20 February 2010

Are You a MTD?

Friday night the Renew 2010 conference at Westminster Presbyterian Church featured Notre Dame professor of sociology Christian Smith.  Smith is best known as author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  Based on 3,000 lengthy telephone interviews with teenagers (and their parents) as well as 267 in-depth follow-up personal interviews in 2003 and 2005, Smith concluded that the actual religion of American teenagers is moralistic, therapeutic, deism: (i) a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth, (ii) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and most world religions, (iii) the central goal in life is to be happy and feel good about oneself, (iv) God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when he is needed to resolve a problem, and (v) good people go to heaven when they die.

For what it's worth, I doubt that the religion of American teenagers differs significantly from their parents' religion.  In fact, it differs only slightly from what was called American Civil Religion back in the 70s.  Significant by their absence (at least in the Christian account) is any awareness of sin, judgment, and salvation in Christ.

Saturday morning Smith went on to summarize the results of the results of interviews with the same cohort five years later.  I'll save my summary of his findings but for now it's safe to say that the Church in America has utterly failed to communicate effectively the truths that virtually all Christian traditions have acknowledged for 2,000 years.  The Church has always existed in some tension with American culture, or at least it should have.  Some might be relieved that any such tension has disappeared.  American culture has won.  Amazingly sad.

1 comment:

  1. I was driving back to the office with my take-out lunch today when I pulled up behind a teenager who was parked at an intersection turning right on red. She didn't move, and the intersection was as empty as a ghost town. Wanting to gently petition her to turn away from her iPhone/texting long enough to clear the intersection, I honked my horn about as gently as one can (adjustable volume honks are an optional feature I have long wished for in an auto).

    Regrettably, but not unsurprisingly, she extended her middle finger in my direction. This would be wholly unremarkable but for the cross hanging from her rear view mirror dangling just next to her perfectly formed "bird."

    Perhaps even this is unsurprising, but I find the contrast between her faith and her behavior interesting. Many Christians (myself included) hesitate to display Christian emblems on our vehicles in case we slip in the heat of traffic and behave in a manner that fails to accurately represent our faith and the Lord. After all, the only things I know about this girl who flipped me off is that: (1) she flipped me off; and (2) she professes to be a Christian.

    The idea that believing in the Lord means we should conform our behavior to his teachings seems lost on more than teenagers. My wife got into an argument with a relative once. She asked this relative what Jesus would say if he was in the room and heard her. The relative replied, "I don't care," yet this relative is in church almost every Sunday morning. I don't get why anyone who "doesn't care" what the Lord thinks about his/her behavior/speech would bother sitting through a church service on the weekend?

    It doesn't surprise me that professing Christians sin - everybody sins. What surprises me is the ability to set aside faith so casually when so much of our time is invested in it. The girl who flipped me off bothered decorate her car with a cross (that she likely purchased). My wife's relative sits through church service on an almost weekly basis. Yet, as soon as their faith was BARELY inconvenient, when it challenges them to behave, act, or (God forbid) vote in a different way they just "don't care."

    It's because American culture is more important to most Americans than their faith. Someone honks a horn at you (no matter how valid the reason)? We're free people with 1st Amendment rights, so up comes a finger. Someone tells us in the heat of an argument that we're not representing Christ very well? Well, Americans don't walk away from a fight - that would be wimpy and un-American.

    Maybe that wasn't what you were getting at entirely, but if it is, then I agree. We definitely are more concerned about being good Americans than good Christians.