Once again, I am plugging the work of another relative. This time, it’s my dad, Romney Biddulph. He has written the following very interesting book review of a new study on teenagers and religion. One of the key issues is why LDS teenagers show the “highest degree of religious vitality and salience.”
By Romney Biddulph
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 Hill.
The research focus was why â€œmainlineâ€ 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 â€œMormon Envyâ€) examines why â€œin nearly every area, using a variety of measures, Mormon young people showed the highest degree of religious vitality and salienceâ€. The research demonstrates that highly religious teenagers meet lifeâ€™s challenges much better than less religious teens.
The authors conclude this is due to â€œcore 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:
- 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 â€œmainstreamâ€ 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.
- 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 â€œset apartâ€ by God for a special witness.
- A call to live out. Youth of other faiths have little opportunity to â€œtithe their lifeâ€ by proselytizing and service missions. LDS youth stand out in the authorsâ€™ 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 â€œmorally significant universeâ€, which is a sense that their life is â€œinescapably bound up to a larger framework of consequence.â€ â€œA 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.â€ LDS missionary experiences train young people, thus providing leadership for the Church in the future.
- A hope to hold onto. LDS doctrine teaches youth that the Earth has a definite â€œend time.â€ 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 â€œgoes somewhere.â€ 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 judgment.
The authors urge youth ministers from mainstream Protestant and Catholic denominations to teach the â€œskills of spiritual resistanceâ€ which LDS youth exhibit, by developing an understandable, meaningful creed, a spiritually fulfilling â€œplace to belongâ€, opportunities to live out a religious calling to develop future leadership, and to emphasize doctrine which holds out hope for young people.