“Religion Is Wasted on the Young”

…It occurs to me that it is precisely the fact that we are intent on teaching religion to the young that makes faith such a prime site for rebellion when emerging adults construct their own identities. As a peer reviewer for a publisher, I recently read the manuscript for a book that was an intellectual attack on Christianity. What struck me was that the sources for the skeptical views the author was commending were leading scholars, while the Christian beliefs were presented through recollections of what the author had heard various people say during his childhood.

Perhaps the most visceral reaction is the one that is rooted — unconsciously or otherwise — in embarrassment at our younger selves. This is hauntingly captured in the chorus of a Susan Werner song: “I’m sure that you remember I was weird in school / I’m sorry about Jesus and all that.” The fact that we enacted our faith in goofy ways as a teenager, however, should not discredit Christian belief as an adult option any more than the fact that we expressed our romantic desires in a cringe-worthy manner should permanently rule out love. …

My students are often Christians who are old enough to mock mercilessly the people that gave of their time sacrificially to disciple them when they were young but who are not yet mature enough to be able to disciple others. I often find them quick-off-the-draw-ready with a forceful and sophisticated critique of most any traditional religious belief or practice.

They can be sadly flummoxed, however, by a simple request to explain what is true. If I wonder, “What are some problems with the doctrine of the atonement?” hands fly up all over the room, but if I straightforwardly ask, “What is the gospel?” the room falls strangely silent, and I find myself staring at rows of students quietly avoiding making eye contact.

To sketch what the gospel is would be to risk a rough draft that someone else would get the joy of critiquing; it would be to express a childlike faith; it would be to do the work of parenting.

I have therefore increasingly made it my self-imposed task to help my students find their way to their mature identities in a manner that does not make their parents and childhood teachers and pastors the foil in the process. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that they should simply accept what they have inherited unaltered. More and more I have come to value those who model how to no longer hold to the exact version of faith they grew up with while still finding ways to be grateful for and affirming of the community of faith that raised them.

more; via Wesley Hill

About Eve Tushnet