Sunday, December 12, 2010

The current state of American teenage belief; and how Mormon teenagers are different

...American teenagers follow a mutant creed best understood as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Almost Christian, a popularization of the results of the 2002-05 National Study of Youth and Religion, attempts to help Christian parents, youth pastors, and others who are alarmed at the shakiness and incoherence of most teens' faith.

The content of that faith is simple and as American as a smile in an airport. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) include belief in a god who watches over us and orders life on earth, and whose major moral concern is that humans should be nice to one another

MTD cuts across old denominational and confessional boundaries. It's most prevalent among mainline Protestants and Catholics and least prevalent among Mormons, black Protestants, and "conservative Protestants." In fact, this belief system seems designed to minimize the importance of religious difference, partly as a way of defusing the tensions and passions of a pluralist society. It's as if believing that other people are wrong about God in some important ways is bad manners.

Mormons, by contrast, challenge their teenagers and require a lot of time, study, and leadership from them. Mormon parents rise at dawn to go over their church's history and doctrine with their children. More than half of the Mormon youth in the study had given a presentation in church in the past six months. They frequently shared public testimony and felt that they were given some degree of decision-making power within their community. They shape their plans for the immediate future around strong cultural pressures toward mission trips and marriage. Whatever one thinks of the actual beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it seems obvious that both adult Mormons and the teens who follow them really, really believe.

Dean wonders whether some of the most apparently committed teenagers, in the Mormon church and elsewhere, are merely parroting words they've heard or going with the flow of their semi-closed subculture: Is their faith "foreclosed," plucked from the tree before it's ripe? Is the mission trip just the Mormon equivalent of studying for the SATs—something you do because you're a good kid and you want to please your parents, not because you want to please God? But overall, she argues that the churches which challenge their children the most also often help the children develop mature, deeply held faith which can withstand shocks, doubts, and suffering.
The above was excerpted from Book Review: Teen Angels: What, if anything, do they believe? by Eve Tushnet.  The book she reviewed was  "What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church" by Kenda Creasy Dean,  Oxford, 264 pp., $24.95

Read the entire article here.

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