KIDS & GOD
Not such an odd mix (outside church)
And God vs Darwin
Though there are probably not any statistics anywhere to verify my observations, I have come to believe that most adults have a standard opinion on teenagers and religion -- that like drinking and driving they do not generally mix.
The stereotyped teen which theirs minds most often see is a Sunday school truant whose list of major concerns does not include theology. Though the generalization does fit some teens (as it does some adults), I wouldn't say that is it totally accurate.
The charge of truancy is perhaps justified; many young people do not go to church. This is especially evident on some college campuses, where the chapels are rarely full. However this is not necessarily because the students don't care about religion, but often because their concern is more than the churches can handle. Times have changed, science and society have posed new problems for the individual human mind, but the churches lag behind in presenting acceptable solutions, indeed, even in acknowledging the problems.
The young aren't about to wait for the churches to catch up, so they look elsewhere. They are forced to examine life, themselves, and their beliefs in relation to each other, and are influenced only by their church as much as they want to be. They find religion, but not under the church roof.
In a number of my classes in school this year, the discussion among the students has often ended up within the realm of religion and morality, sometimes by design, but most frequently by accident. Many of the social problems which are discussed in today's high school classes are rooted in questions of morality. I often wish that some adults could see and hear some of these classes. The opinions and beliefs which the students express are often very interesting.
They are concerned. Few of them are devoted purely to their church's teachings; each rather practices a religion that is strictly his own. I know of no atheists, but there probably are a few. Some are agnostic. Some acknowledge that there is a God, and little else. Some who once did not believe in the divinity of Christ now do, and vice versa. A few believe the legends of the Bible to be literally true, while others consider them only symbolic myths.
Despite this variety of opinion, most young people do share a few common religious views. Most of them are disallusioned [sic] and disappointed in the organized churches. They feel that the churches have not been quick enough to take a stand on the "real" issues of the day, but have instead been satisfied to hide behind pomp, ceremony, and Elizabethan language.
The young are unhappy with the "Sunday Christians" who come to sit in the comfortable pew on the Sabbath, and put their quarter in the plate, only to go out and attempt to slice their fellow's throats in business on Monday through Saturday. They are disgusted by the fact that the churches have so often in their histories displayed such hypocrisy, and they find the dogma that was so often used to justify this hypocrisy to be tedious.
In their own personal philosophies, they tend to eliminate this dogma, and simplify the entire system of Christian morality down to a few basic words like love, mercy, understanding, or kindness. Using these basics as a foundation, they each build a personal "religion" which could more accurately be called an enlightened conscience, which each tries to follow as faithfully as possible.
This conscience works full time, not only on Sunday -- each tries not only to make religion his life, but rather his life a religion. Each would rather give vent to his "enlightened conscience" by action rather than by a pattern of oral worship. Their church building is the entire world, the best and the worst of it, and they want their religion to be able to cope with it.
Perhaps someday the churches will offer this type of faith to everyone, and they will then be well attended. Until then, many of the young will search elsewhere. In any case, best of luck.
I had forgotten, until looking back, how much my adolescent mind was occupied with religion. I was a good little Episcopal choirboy, read up on comparative religion (suspecting myself Unitarian -- not, clearly, that it made me ecumenical enough to acknowledge any but Christian religions above); in college I wrote papers on Aquinas and Martin Luther.
All that remains is less rationalist: a fondness for the magic of that "Elizabethan language" -- in fact historically later: the King James Bible; especially the Anglican / Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Helen Sonthoff once made a gift to me her own copy -- letting me confirm I still knew entire passages by heart.
My endless use here of "he" (if the usual then) is especially egregious. I likely had most in mind my good friend Margaret Hudlin, resisting Catholic theology while trying, still, to be a Catholic. Her effort was later forsaken, at least in name, when she married her spiritual mentor: her local -- if by then defrocked -- parish priest.
My reference to "the comfortable pew" is evidence of some Canadian reading even then: I'd found Pierre Berton's book by that name in the Ayer Library.
