“Benign Whateversism” – The demise of adolescent’s faith and practice
At least once every decade, sociologists and others descend upon the adolescent population of America in the hope of ferreting out their views on sex, peers, parental relationships, school, music, politics, and any other cultural phenomenon they deem relevant. Not to be outdone, religious faith and practice is also fair game for the researcher.
A team from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) recently completed such a survey. The results are published in a book entitled Soul Searching: The Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Smith and Denton, Oxford University Press, 2005).
The results of the study are not pretty. What teens proclaim about their understanding of faith is far from resembling the tenets of the traditional Christian beliefs. Their perceptions of God appear to be simplistic and self-centered. They perceive a God who exists to meet their needs with little emphasis upon serving God. Prayers are presented as petitions seeking God’s intervention in assisting teens toward achieving their materialistic goals in life. The phrase “incredibly inarticulate” resonates throughout Smith and Denton’s book as that which characterizes the “benign whateverism” of adolescent faith and practice.
For the confirmation educator, reading this book is a must for girding one’s self in preparation for working with adolescents. It becomes imperative to understand the real world of teen faith and practice if one holds out hope that this emerging generation will not be a lost Christian witness. If reading the entire study is not feasible, the internet contains many reviews and commentaries worth the time and effort to digest.