Effect Measure

I have a lot of hope for the new generation. My students are wonderful, smart, committed, politically savvy. Much better than the two generations that preceded them, the dead period between the sixties and now (don’t take offense; I know a lot of you are, and were, smart, committed and politically savvy during that time, but, let’s face it, most of your colleagues were a bit, shall we say, self absorbed?).

An article in the New York Times gives me further cause for optimism. The evangelical movement is losing the youngsters:

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers. (NYT)

It probably is exaggerated. It’s hard to believe only 4% of future Americans will believe the earth was created in 7 days 6000 years ago by an all knowing, all powerful, all seeing, benevolent God, who loves us so much that if we don’t love Him back he will make us burn in Hell for Eternity. I give Americans a lot less credit than that. But I think the diagnosis and identification of the cause of youth disaffection is probably correct. Mass popular culture is a tide you can’t hold back. Even the religious-Right loving Fox channel carries the most tasteless and frankly secular entertainment shows around (also frequently pretty funny ones), for the simple reason they make money. Mammon.

Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual “hooking up” approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.

Not to mention the obvious hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the Robertsons, Falwells, Dobsons and others of that ilk.

In any event, it is clear evangelicals are becoming collateral damage in the fight for the consumer’s dollar. It seems quite revealing they complain about that kind of collateral damage, but seem only vaguely troubled by the innocent loss of life the religious Right has sanctioned in its crusade to support the liberation of Iraq from the heretics.

Never mind. The kids are alright, even if, grammatically, they should really be all right. Grammar isn’t everything.


  1. #1 Carl
    October 22, 2006

    Hi – I’ll go first as I have to get off to church with my family (hahahaaaa! maried, with children & churchgoing!!!! what evil lurks..) Anyway, interesting twist this week, instead of Revere(s) going after the Christians directly we have the NYT do it. Now, while I am NOT an evangelical type I do find it interesting that sophisticated epidemiologist types don’t see the obvious statistical error in the article. Article said,’IF CURRENT TRENDS CONTINUE’, well thats it isn’t it. Current trends never continue. It’s like measuring a twelve year olds growth rate and breathlessly saying ‘if current trends continue Jr. will be twenty five feet tall by age thirty.’
    Add to that the fact tht adolesence is typically the time when we all challenge all sorts of authority including ecclesiastical authority. What happens in many Christian denominations (don’t know about others) is that there is a drop off in attendance & observation in late teens early twenties. We generally see many of these folks begin returning to church attendence and observation after they are married with young children. The fact that there is a decline in religious activity with evangelical teens should not be surprising. Like most of us there prime interest in these years are recreational (in all senses of the word). Anyway, no stock with the evans types always prefered St. Thomas Aquinas & St. Augustine. Good hunting to the rest of you….

  2. #2 revere
    October 22, 2006

    Carl: Actually, I didn’t think the 4% figure was at all accurate but I do think that it is impossible to hold back the force of popular culture on young people. What happens later in life will depend a great deal on what the world is like then. I wouldn’t count on current trends continuing, either. Including the one you see.

  3. #3 Gene Goldring
    October 22, 2006

    Maybe a few Catholics will stray into the Christian camp due to what is happening presently at the Vatican.

    Crimen Sollicitationis anyone?

    Crimen Sollicitationis was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope. It instructs bishops on how to deal with allegations of child abuse against priests and has been seen by few outsiders. Critics say the document has been used to evade prosecution for sex crimes.

    Don’t miss the video link in the top right hand corner of the page.


  4. #4 RPM
    October 22, 2006

    The kids may be alright, but are mommy and daddy?

    Sorry for mixing rock n roll allusions on you.

  5. #5 Chris
    October 22, 2006

    Maybe a few Catholics will stray into the Christian camp due to what is happening

    FWIW, Catholics are already Christians. That said, I welcome our new secular overloards.

    Kids used to be kept in the church by sheltering them. Parents could control the TV, what books came into the house, etc. With the current pervasiveness of the internet (and other forms of media), it’s much harder to stay insular.

    We’re a connected society, and the more interconnected people get, the more concern they typically have for their fellow man. This is good news for progressives everywhere.

