Saturday, November 26, 2011

The New American Religion of Young Adults

Here are two interestingly related articles regarding young adults and their lack of religious schooling and background.  The first article I found over a year ago, and it's actually an article from 2005 that I found in The Christian Post.  The author, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., write of America's young people and their "moralistic therapeutic deism" --

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, "To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both."

As the researchers explained, "For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. 'Whatever' is just fine, if that's what a person wants."

The casual "whatever" that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes--adolescent and otherwise--is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, "most religious teenager's opinions and views--one can hardly call them worldviews--are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion."
And, here is a recent opinion piece by Peter Wehner I found at Commentary Magazine
Our Lack of Moral Vocabulary

Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a fascinating column on young people’s moral lives, basing it on hundreds of in-depth interviews with young adults across America conducted by the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team.

The results, according to Brooks, were “depressing” — not so much because of how they lived but because of “how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, what we find is “young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.” What Smith and his team found is an atmosphere of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” The reason, in part, is because they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to “cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”

This is part of a generations-long phenomenon. In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” And the university, Bloom argued, is unwilling to offer a distinctive visage to young people. The guiding philosophy of the academy is there are no first principles, no coherent ways to interpret the world in which we live.

But this is merely a pose. No one, not even a liberal academic, is a true relativist. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find them to be (morally) judgmental toward those who want to discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. They will likely have strong (moral) views on criminalizing abortion, restricting marriage to one man and one woman, anthropogenic global warming, water-boarding terrorists, rendition, Israeli settlements, profits for oil companies, and cutting taxes for the rich. The left is adamant: women have a “right” to an abortion and gays have a “right” to marry. These rights are viewed as a priori and inviolate. And no one, not even a progressive liberal arts professor, is morally indifferent to someone who wants to rape his wife, molest his children, and steal his iPad. It is fashionable to insist we don’t want to “impose our values” on others or “legislate morality.” But the reality is we do so all the time, on an endless number of issues, and no civilization could survive without doing so. The question, really, is which moral standards do we aspire to? What is the ethical code we use to judge ourselves and others?


This didn’t arise ex nihilo. In the 1970s, influential figures in education like Sydney Simon and Lawrence Kohlberg argued for “values clarification” and “cognitive moral development,” believing the traditional moral education was essentially indoctrination –“undemocratic and unconstitutional.” (See this excellent 1978 Public Interest essay by William J. Bennett and Edwin J. DeLattre for more.) This was utter nonsense, of course; but it was also corrosive and had profound human and social consequences. You can’t promote ethical agnosticism and embrace nonjudgmentalism without there being moral ramifications. Because at some point, we all have to take a moral stand and embrace a moral cause. We have to believe in, and abide by, rules and precepts. We don’t have the luxury of living a life of perpetual moral confusion. C.S. Lewis put it as well as anyone when he wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

One final thought: what is often lost in this debate is that human fulfillment and happiness isn’t found in a world stripped of moral beliefs. Despair, not joy, is found among those who believe in nothing, who find purpose in nothing, who fight for nothing. Because of human anthropology – because we are moral creatures, made in the image of God – we are meant to delight in His ways, to live lives of high moral purpose. All of us fail more often than we should. But we cannot give up on the aspiration; nor can we allow our hearts to grow cold and indifferent, unmoved by the beauty of moral excellence.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things,” St. Paul wrote. In our world, there is still excellence. There are still things worthy of praise. It’s time we once again dwell on them.
 Being a public school teacher for over 25 years and having been a youth leader for some six years, I have a deep concern for young people.  I know the ways of this world and the lies that are told to us -- especially at such a vulnerable age as an adolescent and young adult.  It is surely a poverty of our nation that kids are increasingly losing their Judeo-Christian heritage.  Let us pray for revivial.  We are still predominantly a nation of faith; but, let us not give another inch and start digging our roots deep into God.

St. Philip's Tomb Unearthed in Turkey

I've been MIA for quite some time and have a back log of interesting articles.  Here's one I found this summer:

Tomb of St. Philip the Apostle Discovered in Turkey

A tomb believed to be that of St. Philip the Apostle was unearthed during excavations in the ancient Turkish city of Hierapolis.

