There’s a new study out about teens and religion. Called the National Study of Youth and Religion and conducted last year, the study has some interesting findings.
It seems that teens are looking at their spirituality like they look at their music collection. With the advent of the iPod (and other MP3 players that cost WAY less, but aren’t nearly as trendy, of course), teens have totally control over their music collections and they manipulate them with dictatorial style. Don’t like a song? Delete it. Wanna skip to another track? Go ahead. Need to change the order of your song list? No problem at all. This is all well and good when applied to digital music. What’s disturbing is that this same attitude is carrying over to spiritual decision making as well. Don’t like the idea of sex being restricted to married couples of the opposite gender? Delete it. Wanna skip over the idea of loving your enemies? Go for it. Need to reorder your life’s priorities to reflect a more realistic approach to life? No problem whatsoever.
The main researcher (Christian Smith from UNC at Chapel Hill) calls this “iPod religion.” And, it’s part of a wider belief structure that he calls moralistic therapeutic deism. Here’s how it breaks down: Moralistic: teens value values, as long as they get to choose them (and don’t EVER judge anyone else’s self-chosen values), Therapeutic: religion’s main reason for being is to make you feel good, Deism: there is a distant, uninvolved God overseeing everything (He allows good people into heaven), and His main concern is that you are happy.
This combination of items for the buffet of spirituality sums up what the vast majority of teens I come in contact adhere to. And, I can see why. It’s comfy. It’s easy. It’s very self-serving. It fits like a tailor-made suit, just for you. Instead of looking for external standards for life, you can create your own standards that take little work in meeting. Though I see how attractive it can be, it still saddens me. These teens have no idea that this is just a new form of worshiping themselves. They create a “religion” that most reflects them, and then follow it.
There is hope. According to the study, there is a small, but solid minority of students (8%) who know what they believe about their Christian faith, why they believe it, and they allow their faith to affect the way they live. We, as a church (and youth ministries specifically), need to put some serious thought into how we can grow this small righteous remnant.