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What Teens Believe

So, yesterday I ran across a great article in Christian Century based on a new book entitled “What teens believe.”  There was nothing really suprising, in fact much of what the article says confirms what I’ve observed.  But a few things really stood out to me as being dead on.

1) “Smith and Denton’s most striking finding is that teens are traditional. “Contrary to popular perceptions, the vast majority of American adolescents are not spiritual seekers or questers of the type often described by journalists and some scholars, but are instead mostly oriented toward and engaged in conventional religious traditions and communities.” “Spiritual but not religious” does not describe how teens view themselves. “

Wait a minute, this is striking?  I don’t think so.  I think this (being Spiritual seekers) it is more common amongst the college-age and older crew, but most kids in middle and high school simply haven’t had the exposure to other religions and religious ideas in order to become “spiritual but not religious.”  So while I don’t find this finding striking at all, I think it’s quite accurate.

2) Teens’ conventionality has some troubling aspects, however. Smith and his team of interviewers talked to teens who said that religion is “just how I was raised,” that it is “not worth fighting about,” that it is simply “good for lots of people.” In other words, teens consider religion to be of marginal importance and are inarticulate about the content of their faith.

Troubling? Yes and no.  In my experience there is a point in everyone’s life (including my own) where the faith that we were raised in becomes our own.  We claim it for ourselves and embrace it.  This doesn’t happen for everyone at the same age and for some it doesn’t happen at all.  For some the transition is very sudden, almost a conversion experience of sorts.  For others it is a slow and prolonged transition.  Are there teens that come to churhc simply because their parents tell them they have to?  Absolutely.  One also needs to remember in evaluating this survey though that, again in my experience, being religious isn’t always deemed cool and often kids don’t realize how much they enjoy being apart of a church community until they’re not anymore.  I’ve had a couple kids that I’ve worked with say things like, “I really didn’t think coming to youth group was all that important until I couldn’t come because of <work, sports, etc>.”  Finally, I think for many the transition point where youth claim faith for their own often occurs in college.  

3) We have also known for years, though it has never before been so clearly documented, that religious participation correlates with good social outcomes. Smith and Denton show that religiously active teens fare better than religiously disengaged teens when it comes to smoking, drinking, drug use, school attendance, television and movie viewing, sexual behavior, body image, depression, relationships with adults and peers, moral reasoning, honesty, compassion and community participation.

There’s always the exception but I’ve found this to be the case.

4) Religious traditions understand themselves as presenting a truth revealed by a holy and almighty God who calls human beings from a self-centered focus to a life of serving God and neighbor. Adherents are understood to be reared or inducted into a historically rooted matrix of identity, practices and ethics that define selfhood, loyalties and commitments. But according to Smith and Denton, teens understand religion to be something quite different: religion helps them make good life choices and helps them to feel happy. “The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers,” the authors explain, “is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.'” The “creed” of this religion, gleaned from interviews with teens, is as follows:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Yee gads!  Finally, someone has articulated this.  I’ve often suspected that there is a “latent deism” within the majority of youth in America (and even in a lot of adults) but in this new book they nailed it down.  The only point that I find a little suprising in #4.  

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting article.  

In other news, I went on a book buying spree (not really, they were all cheap) yesterday and added three new books to my library.  John Franke is a professor at Biblical Theological Seminary and has written a couple things on Reformed Theology in the Postmodern world.  I’ve found them to be well done and quite insightful, so I ordered two of his books.  I’m also going to get a chance to hear him speak and meet him next weekend at the Generous Orthodoxy Conference in Bethesda, MD.  He seems to focus on post-foundationalist theology (which in his words is not theology without foundations) which is quite important in a postmodern world.  I also purchased Tony Jones’ Soul Shaper, which is a companion to his Postmodern Youth Ministry book that I was absolutely fascinated with last spring.  Tony relates spiritual disciplines (which are one thing I think we need to emphasize more in youth ministry) specifically to youth.  

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