Italian professor Francesco D'Andria said archeologists found the tomb of the biblical figure -- one of the 12 original disciples of Jesus -- while working on the ruins of a newly-unearthed church, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported Wednesday.

"We have been looking for Saint Philip's tomb for years," d'Andria told the agency. "We finally found it in the ruins of a church which we excavated a month ago."

The structure of the tomb and the writings on the wall proved it belonged to St. Philip, he added.

The professor said the archaeologists worked for years to find the tomb and he expected it to become an important Christian pilgrimage destination.

St. Philip, recognized as one of Christianity's martyrs, is thought to have died in Hierapolis, in the southwest province of Denizli, in around 80AD. It is believed he was crucified upside down or beheaded.

Hierapolis, whose name means "sacred city," is an ancient city famous for its hot springs and a spa since the 2nd century.

The Turkish news agency notes a wealth  of current archaeology projects underway in the country, which has seen a potpourri of cultures over the centuries: Assyrians, Phrygians, Persians, Romans, Byzantinians, Ottomans and more. 

"Just As I Am": A Treasured Hymn Written in the Midst of Suffering

I am always amazed by people's stories, especially those of people who have overcome some great struggle to the blessing of others.  I happened upon this great story about the beloved hymn "Just As I Am" -- from STEM Publishing:

Miss Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871.

These notes are taken from Dr. Julian's Hymnology and from Knapp's "Who wrote our Hymns".
Dr. Julian:
Miss Elliott was the daughter of Charles Elliott of Clapham and Brighton and grand-daughter of the Rev. H. Venn of Huddersfield. She was born March 18th. 1789. The first 32 years of her life were spent mostly at Clapham. In 1823 she removed to Brighton and died there Sept. 22nd. 1871. To her aquaintance with Dr. C. Malan of Geneva is attributed much of the deep spiritual-mindedness which is so pronounced in her hymns. Though weak and feeble in body, she possessed a strong imagination and a well cultured and intellectual mind. Her love of poetry and music was great and is reflected in her verse. Her hymns number about 150, a large proportion of which is in common use. The finest and most widely known of these are: "Just as I am" and "My God, my Father while I stray". Her verse is characterised by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm. For those in sickness and sorrow, she has sung as few others have done.

The history of the writing of "Just as I am, without one plea".— In the Record, Oct. 15th. 1897, Bishop H.C.G. Moule of Durham, the Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, gave a most interesting account of Miss Elliott, and the origin of this hymn. Dr. Moule, who is related to the family, derived his information from family sources. In an abbreviated form, this is the beautiful story — "Ill health still beset her. Besides its general trying influence on the spirit, it often caused her the peculiar pain of a seeming uselessness in her life, while the circle round her was full of unresting serviceableness for God. Such a time of trial marked the year 1834, when she was 45 years old and was living in Westfield Lodge, Brighton ... Her brother, the Rev. H.V. Elliott, had not long before conceived the plan of St. Mary's Hall at Brighton, a school designed to give at nominal cost, a high education to the daughters of clergymen; a noble work which is to this day carried on with admirable ability and large success. In aid to St.Mary's Hall there was to be held a bazaar... Westfield Lodge was all astir; every member of the large circle was occupied morning and night in preparation with the one exception of the ailing sister Charlotte — as full of eager interest as any of them, but physically fit for nothing. The night before the bazaar she was kept wakeful by distressing thoughts of her apparent uselessness; and these thoughts passed by a transition easy to imagine into a spiritual conflict until she questioned the reality of her whole spiritual life, and wondered whether it was anything better after all than an illusion of the emotions, an illusion ready to be sorrowfully dispelled. The next day, the busy day of the bazaar .... the troubles of the night came back upon her with such force that she felt they must be met and conquered by the grace of God. She gathered up in her soul the grand certainties, not of her emotions, but of her salvation: her Lord; His power: His promise. And taking pen and paper from the table she deliberately set down in writing for her own comfort the formulae of her faith ... so in verse she restated to herself the Gospel of pardon, peace and heaven.... there, then, always, not at some past moment, but "even now" she was accepted in the Beloved, "Just as I am". As the day wore on, her sister-in-law, Mrs. H.V. Elliott, came in to see her and bring news of the work. She read the hymn and asked (she well might) for a copy. So it first stole out from that quiet room into the world, where for sixty years it has been sowing and reaping, until a multitude which only God can number has been blessed through the message".

