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The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

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  • Sterling D. Allan
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2005
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      >The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers
      >An interesting book is being published this month:  The Religious Spiritual
      >Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).  The
      >principal author is Christian Smith, Distinguished Professor and Associate
      >Chair, Department of Sociology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel
      >  The research focus was why "mainline" Protestant and Catholic teenagers
      >lack religious and spiritual vitality.  Those teens were compared with LDS,
      >Evangelical, and African American teens who displayed greater spirituality.
      >In fact, a chapter in his book (entitled "Mormon Envy") examines why "in
      >nearly every area, using a variety of measures, Mormon young people showed
      >the highest degree of religious vitality and salience".  The research
      >demonstrates that highly religious teenagers meet life's challenges much
      >better than less religious teens.
      >The authors conclude this is due to "core theological convictions that add
      >up to a consequential faith".  A consequential faith enables teenagers to
      >overcome the ennui pervading much of American religion.  That LDS youth can
      >overcome this pervasive inertia the authors attribute to:
      >  1)     A creed to believe.  This is accomplished by (early morning and
      >released time) seminary, which allows LDS youth to relate to God in a
      >meaningful way.  LDS youth espouse a God who is conscious, rational,
      >responsive, dependable, and has a life-encompassing scope.   LDS youth have
      >an image of a powerful, personal, morally concerned God. The more distant,
      >cosmic images of God do not engender meaningfulness in "mainstream"
      >Protestant or Catholic youth.  72% of LDS youth reported sharing their
      >religious beliefs with someone not of their faith, twice the rate of the
      >Protestant or Catholic youth.
      >2)     A place to belong.  The LDS family and extended family give LDS youth
      >a place to  belong.  The large LDS family and peers in the high school
      >seminary tithe, practice family home evening, and shun alcohol, tobacco and
      >caffeine.  LDS young people are raised to believe that their faith makes
      >them unusual in ways that actually matter, that they have been "set apart"
      >by God for a special witness.
      >  3)     A call to live out.  Youth of other faiths have little opportunity
      >to "tithe their life" by proselytizing and service missions.  LDS youth
      >stand out in the authors' study of 3,370 teenagers, not because they think
      >religion helps them do what they want, but because
      >of their desire to do what God wants.  LDS teens had a more developed view
      >of a "morally significant universe", which is a sense that their life is
      >"inescapably bound up to a larger framework of consequence."  "A morally
      >significant universe has a telos, an end, goal, and standard, by which one
      >knows where one is and to where one is headed.  . . .  In a morally
      >significant universe, actions really do embody and reflect bigger
      >challenges, struggles, failures, and victories -  and all things really are
      >finally going somewhere important."  LDS missionary experiences train young
      >people, thus providing leadership for the Church in the future.
      >  4)     A hope to hold onto.  LDS doctrine teaches youth that the Earth has
      >a definite "end time."  God is working towards a goal in which the hope of
      >the faithful will be consummated.  The Mormon emphasis on progressing toward
      >becoming like God provides LDS youth with a theology that "goes somewhere".
      >End time (eschatology) doctrine provides LDS youth with an understanding of
      >how their current moral choices and religious practices (fast offering,
      >Sabbath-keeping, worship, chastity, etc.) factor into their eventual
      >  The authors urge youth ministers from mainstream Protestant and Catholic
      >denominations to teach the "skills of spiritual resistance" which LDS  youth
      >exhibit, by developing an understandable, meaningful creed, a spiritually
      >fulfilling "place to belong", opportunities to live out a religious calling
      >to develop future leadership, and to emphasize doctrine which holds out hope
      >for young people.
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