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Today's Teenagers are Deists


Today's teenagers are deists. Maybe there's hope for the world after all. BOOK see below:

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton (Oxford)

Christianity Today calls the above book, a masterful, scholarly study of spirituality. What American youth mostly hold to—what Smith and Denton call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—is, sadly, a long way from full-blooded, traditional Christian faith.

From Publishers Weekly
Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity, with appendixes explaining methodology and extensive endnotes. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., “mapping” religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book's findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the “spiritual but not religious” affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens' religious beliefs is their parents. Despite the personal tone adopted in the first chapter and the topic's wide appeal, readers should be prepared to wade through lengthy presentations of research findings. Most helpful are summaries appearing in bullet form within several chapters, providing accessible and succinct overviews of the raw information and statistics. Regardless of whether this research will be “a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations” among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality.
(Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post's Book World/
Any parent with a conscience who is raising a teenager will read these two books and immediately fall to her knees at the altar before God, Yahweh, Jesus, Muhammad — nearly any recognizable deity will do — and hope her children follow suit. Neither of these is remotely a parenting book, but the evidence they compile about American teenagers is pretty stark. Kids who describe themselves as religious are less likely to cut classes, do drugs, have sex, get depressed, feel alone or misunderstood, talk back to their parents, lie. Practically the only thing they score higher on is feeling guilty if they fail to do the right thing. Apparently it doesn't just take a village; it takes a congregation.

Those findings are from Soul Searching, the final report of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Christian Smith, a widely respected sociologist at the University of North Carolina, conducted the study as the first comprehensive survey of the spiritual life of American teenagers. Occasionally Smith and his fellow researchers arranged in-depth interviews with some of the subjects, using pseudonyms. “Joy's” view of religion is: “People believe what they want to believe and if they get something out of that, then that's what they should believe.” Joy drinks and does drugs, but her parents don't know because “my parents don't know me that well.” She has a 23-year-old boyfriend and a best friend who tried to kill himself. In contrast, “Kristen,” as a young child, found her father's body after he'd shot himself; but then her mother taught her that God is “father to the fatherless,” and at 16 she still deeply believes it. She's never tried drugs or alcohol; she's active in her church youth group. Sometimes she thinks she might keep a secret from her mom, “but then it all comes out.” As for her friends who experiment and see R-rated movies, “They're the ones missing out,” she says. Now, which child would you rather raise?

Skip Kristen forward three years and you have the characters that populate God on the Quad, a survey of the nation's 700 religious colleges with a focus on the most devout ones. Naomi Schaefer Riley opens her book with a pair of preconceptions: Secular schools are havens for goofy vegetarians and transgendered politics; floating above this mess is what she calls the “missionary generation,” the 1.3 million graduates of religious colleges who reject sex outside marriage, drugs, homosexual relationships, a “spiritually empty education” and the “sophisticated ennui of their contemporaries.” So it's no surprise that her survey goes on to find just that: smart, ambitious, God-fearing coeds. They are slightly defensive about the fact that, say, Bob Jones University had a longtime ban on interracial marriage or that the students at Brigham Young University still follow restrictive Mormon dating rituals. But they are basically happy and confident and, most important, they seem totally normal, the kind of graduates any employer would be proud to hire.

The premise of the book is that religious colleges are trying a grand experiment: They don't want to send their graduates out into the Christian ghetto; more than ever, they want to “give their students… the tools to succeed in the secular world and the strength to do so without compromising their faith.” They want to produce students who can compete with Ivy Leaguers for consulting jobs at McKinsey and, when they get there, ace the in-house ethics exam. Riley assumes these young people will thrive, but the best parts of the book are those in which she examines the many tensions inherent in the marriage of a fundamentalist faith and a broad intellect.

At Thomas Aquinas College, a sort of pre-seminary in Southern California, Riley presses a tutor on whether teaching Nietzsche won't make students doubt the existence of God. The tutor gives a somewhat smug answer, explaining that the college doesn't view education as intellectual sparring about fundamental questions; rather, doubt is, as Riley understands her, “a necessary evil in the process to saving souls.” Riley doesn't press her any further, but still the question is out there: Can you expand minds and teach heresy without it ever taking root? A professor at Notre Dame, a Catholic university, complains that parents won't let their children marry young, which creates a “moral disaster,” meaning the students have sex outside marriage. His complaint raises another fundamental question: Is it possible to live an essentially 19th-century lifestyle (chaperones, no sex before marriage, teenage weddings) and keep up with 21st-century ambitions?

The chapter on the Jewish Yeshiva University in New York captures the tension most vividly. The school's secular teachers and its rabbis sneer at one another across a great divide. The rabbis complain that the secular teachers use Christian themes in their classes; the secular teachers complain that strict Judaism is “passé.” They fight over Israel, American politics, kosher pizza. The school produces most of the nation's rabbis, yet the new president is not one, and the religious half of the faculty worries he'll secularize the school; the religious students complain because a new French teacher wears low-cut blouses. The chapter ends with the mystery of “what is an educated Jew.”