  6. #6 tardigrade
    October 22, 2006

    …Well, I gotta make this quick ’cause I gotta go out and kiss my chicken and pet the tortoises and play with the bugs!What I do on Sundays!

    I too have ‘faith’ that a number of young people will start viewing their world differently and without the pushing of the bible thumpers. It feels good to think that there will be people who love THIS world to take care of it.

  7. #7 tympanachus
    October 22, 2006

    revere: “~most of your colleagues were a bit, shall we say, self absorbed”

    ‘Spect I belong over there with the self absorbed goats. It has been a damn fine ride – managed to avoid the wars, sickness (well, this not so late in life cancer is a drag but I always was gerontophobic as regards personal development), and the other kinds of abject failures (relationship and economic) that can haunt your life. I have some regrets about trash and burn American capitalism (lots of energy, raw materials and 3rd world slavery required to polish an ego) but I generally left things better’n I found them.

    I reckon the grandkids are gonna be pissed but I’ve some hope they will learn to meet their emotional needs without embracing the preposterous while fostering new ways of social coherence outside the them vs. us paradigm that haunts humankind.

  8. #8 revere
    October 22, 2006

    tymp: There were lots of you who kept the lights on during that period. I’ve had the privilege of knowing hundreds. And now the generational ship is coming to and headed in the right direction again after drifting. It is a pleasure to see and should be a great satisfaction to those whose moral compass never failed.

  9. #9 attack rate
    October 22, 2006


    It’s nice to know that you think we’re “all right”. As someone born in the nineteen-eighties, many of my work colleagues, most of my lecturers, and all of my bosses and supervisors had already been doing what they do for five years or more at the time of my birth.

    Usually, I (and I’m going to generalise slightly and include others my age that I’ve spoken to – “we”) get told that we have a bad attitude, that we want too much too soon, that we rock the boat and that we’re idealistic and will never get anywhere. We also get accused of being self-absorbed, because we ask about the future of the greater good, as opposed to the future of the organisation.

    Positive reinforcement of any kind is always appreciated – otherwise people get more cynical than they need to be pretty fast.

  10. #10 epifreek
    October 22, 2006

    Excuse my cynicism, but I suspect the hoopla about the supposed loss of young evangelicals has more to do with evangelical fundraising tactics and fear mongering than reality (unfortunately).

  11. #11 revere
    October 22, 2006

    epifreek: No, I think there is reasonable evidence they are shrinking, just as are other religions. Just not fast enough.

  12. #12 DeLuca
    October 23, 2006

    Gene-Catholics like me will never leave the faith-we may never go to church either, but we are not about to abandon Catholicism because it has been overrun by some of the most perverted, criminal people in the world. We sit at home on Sundays waiting for the truly faithful to take back the church. Save a pew for me when it finally happens.

  13. #13 another
    October 23, 2006

    DeLuca wrote: “… we are not about to abandon Catholicism because it has been overrun by some of the most perverted, criminal people in the world.”

    Many feel the same way about the American republic. Of course, the remedy for that one is in the hands of the American people. Perhaps as early as November 7th.

  14. #14 Dylan
    October 24, 2006

    > it has been overrun by some of the most perverted, criminal people in the world.< - DeLuca It has been overrun by nothing; that is its nature. It always has been. It always will be. "Catholic" translates, literally, into "world wide."

  15. #15 O'Leary
    October 24, 2006

    Am I ever glad to hear that your students are giving you great hope, Revere!

    The Sixties are long gone. There is a new musical on Broadway called “Times are a-Changin'” with the Tyla Tharpe dancers and corny renditions of Bob Dylan songs. It is a musical of Cats proportions! Entertainment for the whole family “I laughed, I cried”…. So, the times are indeed changin’ and it is for the younger generation to carry the flame, go out on the barricades and fight for all that the Sixties generation wasn’t able to accomplish. And the hour is getting late..

    When I think of the Civil Rights movement of the sixties and the new race hatred against Hispanics, Asians, and anyone with a lovely dark complexion, the building of walls around communities and soon the whole country, I sometimes despair that there will be a change. But then, the wheel turns and I guess times can change AGAIN!!!!!

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