Friday, August 27, 2010

Teenage Mutant Ninja Christians?

Are teenagers on fire for Christianity, or are they merely channeling a sort of nebulous "feel-goodism" with Christian overtones? Here's an interesting look at the question:

(CNN) -- If you're the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

Your child is following a "mutant" form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem. [...]

Dean drew her conclusions from what she calls one of the most depressing summers of her life. She interviewed teens about their faith after helping conduct research for a controversial study called the National Study of Youth and Religion. [...]

The study included Christians of all stripes -- from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can't talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good -- what the study's researchers called "moralistic therapeutic deism."

And what's wrong with a moralistic therapeutic faith, a "Gospel of niceness," so to speak? Here's one answer:

Corrie, echoing the author of "Almost Christian," says the gospel of niceness can't teach teens how to confront tragedy.

"It can't bear the weight of deeper questions: Why are my parents getting a divorce? Why did my best friend commit suicide? Why, in this economy, can't I get the good job I was promised if I was a good kid?"

Some of the comments under the article at the CNN website are instructive, if depressing. A lot are from atheists who brush the article aside as more proof that all religion is false and feel-good, that when there's enough science around to displace the "myths" of religion, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is the inevitable result for those people too stupid to give up on religion altogether.

But the article itself points at a conundrum: MTD isn't enough to hold onto young Christians. What they really want is a faith that challenges them, that demands sacrifice, that is more about what God expects from each of them than what they can get out of going to church. The teens of this generation are starving for bread, and we've been handing them stones. Or scorpions. Or, in the case of Catholic teens, endless felt-banner projects.

Throughout the ages, young men and women have joyously accepted God's call to follow His Son, and have even died for this faith. The problem with MTD is not that it is somehow the inevitable result of modernity's encounter with Christianity; the problem with MTD is that it never can be a faith worth dying for--and so, soon, it becomes a faith not worth living, either.


Sarah said...

Interesting article, but isn't that kind of what faith usually looks like when you are a teenager? Even if you have been raised in the Christian faith, I know that many teens still are trying to find out what they believe and developmentally I think that's natural. I'm not sure I could articulate very clearly what kind of religious beliefs I held when I was a teenager, or say wholeheartedly that it was the MOST important thing in my life, even though I considered myself Christian, because those were formative years and I was still figuring out what I believed at the time. ADULTS who follow MTD, I think, are another problem/issue altogether.

Rebecca in CA said...

I don't think it's developmentally natural. I think it happens a lot so we tend to think of it as normal, when in fact it is a sad byproduct of this culture which creates, through school, "teen Masses", and other things, a false extension of childhood and glorifies, in every form of media, personal satisfaction above all things. It is also a reflection of poor catechesis which refuses to address important questions, and it is a reflection of Christians stepping so far away from any doctrinal content that there is almost nothing left.

Magister Christianus said...

It certainly does not have to be this way for teens. See the Mike Aquilina article linked in my post:

Siarlys Jenkins said...

At the end of the day, religious faith should lead to the understanding that we were created for a purpose, and that finding out how to live our lives for that purpose is our highest calling. If its just about feeling good, whatever you do, then its a substitute for Prozac.

Charlotte said...

Sarah above makes a good and valid point. Still, I think there is something deeper and more insidious going on. The circus churches are doing kids no favors.

By the way, I posted this on Facebook.

Red Cardigan said...

Thank you, Charlotte!