
Younger brothers who perceive self-righteousness or joylessness in their elders head toward mockery. On the Comedy Network, Jon Stewart is a snarky younger brother and Stephen Colbert pretends to be an elder as he parodies FOX’s tut-tutting Bill O’Reilly. Elder brothers tend to forget that truth without love is like sodium without chloride: Poison, not salt.
What’s rare on television and in life are third brothers who, because they know deeply that the Father loves them, have love for and patience with both elder and younger brothers. Third brothers, knowing they have been forgiven, are not prideful.
He concludes with this:
Third brothers ask pointed questions, and here are ones for each of us to answer: Am I a younger, elder, or third brother? Can we, through God’s grace, leave behind elder- and younger-brotherism?
I’ve fought against the elder brother attitude. God has ways of dealing with us “elder-brother” types. It’s not always pretty. But it is always loving.
So, are you an older, younger or third way-er?
I long to be the third brother who loves the poor and needy unconditionally and calls the younger brother to repentance with out judgment. Too often I wax from uncritical compassion to overcritical condemnation. I spent a lot of time as the older brother. Lately, in reaction to those many years, I have probably leaned more towards uncritical compassion. Good post!
I’m with Andy in every respect. It’s hard not to overreact against past experience and bounce between extremes.
My friend Neeraj just went to a conference on living within Empire, and he has been writing some great posts on what it means to be a Christian in the world.
In essence, Olasky’s older and younger brother seek solutions from within the system – the political system in this instance. The third brother is a third way – the Kingdom way. The kingdom way is dangerous and subversive to the system not because it is revolutionary in a traditinal political sense but because it completely subverts the values and assumptions that the system, the “world”, is legitimized by.
Thanks for the input guys!