Learning about Youth & Religion

Just stum­bled on the web­site of the “Nation­al Study of Youth and Religion”:http://www.youthandreligion.org/.

There’s some inter­est­ing stuff in here.
bq. [T]he web has become a sig­nif­i­cant place of reli­gious con­nec­tion for a siz­able por­tion of reli­gious U.S. teens. Forty per­cent of those teens who say that reli­gious faith is extreme­ly impor­tant to them report using the Inter­net to vis­it reli­gious web sites a few times each month or more often. From “The Inter­net: A Resource for Reli­gious Teens”:http://www.youthandreligion.org/news/2003 – 1210.html
This fact cer­tain­ly seems to be reflect­ed in all the “reli­gious blogging”:/Quaker/Quaker_places.php activ­i­ty out there.
bq. The youth-religion book mar­ket, for exam­ple, is inun­dat­ed with works claim­ing in one way or anoth­er that con­tem­po­rary youth — GenX­ers, “Busters,” “Mil­len­ni­als,” the “Mosa­ic” gen­er­a­tion, “Gen­er­a­tion 2K,” “post­mod­ern kids” and so on — are sus­pi­cious of, rebel­lious against or oth­er­wise alien­at­ed from “insti­tu­tion­al” or “orga­nized” reli­gion in the Unit­ed States. U.S. youth, it is claimed, are search­ing for an “authen­tic” faith that they find lack­ing in the (pre­sum­ably inau­then­tic) adult church that for youth sim­ply “isn’t cut­ting it” (Rabey 2001). Youth today are said to be per­va­sive­ly skep­ti­cal, dis­ori­ent­ed and irrev­er­ent, inter­est­ed in spir­i­tu­al­i­ty but not inclined to be reli­gious (Bar­na 1995; Beau­doin 2000; Zoba 1999). This stan­dard account of con­tem­po­rary youth reli­gion has roots going back at least to con­cerns in the 1960s and ‘70s about how the “gen­er­a­tion gap” was under­min­ing the reli­gion of youth. Today, it has become the mas­ter frame of pub­lished books on youth reli­gion. Even a num­ber of more schol­ar­ly books appear to be influ­enced by this inter­pre­tive frame. The prob­lem, how­ev­er, is that many of these works are jour­nal­is­tic, impres­sion­is­tic or semi-autobiographical. “Are Amer­i­can Youth Alien­at­ed from Orga­nized Religion?”:http://www.youthandreligion.org/publications/docs/Alienation.pdf
This echos themes I explored in “Peace and Twenty-Somethings”:/martink/archives/000100.php, where I argued that a lot of the Quak­er peace (and youth) ini­tia­tives are mod­els based on what today’s sixty-somethings wish had been around in the 1970s. This last arti­cle looks at the mis-information there and then goes on to what I described as _incentuous amplification_ (a mil­i­tary term):
bq. Yet tens – if not hun­dreds – of thou­sands of par­ents, youth min­is­ters, church pas­tors, denom­i­na­tion­al lead­ers, jour­nal­ists, teach­ers and oth­ers in the read­ing pub­lic con­sume these books. This, in turn, helps to form a social­ly con­struct­ed real­i­ty that might or might not actu­al­ly match schol­ars’ best under­stand­ing of the empir­i­cal truth. This might have con­se­quences in form­ing (and per­haps repro­duc­ing through self­ful­fill­ing proph­esy) parental expec­ta­tions, youth self-images and the resource allo­ca­tions of reli­gious organizations.
This study goes on to con­clude that reli­gious youth from “the­o­log­i­cal­ly and behav­io­r­i­al­ly con­ser­v­a­tive” back­grounds are the least like­ly to be alient­ed from their reli­gion. Inter­est­ing stuff, for sure. See also: “The ‘young Friends’ prob­lem amongst lib­er­al Friends”:http://beppeblog.blogspot.com/2005/03/young-friends-problem-amongst-liberal.html, Beppeblog’s response to this Quak­er Ranter post.

  • Quite inter­est­ing, Mar­tin! Some­thing my own meet­ing does not address is that “young peo­ple” are not just look­ing for accep­tance, they are look­ing for exam­ples, guid­ance, goals. The idea that we’ll take them as they come does not delight, and in fact annoys and con­founds. The young seek­ers I meet are look­ing for a Way, not a place to hang out with like-minded peo­ple who won’t chal­lenge them or help them grow. I think Quak­ers have just such stuff as they are seek­ing to offer, but it seems to be rather buried and obscured. Not just that we’re shy, but that we’re … afraid?

  • Great post (again) Mar­tin. And I appre­ci­ate your com­ments, too, Isabel. So inspir­ing that I’ve offered a blog post as commentary!

  • Sad­ly, I don’t think it is only young peo­ple who are look­ing for “exam­ples, guid­ance, goals…” I must count myself among those who, as Isabel writes in her com­ment, “are look­ing for a Way, not a place to hang out with like-minded peo­ple who won’t chal­lenge them or help them grow…”
    For some Friends and atten­ders, accep­tance and feel­ing wel­come are not enough with­in our meet­ings (oh dear, I sense I am preach­ing to the Blog-choir here). Nei­ther is hav­ing shared val­ues, though that is a strong start­ing place. But after that, I hunger for a group that will be there with me in authen­tic wor­ship, lis­ten­ing togeth­er for the Spir­it that we know awaits us; a group that will be a part of my jour­ney towards greater obe­di­ence to that Spir­it, and that will not aban­don me phys­i­cal­ly or emo­tion­al­ly when I risk speak­ing the truth as I expe­ri­ence it, even if it goes against the majority’s portion.
    I have been reach­ing for Friends who are will­ing to labor with one anoth­er, will­ing to live in the ten­sion between “We need to move for­ward” and “We don’t under­stand how or where God is lead­ing us right now.”
    Some­how, like a few oth­ers here, I have come across Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends – Iowa Con­ser­v­a­tive in par­tic­u­lar – as a faith com­mu­ni­ty that might feed my spir­i­tu­al hunger… though I have been cau­tioned repeat­ed­ly that all Friends have problems.
    I con­tin­ue to look for the next step­ping stone of my jour­ney, regard­less. When I was only a child, I remem­ber think­ing to myself, “I can­not be the only one in the world who thinks like me, feels like me, wants to be hon­est like me. I can­not be that alone.”
    God did not and does not for­sake me, and these blogs and each of your own acts of being faith­ful remind me that there are oth­er seek­ers, oth­er find­ers, oth­er Friends out there. We are not all so young; we are not all so old. But I agree with Isabel: what would hap­pen if Quak­er Meet­ings began shar­ing what they have found, instead of always pro­claim­ing that they are still seeking?