Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Teens and Religion

**Just a reminder, first pages for Teen Crits are due TODAY! Email us your 250 words!**

Given the season, I thought it would be a good time to talk about teens and religion.

I went to a very religious high school (mostly Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and Jehovah's Witnesses), where things like mass student prayers in the cafeteria and a Christian rock concert in the parking lot every Friday morning were common. We were even, to the great pride of my school, censured by the district appellate court for ignoring a ban on organized prayer at football games.

Sadly, no amount of prayer could help our truly awful football team, and high school football is like a religion it and of itself in Texas.

As one of four non-Christians (me -- agnostic at the time -- and three atheists, in a school of 1000, and yes we all knew each other) the religiosity of my peers made a huge impact on my day-to-day life at school. And in a strange way, it stuck. As much as I resented the situation I was in during high school, I went on to do a religion minor in college and the book that got me my agent is about a girl who lives in a religious cult isolated from the rest of society.

Which is all a long way of saying that the intersection of teens and religion is something that is very important and interesting to me.

So, just how religious ARE today's teens?

The consensus seems to be that religiosity in teens is dropping, but on the whole American teens are still a very religious group. From the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion:

82% are affiliated with a local congregation
80% had few or no doubts about their beliefs in the past year
71% feel "extremely," "very" or "somewhat" close to God
65% pray alone at least three times a week
61% "Definitely" believe in divine miracles
53% Attend worship at least 2-3 times per month

A teen's religion most likely comes from their parents, with 75% reporting that their beliefs are very similar to that of their parents and only 6% claiming they believe very differently from their mother and 11% from their father.

The breakdown of how teens identify themselves looks pretty much like this:

Despite the large number of religious teens, however, repeated surveys have found that many, if not most, are undereducated about their religion and show religious knowledge which is "meager, nebulous and often fallacious. [...] Most seemed hard put to express coherently their beliefs and what difference they make." This suggests to me, at least, that many (but by no means all) teens are simply going through the motions of religion, going to church because their parents go to church, but have yet to really delve into their own beliefs.

So, how about some teens you know? I asked our Spies and Analysts to share their thoughts.

Are you religious?

I am technically a Catholic, but my beliefs aren't strictly Catholic. It's how I was raised and I go to mass almost every Sunday, but I also believe reincarnation's possible and I pretty much ignore the entire Old Testament. I'm not sure I'd call myself religious, but I'm more religious than most are.

I consider myself an atheist, although I've had my Catholic confirmations and such. I don't believe in the God that Christians/Catholics present to me, or really some of their morals, but I do believe that there is a source of greater power out there somewhere, something that created it all - to whatever that creator is, I'll pray to him when I need space or help.

I believe that God loves you no matter your religion, sexual orientation, whatever. I consider myself a "Contemporary Christian", which bugs some of my family to no end. I read Harry Potter and Twilight, and BOOM! My soul was in danger.

Were you raised in your religion or did you discover it on your own?

I was raised as a Christian but I would probably be an atheist if I hadn't discovered it for myself.

I was raised this way, but I still believe if I wasn't I'd come to seek and find this church.

I was raised this way - but there definitely have been times in my life where I discover something new and am closer and more involved with religion, more than my mom saying, "okay, we're going to church" or "go to your religion class."

My talked to me about God and I listened, though I wasn’t very interested when I was younger. It was just like school or a chore; boring and enforced. As I’ve gotten older though, particularly in this last year, I’ve developed a stronger connection with my faith and my relationship with God, but I’m more of a quiet believer.

Do you talk about religion with friends/classmates?

I talk about religion with my friends on occasion. We have a variety of backgrounds and beliefs, so sometimes it's interesting to discuss.  

Me and my friends had a religious debate in the middle of science class. He's an atheist, and she and I are Christians. He doesn't believe there is a God because his father is an atheist, and he is gay, so he thinks even if there was a God, he wouldn't go to heaven. It was an interesting conversation. They were both trying to convert each other.
Do you think teens today are more or less religious than they used to be?

I'm not sure teens were ever really religious. Religion is something that's hard to really grasp, but most of us are forced to pick what we are when we're only 13. Many teenagers aren't mature enough to handle that and to really think about what they believe, if they even care to think about it. I don't think that's something that's new to my generation.
I believe [teens today] are less religious. Even if they are it's hard to tell. So many teens these days have such low standards is hurts my heart to see what they brings themselves down to.

How do you feel about representations of religion in books/movies/TV?

It seems like the topic's ignored completely or it's all stereotypes in most of what's out there. It'd be nice to see more characters, especially in YA, grappling with their beliefs and their religion. There's so many options and ideas out there that characters in books or TV or movies can introduce teens to.

In regular contemporaries, I don't recall them ever once coming up in a book I've read, unless the book is about a cult or specifically focused on religion. I avoid LIKE THE PLAGUE overtly religious media. I don't like to be bombarded by other peoples' beliefs, no matter under what circumstances.

It depends on the book/moive/show. Secret Life of the American Teenager, I wanted to kill Grace because she was acting like a freak who thinks she is never wrong. Not all of us Christians shove our beliefs down peoples throats.

I hate when people portray religions as strict, up-tight institutions; it doesn't have to be like that.

The book I read, and movies I watch that have religion in them are well done. For an example I love the movie the Other Side of Heaven, and 27 Miracles, and for books the Arianna series by Rachel Ann Nunes and Jayson Wolfe series by Anita Stansfield are great books!

I don't seek out religious messages nor do I avoid them. If it's there I'll listen, but if I feel like it's not true or I disagree I'll walk away.

I feel there is a huge mix of religious representations in books, on TV, etc. Lately, there has been some great books that have religious undertones to them that have done it fabulously - Stefne Miller has 2 books, Salvaged and Rise, which are Christian YA and do a fabulous job. Another is Melissa Walker's Small Town Sinners, which came out this past summer. All three of these presented religion in a really interesting way, and it was there but it definitely wasn't the main thing in the book.

I feel some of the time, particularly in books, authors will try to push their religious views (usually about something like abstinence) down readers throats, and for me, that is the first thing that will turn me off.

I definitely try to avoid heavy religious messages in the media. It makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m being scolded or something. I can handle mild and brief content, but nothing that’s really in-your-face.

So, what do you think? Are any of your characters religious? Teens, what are your feelings on religion and how its portrayed in YA?


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