The hymn "Just as I am without one plea" was first published in the "Invalid's Hymn Book, 1836" in 6 stanzas, headed with the text, "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out". The hymn has been transferred to almost every hymnal published in English-speaking countries during the past fifty years. It has been translated into every European language, and into the languages of many distant lands. The testimony of Miss Elliott's brother, (the Rev. H.V. Elliott, editor of Psalms and Hymns, 1835) to the great results arising from this one hymn is very touching. He says, "In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's". It ranks with the finest hymns in the English language. Its success has given rise to many imitations.

Under the date of Jan. 26th. 1872, the Rev. J. Babbington, brother-in-law to Miss Elliott, wrote to the late D. Sedgwick concerning Miss Elliott's hymn "O Jesus, make Thyself to me", "the lines you refer to (O Jesus make Thyself to me) are Miss Charlotte Elliott's. They were for many years the private expression of her own daily prayers, and were so much a part of her own hidden life with her Saviour that they were rarely communicated by her to any one, and only to her most intimate friends. One of those had them printed on a card by Taylor (Edinburgh 1860) and at first she was rather disconcerted, till she was led to feel that this was her loved Saviour's way of leading others to the participation in her own sacred inner life. The lines were:
O Jesus, make Thyself to me,
A living bright reality:
More present to faith's vision keen,
Than any outward object seen:
More dear, more intimately rich,
Than e'en the sweetest earthly tie".
An indication of her serious bent of mind and her object in writing is expressed in an introduction to one of her books of poems: 'Not for the gay and thoughtless do I weave these plaintive strains".

Christopher Knapp's Account: 

Miss Elliott's father was a godly man at whose house the servants of Christ were often entertained. It was through a visit of one of these, Dr Cesar Malan, of Geneva, that Charlotte was converted and later wrote her celebrated hymn, "Just as I am". The story is as follows:

One evening, as they sat conversing, the servant of God turned the subject to our personal relation with God, and asked Charlotte if she knew herself to be really a Christian. She was in poor health and often harassed with severe pain, which tended to make her irritable. A severe illness had left her a permanent invalid. She resented the question thus pointedly put, and petulantly answered that religion was a matter she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Malan replied in his usual kind manner, that he would not pursue a subject that displeased her, but would pray that she might give her heart to Christ, and employ in His service the talents with which He had gifted her. It seems that the Holy Spirit used her abrupt and almost rude conduct towards God's servant to show her what depths of pride and alienation from God were in her heart. After several days of spiritual misery, she apologised for her unbecoming conduct, and confessed that his question had troubled her greatly. "I am miserable" she said, "I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don't know how". "Why not come just as you are?", answered Malan. "You have only to come to Him just as you are". Little did Malan think that his simple reply would be repeated in song by the whole Christian world! Further conversation followed, and this good man was enabled to make perfectly clear to the once proud but now penitent young lady God's simple way of salvation through Christ; that on the ground of His shed blood for us, all who from their heart believe are accepted of God. Miss Charlotte came as a sinner to Christ, and remembering this event wrote the hymn that has made her name famous everywhere. Miss Elliott was possessed of rare literary gifts and when in the year 1836 she assumed the editorship of the "Yearly Remembrancer", she inserted in the first number, this now long-famous hymn — without her name. A commentator says of this hymn, "With its sweet counsel to troubled minds it found its way into magazines and other publications, and in devout persons' scrap books; then into religious circles and chapel assemblies; and finally into the hymnals of the church universal". Some time after its publication, a lady, struck by its beauty and spiritual value, had it printed in leaflet form for circulation in cities and towns of the kingdom. Miss Elliott, in feeble health, was then in Torquay in Devonshire, under the care of an eminent physician. One day the doctor, who was an earnest Christian man, put one of these leaflets into his patient's hands, saying that it had been helpful to him and felt sure she would like it. The surprise and pleasure was mutual when she recognised her own hymn and he discovered that she was the author. We know not which to admire most, the beauty of the composition, or the lovely modesty of its author, who for so many years forbore to divulge its origin.

