Chapter 4: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
As we begin the wrap-up of Christian Smith’s Soul Searching, we’re going to take a look at the chapter of this book that has gained all the attention. To this point, the author has focused on statistics and his analysis of them. Now, he gets into the live conversations and interviews he and his team had with 267 teens in 45 states. These interviews give depth and nuance to the hard facts of a statistical survey.
In what follows, Smith breaks down the interview analysis into some of the major themes that emerge from the interviews. Each of these major themes is also surrounded by minority views, so these major themes should not be understood as all-encompassing truths. I want to summarize these major themes starting with the notion that for most teens religion is just not a big deal.
Not A Big Deal
- The impression that teens are in rebellion against the religion of their parents, while possibly true in past generations, is fundamentally wrong now. The surveys and interviews show that the majority of American teens are “exceedingly conventional” in areas of religion.
- “(Teens) are also quite content to believe what their parents believe, what they’ve been taught to believe. In this way, for most teens, religion is taken as part of the furniture of their lives, not a big deal, just taken for granted as fine the way it is.” (Kindle Locations 2513-2515)
- Keeping in mind that this data is 10 years old now, most interviewed teens reported that they weren’t even aware of the “spiritual but not religious” trend, and most thought it was a silly idea.
- Most teens report that religious beliefs – specifically, religious differences – are not worth fighting about. They don’t get into disagreements with parents or with friends. Many teens reported that though they go to church regularly with their parents, religious belief is not a topic of discussion in the home. Thus, it is never a point of conflict.
- In only small handful of interviews did teenagers say religion was a source of conflict with their friends or family, and most of those came from teens who thought their parents were too religious.
- This is particularly interesting: most teens report they believe religion does a lot of good for a lot of people. Its value is in the passing on of morals, and in the comfort it can give by giving people something to believe. This attitude was true of all religious teens regardless of particular religion. Even non-religious teens saw the value of religion when spoken of in these terms.
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