The survey results in the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers are broken down by national average and by particular religious tradition. As we’ve already noted in a previous post, these particular numbers are very helpful in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of these particular traditions.
For two traditions, the numbers paint a very interesting picture.
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. In contrast, Mormon teens 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 practice.
The second group I want to highlight is Jewish teens.
Overall the data reveals a remarkable apathy and pessimism about the character of their faith among Jewish teens.
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 disconnectedness of Jewish teens with their own religious heritage.
One way of interpreting this data is as the effect of centuries of religious persecution: if any community has continually suffered for their faith it is the Jewish community, from the exiles of Biblical times to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century to the persecutions that have faced the Jewish people in the 20th Century. The current data could be taken to suggest that such radical opposition to their faith has taken a toll.
There are lots of other ways that this could be interpreted, however, which could make for a very interesting story.