27 October 2006

Teens On God

American teens overwhelmingly believe in God. But, the nature of that belief is decidedly more bland than that of their ancestors.

The authors call it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The creed is simple and, yes, conventional -- but, where the authors find that it matters, MTD is not traditional. Basically, God exists and watches over human life, which was created by God. God wants people to be nice, as it says in the bible and in most world religions. God does not have to be involved in our lives except to solve our problems and make us happy. Good people will be even happier in heaven after they die. The religious beliefs of American teens tend to be -- as a whole, across all traditions -- that simple. It’s something Jews and Catholics and Protestants of all stripes seem to have in common. It is instrumentalist. "This God is not demanding," say the authors. "He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good."

Finally, it’s no wonder to Smith and Denton that adolescents don’t seem to argue much about their faiths -- when it comes down to it, they all believe pretty much the same thing. . . . Teenage religion is nothing, if not vague. Yet, even nonreligious teens do not tend to be hostile to religion; their reasons for being nonreligious are often as vague (or nonexistent, in some cases) as the explanations religious teens give when asked what or why they believe. . . . The authors conclude that American Christianity is "either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or...is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith." When asked to articulate their faith, not one of their interviewees mentioned self-discipline, working for social justice, justification or sanctification, and 112 of them described the purpose of religion in terms of "personally feeling, being, getting, or being made happy" (using the "specific phrase to 'feel happy' well more that 2,000 times").

People who care about self-discipline, working for social justice, or morality are often politically active liberals. They disproportionately reject Christianity.

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