Saturday, August 28, 2010

Transformation of Trends in Transition of Christianity

With CNN covering this book, it has apparently become more than just a study referenced on and off by Christians in the news. I actually thought this book had been released earlier, but evidently, it’s only been out on Amazon for about 2 months. The author’s intent has some merit to it, but like one reviewer points out, there is a problem in assuming that your own standard of what Christianity must be has to apply to everyone else; that is, saying what it must be as opposed to what you observe in your faith. Here we have yet another example of the dichotomy that has existed in theology and religious studies since the beginning of the disciplines. The gist of this distinction is whether a faith emphasizes the importance of correct beliefs/teachings (orthodoxy) or correct actions/practice (orthopraxy). There are groups that balance this and it isn’t impossible to find some margin of equanimity, though there tends to be a divide in Eastern and Western religions (or more specifically far East and far West) on this emphasis on either side of the spectrum.

Kenda Creasy Dean’s publication (based on a survey she assisted with, the National Study of Youth and Religion) concentrates on a trend she observes in teenagers today. I would assume she means teenagers since the millennial generation (that would be when I was a teenager) and continuing onto the recent entrants into college for the class of ’14. Her overall assessment is that more and more teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism”. Each word could be analyzed in more detail, but a concise summary of the main points of contention comes from the CNN article above; “a watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem,” I don’t see innate problems with believers at least partially seeing God theologically and personally as a therapist, comforting them in their times of mourning and suffering and also boosting one’s self esteem, since particular beliefs about God can do the reverse for one’s confidence. But on the other hand, I can agree in principle that 1) becoming too dependent on others for self esteem and 2) regarding others as outlets for your neediness to be comforted are both unhealthy aspects of a worldview. Agreements on whether God is the best way to begin searching for mindfulness and truth aside, this is the best starting point for any discussion of this text’s claims and evaluating their accuracy.

Dean alleges that if you aren’t a passionate religious teenager, you are more likely to engage in high risk behavior, such as drugs, premarital sex or alcohol. I can already counter this with at least my own personal experience. I was never very religious or passionate about God or Christianity, but I didn’t do drugs, engage in premarital sex or drink alcohol; not that any of these things are innately bad if done responsibly and reinforced with good parental examples. But I also had discipline in the form of martial arts classes that I took from about 8th or 9th grade up until my second year of college, so one could connect my practice of karate and having rules of respect enforced in the dojo with my not engaging in such dangerous activities as my peers may have been engaged in. There was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes with active membership in junior high and Young Life in high school, which may very well have prevented classmates from becoming overly involved in the high risk activities mentioned. But it’s not as if one can correlate holding Christian beliefs with being abstinent from sex, drugs and alcohol any more than you can connect not holding Christian beliefs with being abusive of sex, drugs and alcohol if my own life is even a small example. Albeit I was at least raised in a Christian household, so Dean would probably point out that I was at least privileged to be inculcated with Christian beliefs, even if I didn’t follow through with them in later life. But even considering that, she shouldn’t place so much emphasis on environment as opposed to considering a natural tendency of rebellious behavior in many teenagers. To say that Christian teens should suppress or deny their youth and vigor instead of channeling it into different activities like I did in martial arts is hopefully not what Dean is suggesting.

There’s no reason to shelter a child from forging their own path of faith, whatever it may become. My own future children may become the virtual opposite of me in many regards, but if they are stable as well as physically and mentally healthy, then I would see no reason to intervene in any way that would suppress that dynamic state that we are all in. Perhaps I will change in the future to a more practicing Buddhist, perhaps get into the monastic aspect? I cannot say, but this traditionalist squabbling and prattling over how children aren’t exactly the same as one’s own generation is just pushing the new generations further and further away from those churches that are losing more and more young people, as my own childhood churches seem to be in my own area in Tennessee. To draw people in, inclusiveness and tolerance are key virtues, along with maintaining integrity of the faith tradition you are rooted in, Christian or otherwise. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

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