In the last two years some very significant reports and books have been published on the status of American teens and spirituality. I hope to discuss some of the ones I have found helpful on this blog. Please also share back what you have found meaningful.
Without a doubt one of the most important of these studies has been the largest study ever done of teenage spirituality (ages 14-18) reported in the book Soul Searching by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I heartily recommend you read the book and have some further discussion with others concerned about faith development.
Here are some summary points made by the authors:
- This generation is the most influenced by postmodern culture and mass consumer advertising, and least in touch with their own historical religious convictions. (p. 5)
- Parents have significant influence – “we’ll get what we are.” (p. 57)
- Among conservative Protestants – half say many religions may be true, more than 1/3 say it is OK to practice multiple religions, ¼ believe people should not try to evangelize others, more than 1/3 say one can pick and choose one’s beliefs, and nearly 2/3 say that a person can be truly religious and spiritual without being involved in a church.
- “Our impression as interviewers was that many teenagers could not articulate matters of faith because they have not been effectively educated in and provided opportunities to practice talking about their faith. Indeed, it was our distinct sense that for many of the teens we interviewed, our interview was the first time that any adult had ever asked them what they believed and how it mattered in their life.” (p. 133)
- “The more American people and institutions are redefined by mass-consumer capitalism’s moral order, the more American religion is also remade in its image. Religion becomes one product among many others existing to satisfy people’s subjectively defined needs, tastes, and wants… as opposed to attaining salvation, learning obedience to God, following the Ten Commandments, achieving enlightenment, dying to oneself and serving others…” (p. 176)
- Digital revolution – “Authority over standards of knowledge thus becomes radically democratized and decentralized, filling the open market with a congestion of ideas, and information that have not been reviewed, judged, and sorted by evaluating authorities…discernment is left up to the individual.” (p. 180)
Smith and Denton describe the dominant faith of youth today as “Moral Therapeutic Deism:”
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about one’s self.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
Do you agree with Smith and Denton’s analysis? As those concerned with the faith development of youth, how are we addressing these perspectives in our work?