Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soul Searching part 3: whatevah

By Rich Bordner

(continued from here)

In reading Soul Searching, I saw (and this is something that the authors note as well), that while many teens might say in a survey that religion is very or somewhat important to them, you get a totally different impression when you listen to them talk: even for many who go regularly to conservative, Bible-believing Protestant churches, it's just not that important to them, or that the adults in their lives don't help them think about and express their faith.

In fact, in the interviews, Smith and Denton noted that quite a few times their interview was the first time an adult had asked them what they believe spiritually. They found that religion in the home, typically, is not a source of conflict or friction simply because it is almost never talked about. (Keep in mind that most of these are teens who identify as religious, who go to church at least somewhat regularly (2-3 times a month at least). Very few identified as "not religious.") This led to the vast majority of teens being incredibly inarticulate in their faith.

Here are some examples from the interviews. These examples are not outliers or exaggerations; they represent typical statements. When asked what their religious/spiritual beliefs are, some responded with:

--"Uh, I haven't really thought about that (pause). I don't know."
--"Just, like, um, what they taught me, what I grew up knowing, I don't know."
--"I believe in the (pause), I, ohhh (pause), I don't think I'd really like to talk about that."
--"I don't remember."
--"Hm, I don't know, I'd have to like ask somebody or something, I don't know."

Here's what one 15 year-old white mainline Protestant girl from Michigan said. Note that she attends two church services every Sunday, Sunday school, youth group, and Wednesday night Bible study. (T: teen. I: interviewer):

T: "(Pause) I don't really know how to answer that."
I: "Are there any beliefs at all that are important to you? Really generally."
T: "(Pause) I don't know."
I: "Take your time if you want."
T: "I think that you should just, if you're gonna do something wrong, then you should always ask for forgiveness and he's gonna forgive you no matter what, 'cause he gave up his only son to take all the sins for you, so."

The following interview section from a white 14 year-old conservative Protestant girl displays a lack of enthusiasm that the authors noted is present in many of the teens they interviewed:

I: "When you think of God, what image do you have of God?"
T: "(Yawn)"
I: "What is God like?"
T: "Um, good. Powerful."
I: "Okay. Anything else?"
T: "Tall."
I: "Tall?"
T: "Big."
I: "Do you think God is active in people's lives or not?"
T: "Ah, I don't know."
I: "You're not sure?"
T: Different people have different views of him."
I: "What about your view?"
T: "What do you mean?"
I: "Do you think God is active in your life?"
T: "In my life? Yeah."
I: "Yeah, hmm. Would you say you feel close to God or not really?"
T: "Yeah, I feel close. (Yawns.)"
I: "Where do you get your ideas about God?"
T: "The Bible, my mom, church, Experience."
I: "What kind of experience?"
T: "He's just done a lot of good in my life, so."
I: "Like, what are examples of that?"
T: "I don't know."
I: "Well, I'd love to hear. What good has God done in your life?"
T: "I, well, I have a house, parents, I have the Internet, I have a phone, I have cable." (emphasis added)

True story...true story.

When asked how their faith affects their lives, some teens mentioned things that are pretty peripheral to the historic Christian faith, like not getting tattoos, cursing, why the sky is blue (I kid you not), and music tastes. Smith and Denton note that the teens tended to have to grope pretty hard for something that showed that religion/spirituality is important to them...this "groping" is evidence that it is, in fact, not that important to them, not that the sky being blue is really a momentous thing to them.

The authors state: "In the end, many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were. This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenagers' lives."

As I mentioned in past posts, its not helpful to paint any section of America with an overly broad brush. Teenagers, just like every other sector of the U.S, are diverse and varied in their lives and views. A select few were able to express their views well. But the authors noted a strong, strong trend in the other direction, sometimes in places that you wouldn't expect.

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