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Mindlessness

Salon has an interview up called “God? Sure, whatever,” about teenagers’ religious views. It’s sort of scary:

Smith and his colleagues discovered that while three-quarters of their subjects professed to be Christians, they’re dazed and confused when it comes to articulating their beliefs. “We go to church, and … God is coming back again and he’ll take us to heaven. And what was the other one?” was a typical attempt. One 14-year-old girl, through barely contained yawns, pointed to her Internet and cable connections as proof of God’s goodness. And she wasn’t the only one who saw God as a big cable guy in the sky. Most kids’ faith, says Smith, takes the form of what he calls moralistic therapeutic deism — God is an undemanding, all-fulfilling entity existing only to help us feel better about ourselves.

My grandmother would have a fit if she read that. Broadband is the accomplishment of God you come up with? I like having broadband as much as anyone, but isn’t that just a bit much?

This was another thing that really, surprised us — how conventional they were. Because teenager and rebellion are virtually synonymous in popular thinking. But they said, “This was how I was raised, what do you expect?”

There’s nothing wrong with believing what your parents believe, but there’s a complete lack of thinking going on:

Another thing that surprised us was how inarticulate they were when it came to talking about these matters. So many Christian teens of all denominations couldn’t talk about the most elementary Christian beliefs. Most of the highly devoted teens were certainly more articulate. But I would say maybe a majority of the regular or even sporadic church attenders certainly would just not be able to answer elementary questions. For example, they’d answer “Who is Jesus?” with “I don’t know.”

I suppose half-assed Christians are better than fundamentalists, but I’d like to see at least some sort of thinking going on. Along the same lines:

I interviewed some Catholic teens that told me the church has no teaching on sexuality. They weren’t aware that this was an issue. Sex was one thing you do under certain conditions and religion was something else.

I wasn’t aware it was possible to know anything about Catholicism and miss the sex stuff. I wonder if they know who the Pope is?

One 16-year-old boy in the book said his faith became stronger when he saw his prayers for his drug-addicted father answered. “I was like, if God can do that, than he can do other things too,” he says. It’s as if he sees God as an appliance — or, as you say, a “divine butler.”

The possibility that it had nothing to do with God isn’t even a thought. Wonderful.

They’re oriented toward being a good person and that God is out there — which, compared to being neo-Nazis or Nietzschean nihilists, is great. It’s just that it doesn’t have much rootedness — you ask them why and they don’t know.

I’m no expert on philosophy, but isn’t lumping together Nazis and nihilists a bit off? And maybe the scariest part of all:

Without roots, people become vulnerable to ideologues and demagoguery. Like the one kid we mention in the book who started off our in-person interview saying you should treat everyone lovingly. But then later in the conversation said, “Well, evolutionarily, if you had to kill a bunch of people, that’s fine too.” That’s scary. He hasn’t been trained in moral reasoning. Teens can’t give a good argument so they’re left with asserting. And assertions only go so far.

I guess we can look forward to the fact that someone will probably convince him evolution is false?

Categories: Religion
  1. April 29, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    1. I think Christians and non-Christians alike can agree that teenagers have no goddamn clue. This is painfully obvious.

    2. Broadband might be the best thing God can come up with, but it depends on what kind you’re talking about. I’m not going to start singing hymns until I get a decent upstream.

    3. Nietzsche wasn’t a nihilist. Has this guy even read Nietzsche?

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