But outside the rarefied atmosphere of religious schools these extremes turn out to be pretty unusual — just as, reading deeper in Soul Searching, one discovers that Joy and Kristen are atypical. Only a small slice of teenagers is as devoted as Kristen or as lost as Joy. Most fall into the vast foggy middle where God is some dude you heard about in, uhhm, some youth group your parents made you go to one time and He can help you out with anything, like, if you can't figure out whether to skip a test one Friday you should just ask Him. Here is one sample transcript: “What is God like?” asks the interviewer.

“‘Um. Good. Powerful.’

“‘Okay, anything else?’


Later: “‘What good has God done in your life?’

“‘I, well, I have a house, parents, I have the internet, I have a phone, I have cable.’”

This, in a snapshot, is the real American teenager the book depicts. He is neither on fire for God nor a drug addict. She is neither the avid spiritual seeker nor the secret Wiccan portrayed in popular culture. She turns out to be, on the whole, pretty conventional, following whatever religious practices her parents have introduced her to and not thinking too deeply about them. His sense of morality is not really rooted, and so is subject to whim. You shouldn't kill or steal from someone, one of them says, because it will “ruin their day.” Fundamentally, her philosophy is: “Who am I to judge?” or “If that's what they choose, whatever.” He is, as the clearly exasperated researchers write, “incredibly inarticulate.” As one teen who inspires a subchapter and possibly a generational motto declares: “I believe there is a God and stuff.”

Reviewed by Hanna Rosin
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

A Non-Christian Nation, August 4, 2005
Reviewer: John M. Custis (Gresham, OR USA) - See all my reviews

Christian Smith and Melinda Denton have produced a wonderful analysis of the religious condition of teenagers (ages 13-17) in the USA. They collected survey data on 3290 teenagers and then followed up with more extended interviews of 267 of those surveyed.

The initial survey gave an over all picture of the religious character of these teenagers including their affiliations, participation, beliefs and experiences. The interviews provided an in-depth exposure of what these teens really believe.

As it turns out, the seeming wide-spread acceptance of religious life by teens (only 16% were “not religious”) is largely to a vague, self-defined religion which the authors defined as: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The teens believed in a generally disinterested divine power who supervised a system to provide personal peace and prosperity for nice people, or perhaps to help them them be nice. They adhered to a religion that is helpful, but not entirely necessary. While there were those who could be described as believers in Christianity as defined by the Bible, and also those who denied any religion, the clear majority favored MTD.

The book is a “must read” for any who would like to better understand the status of the spiritual interests of youths. It also is valuable for all who would generally understand American culture. While the authors make no such claim, it is likely that the youths' view of religion is likely the common view of our age. At the least, it surely will be the increasingly dominant religion as these youths enter adult life.

For parents and youth workers who are interested in true spiritual life for their children, it shows the arena in which their own youths reside. It should stimulate good thinking and discussion of how properly to intervene in what turns out to be a huge spiritual void in the lives of professing spiritual/religious youths.

This is an excellent book.

Lopsided, Biased and Anti-Catholic, April 1, 2005
Reviewer: “Truth Seeker” - See all my reviews
This book is by no means the final say on teens and religion in the United States of America. It's a statistical survey which attempts to get to the heart of US teens so that the readers may truly understand contemporary kids and their relationship with God and religion. However, there are some basic flaws: it does not treat Catholic fairly and it just about ignores Muslims altogether.

The surveyors use statistical categories which are inaccurate and misleading. They categorize Protestants into three categories: Conservataive Protestant, Mainline Protestants, and Black Protetants. These groups are each compared to one large dumping group called “Roman Catholics”, and “Roman Catholics” come out at the bottom of the barrel each time. No surprise. Why? Because it was an unfair comparison. Had they compared Conservative Protestants with Catholic youth who consider themselves “conservative”, it would have been a fair an accurate comparison. The percentage numbers indicating their understanding of their faith, their religious life, etc, would have been comparable. Similarly they would have produced a more accurate and fair result had they compared the Mainline Protestant youth with the average once-a-week-Cathlic who is educated at CCD, and the Black Protestant youth, who tend to be Penecostal and Baptist in many cases, with Catholic Charismatic youth who are similar in their worhship and living out of their faith. This casuses the survey to be deeply flawed in my opinion. Whether or not it was intentional is not for me to judge. I believe it simply shows ignorance of the Catholic community rather than malicious intent, but nonetheless it flaws the results.

The other categories which were thrown into the mix were Morman/Latter Day Saints, Jewish, and in some tables, No Religion at all when appropriate. Muslims were left out altogether.

