Soul Searching 10: There is no right answer

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I’m finally getting back to Christian Smith’s Soul Searching, and we discover some more things about teen belief. Most of it is not that surprising overall, but that these things attitudes apply to those teens that identify as “conservative Christian” is not what I would hope for.

What does Smith point to next? It seems that the irrational postmodern desire to consider all viewpoints as equally truthful has found its way into most of American teen life.

A very small minority state uncompromisingly not only that other people should practice some religion but that there is one right and true religion that people should practice. Most of these are conservative Protestants, with a few Catholic and Mormon teens mixed in; these are the U.S. religious traditions that still appear capable of socializing at least a few of their youth into a definite sense of religiously exclusive truth. … (Kindle Locations 3101-3105)

These are the more steadfast teen voices of religious particularism, though not necessarily behavioral intolerance, as most of these teens still appear to take civil, accommodating approaches to their interpersonal relationships. But among U.S. teenagers, at least as far as our personal interviews with teens are able to tell, these teens represent only a minor fringe of dissenters skirting a vast majority of religiously individualistic, relativistic, subjectivistic teenagers. The dominant position on the matter among contemporary adolescents in the United States is more evident in the following voices, representing Jewish, Catholic, conservative, black, and mainline Protestant, and nonreligious teens of all ages and both sexes:

  • When it comes to religion, people should do what they want. I shouldn’t be the one to say what they do.
  • Everybody has their own stuff, people are all different, so our religions are very different. People have a right to choose to be religious or not.
  • I think everyone is capable, if they choose to believe in a higher power, I think they are capable of dealing with it themselves. Some people prefer a group method, but there’s other ways to go about it.
  • They can just do whatever they want. If people want to believe in something they should, but it wouldn’t matter at all, they’re all pretty much the same.
  • I basically believe in guardian angels. I believe if you’re really bad you will get punished sooner or later, but I don’t believe in hell, that’s just too, it’s not right for me.
  • People who aren’t religious? It’s up to them, I don’t know. It’s their belief and stuff like that, it doesn’t really matter. It’s their own choice, their own choice.
  • Religious practices can make my life hard because they say to do something and I don’t want to ’cause nobody else is doing it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.
  • It’s up to everybody to choose their own religious path, and mine are made up of various beliefs, a weird mixture of sorts.
  • My religious beliefs? I believe everybody should be treated with respect and everybody should have peace and just [be] treated fairly and have all kinds of opportunities to do things and stuff.
  • Religion is very important to me. I don’t do everything by the book. I’ll do stuff that I’m told not to do.
  • I can’t speak for everybody, it’s up to them. I know what’s best for me, and I can’t, I don’t preach to nobody.

In these voices we hear the core underlying ideas constituting American religious individualism: that each individual is uniquely distinct from all others and deserves a faith that fits his or her singular self; that individuals must freely choose their own religion; that the individual is the authority over religion and not vice versa; that religion need not be practiced in and by a community; that no person may exercise judgments about or attempt to change the faith of other people; and that religious beliefs are ultimately interchangeable insofar as what matters is not the integrity of a belief system but the comfortability of the individual holding specific religious beliefs. From the wells of radical American religious individualism, contemporary U.S. teenagers have drunk deeply, no doubt following the example of their parents and other adults. For most, religious individualism appears to be all U.S. teens can actually conceive of. (Kindle Locations 3127-3157)

So, what do you think?

Does any of this ring true to you?

Any surprises?

How should Bible believing, historically orthodox Christians move on from here?

In the next post of this series we’ll look at the second major theme in Smith’s research: religion helps you do what you want.

(Soul Searching, Full Series)

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3 thoughts on “Soul Searching 10: There is no right answer

  1. Good series. It keeps popping in my head that Friedrich Nietzsche has finally infiltrated our society, in a left-handed kind of way.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying it. It’s funny, there’s nothing here that is surprising to me, but at the same time it is disappointing to actually see what you already suspect spelled out in black-and-white.

  2. I share your feelings. It is a reflection of what I was as an immature teenager and christian, too – not very convicted and interested in getting too deep into the foundational beliefs of a follower of Christ. As it does disturb me, being a somewhat mature adult 🙂 I also reflect on my own life and how maturing and meeting a girl sent from heaven – who became my wife – opened up a deeper relationship and understanding of my faith and how things should be as a justified child of God.

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