Her father died in 1833, and ten years later her mother and two sisters. Then the home at Brighton was given up, and Charlotte Elliott went to live with her only surviving sister on the Continent. Later they lived for fourteen years at Torquay. After this they went again to Brighton to live, where our author remained until her home-call, Sept 22nd, 1871, at the advanced age of eighty-two.

Knapp tells the story of Miss Elliott's conversion. Dr. Moule tells the story of the writing of the hymn, which no doubt was based upon the experience of her conversion which she drew upon in her spiritual conflict.

Miss Elliott's hymns in 'Spiritual Songs' are: 282, "'Christian, seek not yet repose", (a new hymn to the Little Flock Hymn Book) and 465 "O Holy Saviour, Friend unseen". Number 282 has rapidly become a favourite hymn in prayer and ministry meetings. Verses 3 & 4 were written by Mrs Hazel Dixon of Stockport.
And here's a lovely YouTube video version:


Rocks in My Shoes

In October I had the good fortune of attending a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert and have since been enjoying his music along with that of his two fellow performers: Josh Wilson and Andrew Peterson.  (It's the Songs & Stories Tour.)  It was a wonderful evening filled with great music from three dedicated and talented Christian musicians.  As I drove to the concert with a friend, I reflected on the horrible tragedy that struck the Chapman family back in 2008 and wondered how this dreadful event impacted their lives, relationships, and faith.  My impression that evening at the concert was that Chapman's current album seems to be his re-entry into the world: "re:creation." The album is described thusly on his website:
"re:creation is the 17th studio album from Steven Curtis Chapman which features five new songs [and] all-new re-imagined recordings of eight of his biggest hits. In examining how to best recreate some of the songs that made him the most awarded..."
The re-recorded hits are more of an acoustic arrangements, and they are FABULOUS!!!

All three men gifted the audience with a thoroughly entertaining and uplifting evening.  I was particularly struck by one of Chapman's songs: "Long Way Home."  He introduced it, strumming lightly on a ukelele, an instrument he recently discovered.  If I remember his words correctly, he said he felt that God wanted him to learn to play it, because you can't help but be happy when you hear a ukelele, and God was wanting Stephen to be happy again.  As he played, there was a verse that grabbed my attention: "I got some rocks in my shoes."  These were words with which I so deeply connected.  I have so many rocks in my shoes that impede my journey. 

For a little more context, here are some of the other lyrics from Chapman's song:
I got some rocks in my shoes
Fears I wish I could lose
They make the mountains so hard to climb
And my heart gets so heavy with the weight of the world sometimes

There's a bag of regrets
My should've beens and not yets
I keep on dragging around
And I can hardly wait for the day I get to lay it all down
Rocks in my shoes ... I pause to reflect on how even just a tiny, almost grain-like piece of gravel can be irritating.  Just yesterday as I worked in the yard, there was a tiny pebble under my heal, and I kept shaking my foot hoping the pebble would drop out without having to remove my shoes.  But, to no avail.  I had to stop what I was doing, so distracted and irritated by such a tiny thing, pulled off my shoe and shook out the offending bit of rock.

Interesting how something so tiny, if in just the right spot (in this case, right under my heel bone), can cause so much distraction and aggravation!  These rocks, pebbles, and grains of sand are a lot like irritations and trials in life.  There are the huge rocks that  may blister and bruise our feet and cause us to limp.  Life can likewise bruise and blister us, hobbling us in our journey.  Sometimes these "rocks in our shoes" are lifelong.  Then, there are the small, irritations that cause distraction during our endeavors.  Either way, there comes a time when we must occasionally stop and shake out our shoes -- and shake out our souls.  But, as we continue along our journey, life will cause another rock to sneak into our shoes ... or there is the stone or two that we cannot shake.  It won't be until our final day that, as Chapman writes, we'll be able to lay down our burden.

In the meantime, between here at our current milemarker along The Journey and that final day, let us rely on God to bind up our wounds as He whispers His love and encouragement.  Let us remember the Balm in Gilead:
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

 I am that sin-sick soul, Lord.  Please soothe my pains and heal me with your balm.

[Note: The three albums I promptly bought after the concert and highly recommend are Chapman's "re:creation", Wilson's "See You", and Peterson's "Counting Stars."  All are conveniently available for download from iTunes.]