Sunday, January 3, 2010

Soul Searching, Part 3- Interesting Indicators

The survey results in the book Soul Searching are broken down by national average and by particular religious traditions. As we've already noted in a previous post, these particular numbers are very helpful in assessing the mindset (and corresponding strengths and weaknesses) of these particular traditions. For two traditions, the numbers are remarkable and very revealing.

The first of these are Mormon teens. The first indication of something remarkable comes when asking about the similarity of the beliefs of the teen to that of their parents. This question was asked on a scale of "very similar, somewhat similar, somewhat different, and very different." Most people do not choose an extreme on a question such as this, but the large majority of teens chose one of the two options marked similar. However, for Mormon teens, they overwhelmingly indicated that their beliefs were "very similar" to that of their parents- almost double the national average! Mormon teens also attend far more religious activities than do other teens and reported at a rate almost four times the national average that their families discuss religion on a daily basis! This over-abundance of exposure to their own beliefs, however, seems to only have a limited effectiveness. When asked if they believe in God, Mormon teens reporting a positive answer drops to a lower number than any other tradition except non-religious teens and Judaism. Further, Mormon teens are the most likely to be uncertain in their beliefs about what God is like. I don't want to exaggerate these later numbers. Mormon teens believe in God at exactly the national average and are only slightly more confused about their understanding of who God is. However, given the over-abundance of their exposure to their belief system, we would expect these numbers to be much higher. The fact that they are not raises doubts about the effectiveness of Mormon teaching and suspicions about the character of Mormon thought.

The second group to consider are Jewish teens. Overall these numbers reveal a remarkable apathy and pessimism about the character of their faith. Jewish teens are the least likely to believe in God, the most likely to believe that if God exists, he is not a personal being, and the most uncertain about the character of many of their other theological beliefs. Jewish teens show the least commitment to or involvement in their faith. Overwhelmingly, Jewish teens report that they are the least likely to continue to attend any sort of religious congregation when they are older. Such numbers seem to display a pessimistic and agnostic attitude about their own faith that has resulted in a general disconnect from Jewish teens with their own religious heritage. In a sense this is not surprising- if any belief system has suffered it is the Jewish system- from the exiles of Biblical times to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century to the persecutions that have rocked the Jewish people even into our own recent memory. It seems that such radical opposition to their faith has taken a toll in terms of the connection of the Jewish people to their belief system.

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