Paul Goodman, a noted social critic, once said that when one considers the condition of the world, it is hard for one not to agree that a panel of bright high school students could probably run it better. Two events which were in the news early this week made me suspicious that this high school panel had already pulled off a secret coup de etat [sic] and was in power.
The first of these events was the Supreme Court decision on the case of Gerald Gault, age 15, of Globe, Ariz., who was convicted in June of 1964 for making lewd telephone calls. Had he been an adult, he would have been fined from five to fifty dollars or sentenced to no more than two months in jail. However, after his trial in a juvenile court he was sentenced to six years in the State Industrial School.
The Supreme Court, I am happy to report, ordered the reconsideration of the case, and in doing so established a Bill of Rights for American youth.
The juvenile court system in America was established with the intention of reforming rather than punishing young lawbreakers. However, many of the "reform" measures have been questionable. Violators have been ordered spanked in open court. In Memphis, convicted juvenile vandals must clean up litter in public parks while wearing a vest which proclaims, "I am a vandal." The judge of the Sonora, Texas juvenile court ordered that a group of young offenders be put on public display in open trucks while they were carted to various works projects around town.
In the interest of their own reform, these youths have been punished in ways so humiliating that most adults would not tolerate them. Moreover, the juvenile court system has robbed those under 18 of rights which we all hold to be basic.
Before the Supreme Court ruling in the Gault case, a youth who was accused of a crime did not have the right to a public trial, he did not have the guarantee of an attorney, he did not have the right to cross examine or question his accusers, and he did not have protection from self incrimination, as is provided for in the fifth amendment. In fact, he could even be held without being informed of the nature of the crime which he was accused of committing.
Now these basic rights are guaranteed to juveniles, as they have been to adults since 1791. To say it's about time is putting it mildly.
The second events occured not in Washington but in Nashville, Tenn. The state that tried John Scopes for teaching the theory or evolution in a public school in 1925 finally repealed the law on which that trial was based. By a vote of 20 to 13, the Tennessee State Senate junked the anti evolution law, and as one Senator put it, "got the monkey off its back."
Anyone who was alive in 1925, or who has read the play Inherit the Wind will recall the historic trial in which the defendant was practically forgotten in the fervor of the battle between the counsels, the brilliant lawyer and agnostic Clarence Darrow and the Presidential also-ran and religious fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan. After a fierce trial in the sweltering summer heat, Scopes was found guilty, but the punishment was no [sic; so] minor (a $100 fine) that the law was considered, for all practical purposes, killed.
Now, after 42 years, the Tennessee State Senate has made it final. As I see it, the decision was more a triumph of open mindedness than of a particular religious philosophy. Attitudes in Tennessee have not changed considerably since 1925 -- the theory of evolution still doesn't have much popular support there. However, the people (or at least the legislators) of the State have realized that prohibition is rarely the best solution and that if the students are given an open and honest education, they will decide on this issue well enough for themselves.
Congress last week cut the NASA budget by $108 million. It is sad that such major decisions are so often made by old men with so little foresight.
There is something about most televised beauty pageants that nauseates me. J. D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, quite often used a word which seems to hit that something right on the nose: phony.
Congressman Hebert of Louisiana has proposed that the First Amendment be abolished. And so as democracy sinks not so slowly in the West....
Did someone say democracy? Premier Ky of South Vietnam has announced that he will run for his country's presidency in the upcoming election. He has also said that he will use the army to force his will if he doesn't like the results. And as democracy sinks quite rapidly in the East....
The Arabs are praying for a "Holy War" against Israel. Can't blame them for wanting to be in step with the times. After all, the United States has a holy war, why not them too?
Treading already the pundit's fine line, as Mark Kingwell has said, "between smart and smart ass"....
A number of US states now insist that science teachers have not just monkeys on their backs but God too, demanding Genesis get equal time with Darwin. Well, lest we get smug: Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day apparently believes Fred and Wilma Flintstone really could have had a pet dinosaur.
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February 2001 / Last revised: October 5, 2001
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