The Holy Kids, circa 1997 & 2021
A group of religious zealots from the 90s helps make sense of people losing their crap over Basecamp
“Remember the Holy Kids?”
Ask this question and nobody in my family or high school church group will say, “who are the Holy Kids”. We all remember the Holy Kids and how they blew up our close-knit group of Christian high schoolers.
I swear this relates to Basecamp.
The thing I remember most fondly from the second half of the nineties was my close group of Christian friends. I was the youngest of the group, somewhere between four-to-six years younger than all my other friends and I wasn’t old enough to drive. But they would pick me up from my house without fail and off we would go: sometimes we would play terrible music in our church sanctuary on cheap instruments, sometimes we would drive down to the river for a bonfire, sometimes we would watch movies. Some of us were jocks, geeks, punks, skaters but we all went to the same church and that was bigger than our divisions. This was before the internet, cell phones, or social media but every weekend we found each other on instinct like flocks of geese or buffalo. We’d hit Denny’s after midnight and order pie, ice cream, and coffee. I distinctly remember one evening when we all spontaneously hiked through the woods in the dark, arm in arm, talking and laughing and a little bit scared. It was like we had discovered a magical, bottomless well of good clean fun in those two years. There were about forty of us and I’ve never had so many friends since.
But everything changed when the Holy Kids arrived.
The Holy Kids were a group of teens who moved up from Southern California and joined our church. At first, they seemed awesome. The girls were pretty and nice. The guys were funny and friendly.
But they really loved Jesus.
I remember the first night when we were having a bonfire down at the river, when they said, “Hey, let’s do a Bible study!”
I mean, why not do a Bible study? We were all Christians and shouldn’t we be ready to dig into the Word of God at any moment? But still, if I was being honest, I didn’t want to. I wanted to laugh, goof off, and and hang out with my friends. A dry riverbed, at night, lit only by a bonfire, was definitely not the ideal place to study scripture. And yet here I was faced with a sudden crisis of piety: If I said “no” what kind of Christian did that make me?
Things went downhill from there.
The Holy Kids decided that the best use of our time should be to reach lost souls for Christ. So instead of going to Dennys at night to laugh over cherry pie and coffee, we took to the streets to Witness. We would approach strangers, bible in hand, and ask to pray with them, tell them about God, debate them—honestly, I only remember how much I hated it, the miserable feeling of sucking the air out of a room by opening my mouth.
I vividly recall sitting in Burger King one night, unhappy to my very core, awkwardly attempting to witness to another teenager who clearly just wanted to eat his meal in peace. But this poor guy seemed to feel some sort of religious guilt because when I asked him if he ever prayed he said sadly, “I should pray more”. Why? I thought. So you can be as anxious and stressed-out as I am right now? Stay out, fool! The grating dissonance between my actions and my feelings haunt me to this day.
We couldn’t say the words “NO! I DON’T WANT TO PRAY. NO! I DON’T WANT TO READ THE BIBLE!” so we ran away.
Ultimately that was the end of that group of friends. The fun was over. The rules of our community were rigged against us: to gather for anything other than prayer, Bible study, or witnessing was a waste of time and showed that we weren’t dedicated Christians. Given a choice between goofing off for the weekend or expanding the Kingdom of God, we all secretly wanted to goof off but that choice now came with overwhelming stakes and implications that we were not True Christians. We started avoiding each other, not wanting to admit our lack of spiritual zeal but also not wanting to endure another spontaneous prayer session. We couldn’t say the words “NO! I DON’T WANT TO PRAY. NO! I DON’T WANT TO READ THE BIBLE!” so we ran away.
Most of my friends left the religion all together. I coped by eventually becoming a liturgical Missouri-Synod Lutheran, the denomination most resistant to religious enthusiasm in the history of Christianity.
The funny thing is that many of the Holy Kids, who created the frenzy, ended up leaving the faith too. It seemed that their fervor was actually compensation for internal doubt and guilt over sin. They mistook religious enthusiasm for real religion. Even they couldn’t live up to the hype they created.