It's section on Catholic youth, while accurate in that the section highlghted three intereviews with three “Catholics”, did in fact, give a distorted image of Catholic Youth in general because among these three “representative” Catholic youth interviewed, not one was really religious, or understanding of their faith. Not one had even been Educated In A Catholic School! Why did they not at least choose ONE student who had through the Cathoic school system. That would have been fair and representative of the Catholic population. It almost seems as though they went out of their way to find the least religious, most ill-educated of Catholic youths to represent the whole group. I really believe this was an enormous flaw.

I shared one of the case studies, “Heather”, with some youth I know. They were appalled at the lack of information this young women had in terms of her faith, and were embarassed that she should have been chosen to represent them, young Catholics.

In addition to this, the treatment of contemporary Catholic adults, while, again, true in part, leaves something to be desired as well. It is true that many contemporary Catholic adults have become successful and engaged in their careers and communities. The authors imply that this demonstrates that they have,in effect, abandoned their faith. I believe that this does not mean that they have abandoned their faith at all; they have been assimilated into the society are large and “look” like the rest of the community. Isn't that a good thing? If Catholics had not assimilated, then they would be accused of being “radical” or “fundamentalist”. Also, it is precisely because of the education they received in the Catholic Schools of the nineteen fifties and sixities, AND/OR because of the Catholic Chrisitan values and ethics which formed them, handed onto them by thier religious, Catholic immigrant grandparents and parents, in some cases, that they have become so successful in the world today. How about a Cheer for Catholic schools and Catholic families??

These are just some of my criticisms. To sum up, I was disappointed and frustrated in the book. However, to give the book its due, the authors did put in a tremendous amount of statistical and research work, and it could serve as a great discussion starter. There is certainly value for those who read it, and in a sense it has accomplished its goal in that it certainly makes one search one's soul. Thank you.

Catholic Report Author, September 24, 2005
Reviewer: Leigh E. Sterten (Springfield, Missouri) - See all my reviews

I would like to add to Dr. Christian Smith's clarification, as one of the authors on the Catholic report on the data he mentions (authored by Ministry Training Source and published by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry). Soul Searching is not anti-Catholic. The researchers used advanced research techniques to produce a truly representative sample, and consulted Catholic youth ministry leaders in the development of the survey. The authors make sure to point out that while Catholic youth are the most inarticulate about their faith, they are merely the leading edge of a trend much larger than any one denomination. I have been across the country sharing this data with Catholic youth ministry leaders, who find that the results ring true with their experiences.

While the comparisons among denominations are sometimes difficult, they are none the less helpful and important. Looking at the Catholic data without comparing to other denominations is important in and of itself, and I would encourage “Truth Seeker” to seek out the Catholic report and read it.

Soul Searching is an amazing work, which was undertaken by professional researchers with no bias. They have contributed greatly to our understanding of youth and religion and I thank them for their work. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply unfounded conjecture.

The Author, April 1, 2005
Reviewer: Christian Smith (Chapel Hill, NC) - See all my reviews

In response to “Truth Seeker”’s review, a few basic points:

1. Muslims are not ignored in the book. The data include a full national sample of Muslim and other minority religion teens. As the book explains, however, because Muslim teens are so relatively few in number, only a handful show up in any national sample. Nevertheless, detailed attention is paid to Muslim (and Hindu and Buddhist) teens on pp. 315-317, based on the data we do have.

2. The analytical categories used (comparing conservative, mainline, and black Protestants with Catholics, LDS, and not religious) is state-of-the art method in the sociology of religion. These are the major religious traditions in the U.S., and most readers want to know how teens in those traditions are faring. Of course it is possible to focus on specific subgroups (e.g., Catholic school attenders) and get more highly specified results (see point #4 below), but the basic comparisons in the book are entirely valid and routinely employed in sociology of religion.

3. The book makes perfectly clear that the teens portrayed in the Catholic chapter are not “typical” Catholic teens, but representatives of those Catholic teens who are not doing well religiously. They are explicitly situated in the overall and clear finding that Catholic teens as a whole are not doing well religiously. Of course there are some very solid, committed Catholic teens, but they are not the norm, they are the minority. Whether or not (truth seeking) Catholic readers want to hear that unpleasant fact is another story. My request is simply: Don't shoot the messanger because of the message.

4. The NSYR ( project from which this book comes has also collaborated with the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry and The Ministry Source to publish a special report focused exclusively on Catholic youth, which goes into greater depth in analyzing different kinds of Catholic youth. That report can be purchased at The Instituto Fe y Vida is also writing a book using NSYR data focused exclusively on Hispanic Catholic and Protestant teens.

I hope these points help to clarify some matters raised in Truth Seeker's review. I think a fair reading of the book shows that the charge of “Lopsided, Biased And Anti-Catholic” is simply false.

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