Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 4, 2001
Signs of hope among the young
Almost half of teens affirm commitment to a formalized faith
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
University of Lethbridge sociologist and demographer Reginald Bibby's latest snapshot of attitudes and behaviours among young Canadians, Canada's Teens: Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow (Stoddart, 2001), is modestly encouraging for those of us dismayed by society's drift into secularism and neo-paganism over the past quarter-century.
Bibby notes that while the 20-something and 30-something generation Xers remain largely unchurched (only eight per cent of them attend weekly religious services), the present cohort of teenagers is showing signs of interest in spiritual life, not always healthily focused, but at least broader acknowledgment that the spiritual element is important.
Bibby notes that 60 per cent of teenagers in 2000 said "spirituality" is important to them; 48 per cent affirmed commitment to Christianity or another formal faith (up from 24 per cent in 1992 and 39 per cent in 1984), and 22 per cent attend religious services weekly, compared with 18 per cent in 1992.
Of course, as can be expected, many of these kids parrot the postmodernist dogma of wanting to be "spiritual" but not wanting anything to do with (shudder!) "organized religion." What is the alternative - disorganized religion?
Unfortunately, what the clich‚d disavowal of "organized religion" really implies is that the utterer likes the idea of "spirituality," which is essentially useless, Humpty-Dumpty terminology that can mean virtually anything one wants it to mean.
Folks who profess this hazily defined "spirituality," really are saying that they desire whatever sort of emotional satisfaction they derive from being "spiritual," or at least from the idea of the spiritual, but don't want the life of the spirit to make any objective demands on them; set any external standards for them to live up to.
Their concept of spirituality is narcissistic. As G.K. Chesterton observed: "When Jones worships the god within, Jones ultimately worships Jones."
Nevertheless, an apparent reversal of what seemed an inexorable trend toward secularism and nihilism among youth must be cautiously welcomed. As the prophet Isaiah put it: "the smoldering flame he will not quench."
Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian, and other books on Christianity in the postmodern age, argues that Christianity must take a radical new approach to address the post-modern generations.
I am a consummate traditionalist, but I don't dismiss McLaren's argument entirely. I think that the postmoderns, who for the most part harbour few cultural presuppositions about Christianity, are likely more reachable by the Christian Gospel than their modernist parents and grandparents were.
The moderns believed that there could be truth without God, accessible through science and/or political ideologies, with God optional at best.
The postmoderns, interestingly, share the traditionalist view that without God there can be no truth, but with the qualification that they are largely convinced the moderns have succeeded in their project of killing God off, which is the root of their nihilism.
However, if they can be convinced that God really is alive, they should be able to approach him less encumbered by the baggage of scientism and humanist dogma than the modernist generations have been.
However, they must be educated to understand that "disorganized religion" is a humanist myth. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once observed: "If they want peace, if they want joy, let them find Jesus."
If they want to find spiritual truth, the reality that exists outside subjective human experience, they must find Christ, the creator and ground of all truth, and Christ established his Church as an ordered and organized body, based on objective principles and standards that must be conformed to.
Any attempts to "soften" these essential criteria to make Church more attractive to skeptical postmoderns will ultimately prove futile.
The notion that there must be a "new spirit of Christianity" - where personal interaction with God is more important than order and form, and faith more about a way of life than a system of belief, and where being "authentically good" is more important than being "doctrinally right," flies in the faith of the Christian credo that "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever," and the Gospel's assertion that we are all poor sinners with no hope outside of God's grace of ever being "authentically good" on our own merits.
The Church without the true Gospel of Christ is no longer part of the body of Christ, but merely a caricature "holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." Real Christianity makes often-rigorous demands on its followers - everyone must share the burden of the cross. Easy "spirituality" is something entirely other.
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