What does this have to do with Basecamp?
I’m going to make the assumption that most of us in tech are supportive of a liberal society: we want people of all religions, colors, sexualities, and gender expressions to be able to live in peace without fear of violence—and we vote accordingly. But we have a new group of Holy Kids that want more. And they’re apparently making life difficult at Basecamp.
Holy Kids exploit cultural consensus (Christianity in the 90s, Antiracism in 2020s) and draw energy from the inextricable contradictions that we all live with between daily life and our ideals.
The hardest part about Holy Kids is that you can’t disagree with them because they’re on The Right Side: Everyone is horrified by racism, nobody is pro-genocide, we all agree that colonialism was a Bad Thing, we all think Diversity & Inclusion is a Good Thing—but, for this group, everything is cast in the light of this manichean thinking, including areas that were previously neutral zones: entertainment, sports, work. Holy Kids exploit cultural consensus (Christianity in the 90s, Antiracism in 2020s) and draw energy from the inextricable contradictions that we all live with between daily life and our ideals. Everything must stop, including this bonfire and releasing project management software, until we have a reckoning with our sin. The Bad Thing is among us and we must repent! Souls are perishing without Christ! People are being killed every day!
At some point you find yourself a bundle of nerves, miserably harassing another equally miserable person for the Glory of God / Equity and Inclusion and you wish an adult would come up and say, “Let the poor guy eat his Whopper in peace! This is Burger King for crying out loud!”
It seems like that’s what Jason and DHH had to do at Basecamp.
Being the adult in the room
It absolutely sucks to have to be the adult in the room. It sucks when the fun is over and somebody has to restore order.
Because then the questions come: Why don’t you want kids to pray? Don’t you care about saving the lost? Why are you against justice? Don’t you care that people are dying? And there really is no good answer other than “We all agree that the Good Thing is Good and the Bad Thing is Bad but you’re clearly making lots of people miserable and they’re too scared to tell you. We have a job to do and we need to get back to work otherwise none of us will have a job.” And then comes the mob wringing their hands, clucking their tongues, leveling accusations: “Lukewarm Christian, Cis White Male, I always knew this church was dead, I always knew this company just existed for your enjoyment.”
Behold, the love:
(I can’t imagine why Basecamp wouldn’t want this sort of discourse happening in their company.)
The Holy Kids will vanish eventually, victims of their own unattainable goals. Years later I still run into some of my Holy Kids and they always look sheepish, a bit ashamed—not for blowing up a close group of friends but for their own failure to follow God by the standards they demanded from others. Religious fervor is an American tradition starting with the puritans and it never lasts. But it is extremely destructive while its hot—it makes bitter, jaded individuals, destroys friendships, and levels institutions. Just look at what it’s done to the Oscars.
The only thing you can do is to batter down the hatches and weather the storm. Let Twitter rage and take the hit to your reputation. Or you can let the fire burn, just watch your friend group evaporate and your company descend into chaos. Fun choice, eh?
It’s a good thing that Jason and DHH have been reading the stoics lately.
Maybe this seems weird to post about on a blog about Religion in Tech. I started this blog to promote religious representation in technology companies and I absolutely still believe in that. The problem is you can’t promote religious pluralism while starting a religious war. Ironically, religion flourishes by creating non-religious space for people to come together. Seems counter-intuitive but it’s the American way and it’s worked better for religious pluralism than any other country in history.
Holy Kids don’t make religion flourish, they killed religion for most of my friends. I worry that today’s Holy Kids are going to do the same thing for diversity. Just read through Twitter’s response and you honestly want to work with these people?
If tech corporations wanted to do something to truly advance the public good they should focus on simultaneously diversifying their workforce and neutralizing their politics. They should create spaces for Americans of all creeds and colors to work together outside of the shadow of the culture war. We should build peaceful havens instead of war zones.
The alternative is to start aggressively segregating corporations between white, black, left, right, straight, gay—we’ll all work at some hyper form of Nike or Chick Fill’A and diversity will be effectively over.