Soul Searching 4: Teen Belief


Today, we’re taking a look at some of the specific beliefs of teens as shown in the research found in Christian Smith’s Soul Searching. We’re asking the question, “What is the God in which most teens believe?”

For the table…CP = Conservative Protestant, MP = Mainline Protestant, BP = Black Protestant, RC = Roman Catholic, J = Jewish, LDS = Mormon, NR = Not Religious

About two-thirds of teens say they believe in God as a personal being involved in the lives of people today; 13 percent profess something like a deist’s view of God as having created the world but not being involved in it now; and 14 percent take a more New Age approach to God as an impersonal, cosmic life force. Five percent simply do not know or refuse to answer the question. (Kindle Locations 858-860)


Some observations:

  • 2/3 of teens believe in a personal God like that found in the Bible. This is much higher than I would’ve thought, and is a good sign.
  • 30% hold a deistic, New Age, or uncertain view of God. There is a great deal of work we can do to clarify the Christian view of God, even to our own kids.
  • 10% of conservative Protestant teens hold deistic views of God. While not a majority by any means, this is a little surprising that CP teens do not have a firm grasp the Christian view of God.
  • 71% of teens still believe in divine judgment for at least some people. I doubt that this group sees the divine judgment as directed toward themselves, but most humans certainly do want to believe there is a such thing as justice.
  • Only 17% of nonreligious teens identify as atheist, and that is only 3% of the overall population in 2003. How has this number changed, 10 years later?

Some more interesting stats:

  • 49% of all U.S. Teens believe in an afterlife, 37% are “maybe”, and 13% do not.
  • Only 62% of CP teens are sure there is an afterlife.
  • 76% of Mormon kids are sure of life after death.
  • 63% of all teens believe in angels, and 61% believe in miracles, but only 41% definitely believe in demons. My observation is that teens, and adults too, tend to pick those beliefs that are most pleasant. It seems inconsistent to me to believe in angels, while denying the existent of a demonic counterpart. It is also very interesting that a significant portion of CP youth are uncertain, or don’t believe in angels or demons (21% and 42% respectively).
  • Interestingly, despite all the exorcism movies starring Catholic priests, only 28% of RC teens believe in demons.

About beliefs in various New Age, astrology, etc, Smith says this…

…significant portions of conservative Protestant youth are not assured about the existence of angels (21 percent report maybe or not at all), miracles (23 percent), life after death (38 percent), or the existence of evil spirits (42 percent report maybe or not at all). On the other hand, 33 percent of conservative Protestant youth maybe or definitely believe in reincarnation, 33 percent in astrology, 31 percent in communicating with the dead, and 21 percent in psychics and fortune-tellers. For a tradition that has so strongly emphasized the infallibility or inerrancy of the Bible, the exclusive claims of conservative Christianity, and the need for a personal commitment of one’s life to God, some of these numbers are astounding. Even the conservative Protestants evince a great deal of slippage in the effectiveness of the Christian education of their youth. At the same time, large proportions of the self-identified nonreligious teens either definitely believe in or are open to the possibility of believing in all eight of these religious and magical ideas. Dismissive of the existence of a possible spiritual world America’s professed non-religious teens are not. (Kindle Locations 910-918)

What do you think? Anything here that surprises you?

Next post, we’ll look at teen religious practice.


2 thoughts on “Soul Searching 4: Teen Belief

  1. Not surprised at all. Between our ineffective “Christian” parenting, failure of American churches in general, and the creep of post-modernism into the public school system in the early 90’s (along with OBE), this may have been inevitable except for the truly diligent. They definitely affected our decisions at that time w/our children.

    • You mention diligence. I think you’re right about that. There are so many competing voices out there, we have to pay attention to what is going on. Our kids certainly are.

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