Saturday, July 19, 2008

Soul Searching part 2: Feeling Happy

By Rich Bordner

(read part 1 here)

If you want to know what interests a person, listen to how they talk; what kind of language do they use? How often do they say certain catch-phrases?

This is somewhat of an obvious observation, but many times we miss the obvious: a person's language reflects what's really on their mind and heart.

So, in matters of religion/spirituality, how do teens talk? In their interviews, authors Smith and Denton tracked the number of times their interviewees made reference to certain subjects of interest. Very few made reference to "historically central religious and theological ideas."

Here are some of those central theological ideas, with the number of teens that mentioned them (they did not need to say the phrase specifically for it to count...making a vague reference to the belief was enough). Remember, these are out of 267 interviews, and the authors argue that their findings with teens mirror the religious/spiritual lives of adults in America:
47-Personally sinning or being a sinner
9-Love for God
5-Resurrection of the dead
5-Kingdom of God (2 Christian, 3 Mormon)
3-God's grace
3-The Bible as holy
3-Honoring God
3-Loving one's neighbor
2-God's justice
0-Working for social justice
0-Being justified
What were the most popular things mentioned?
112-Personally feeling, being, getting, or being made happy
99-Feeling good about oneself or life
92-Feeling better about oneself or life
26-Feeling personally satisfied or enjoying life satisfaction
21-Being or feeling personally fulfilled
Anyone see a problem with this?

The authors state: "When teenagers talked in their interviews about grace, they were usually talking about the television show Will and Grace, not about God's grace. When teenagers discussed honor, they were almost always talking about taking honors courses or making the honor roll at school, very rarely about honoring God with their lives. When teens mentioned being justified, they almost always meant having a reason for doing something behaviorally questionable, not having their relationship with God made right."

They continue: "Note that these are not total number of times that teenagers used a word or phrase, but simply the number of teens who used them. In fact, our teenagers used the single, specific phrase to "feel happy" well more than 2,000 times.

Wow....Parents, adults, youth leaders, pastors: I call that a gauntlet.

Will we pick it up?

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