Soul Searching 11: It Helps Me Do What I Want

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Of all the themes uncovered in Christian Smith’s research, this next one is one of those that seems to me to be a particularly American way of viewing religion. The majority of American teens view religion as something that helps you accomplish your goals. It has a pragmatic value for making you feel good and resolving your problems. Religion does this, according to teens, not by making external moral demands for change, but God is like a cosmic genie that helps you when you ask, and give you comfort when you need it. In this way, it is God’s responsibility to help humans, not humans’ responsibility to respond to their Creator.

I think the most obvious causes for this is what sociologists have identified as the parental use of religion for pro-social outcomes with their children. That is, parents use religion as a way to create desired behaviors in their kids. When I was a youth pastor, I saw this from some parents all the time to help their kids be more healthy, safe, and successful in life. I had one father in particular accuse me of not being supportive of parents because I would not go along with the legalism he wanted to impose on the entire group.  Continue reading


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. Continue reading

Soul Searching 9: Everyone Decides For Themselves


Continuing in chapter 4 of Christian Smith’s Soul Searching, we look at yet another major theme of American teen religious belief: everyone decides for themselves. (Full Series)

Who am I to judge?

“Whatever” is just fine, if that’s what a person wants. Consequently, certain traditional religious languages and vocabularies of commitment, duty, faithfulness, obedience, calling, obligation, accountability, and ties to the past are nearly completely absent from the discourse of U.S. teenagers. Instead, religion is presumed to be something that individuals choose and must reaffirm for themselves based on their present and ongoing personal felt needs and preferences. (Kindle Locations 3057-3060)

Smith makes two more points that are particularly important and utterly fascinating. I’m going to quote this paragraph at length… Continue reading

Soul Searching 8: Not Too Religious


Continuing to look at the major themes uncovered in the one-on-one interviews in the book  Soul Searching by Christian Smith. The first of these themes we’ve been sorting through is the idea that religion exists in the background of most teens lives. It isn’t something of primary importance in practice even though, statistically speaking, most religious teens would say that it is. (Full Series)

Emerging from the interview is that though many youth claim that religion is important to them, they also thought it important to clarify that they did not see themselves as “too religious.” What did they mean by this? Continue reading

Soul Searching 7: In The Background


As we continue our look at teen religious trends from Christian Smith Soul Searching, today we take a look at just how important teen reported religion to be to them when interviewed and asked specific questions. (Full Series)

Many report specific reasons why religion is important to them by giving practical examples of how religion helps them cope with various life struggles. They report that religion “works” for them.

When talking about teens who practice a more direct and deliberate sort of faith, Smith reports…

Such exceptions tended to come from conservative Protestant and Mormon traditions, but not exclusively so, and certainly not all conservative Protestant or Mormon teens practiced religion intentionally in the foreground of their lives. But viewed as a whole, for most U.S. teenagers, their claims to religion’s importance notwithstanding, religion actually appears to operate much more as a taken-for-granted aspect of life, mostly situated in the background of everyday living, which becomes salient only under very specific conditions. (Kindle Locations 2707-2711) Continue reading

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) Continue reading

Soul Searching 3: Teen Church Attendance


Today, as we continue to look through Christian Smith’s Soul Searching, we’re taking a look at teen religious service attendance.

Before I show you the table, some definitions:

  • CP = Conservative Protestant
  • MP = Mainline Protestant
  • BP = Black Protestant
  • RC = Roman Catholic
  • J = Jewish
  • LDS = Mormon
  • NR = Not Religious

Smith broke American teens down into these seven categories as these are the most statistically relevant. What follows is a table showing the percentages of U.S. teen church attendance broken into those seven categories. The column showing “U.S.” shows the percentage of church attendance of American teens taken as a whole group. This table shows the information captured table 6 of the book. Continue reading