As much as modern day philosophers may try to dispel postmodernism as a rational and coherent worldview, postmodernism has yet to pass from the realm of cultural acceptance. Perhaps the greatest evidence for postmodernism as a socially acceptable philosophy in America can be identified through purveying our religious landscape. Some may define America’s general religious beliefs as being “Pluralistic”, but sociologist Christian Smith interprets this phenomenon as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.( Smith, Soul Searching, 162) The aim here is to provide analysis for the church regarding this religious perspective which is so pervasive in our culture, and offer some ways to combat it.
Author’s Christian Smith and Barna Group President David Kinnaman, have written and done extensive research on the religious views of today’s youth. Smith’s book Soul Searching, launched in 2005, targeted the Millennial’s (ages 13-17), also known as Generation Y. Two years later Kinnaman’s book UnChristian was released. His research covered those, who in 2007, were between the ages of 16-29, whom he refers to as “Mosaics and Busters”. (Kinnaman, UnChristian, 18)
Though Kinnaman focuses on the problems these generations have with Christianity, Smith looks at the whole pie of religion, and discovers that the youth’s religious beliefs, no matter what religion they follow, pretty much conforms to what they have been taught by their parents. This generation Smith researched tends to see religious beliefs as good, as long as it works for someone, and that there is some inherit good value in all religions. The good value is largely determined by a sense of the good feeling it gives someone about themselves and life in general. However, religion does not have to work for everyone. So there is no wrong or right claim to the truth market. Truth, probably best defined in this context is perceived as whatever is good for you, but this of course becomes relative. This view is reminiscent of the sixties mantra, “if it feels good do it,” which according to Smith should not surprise us, because today’s youth confess to be following whatever their parents have taught them.
Smith writes that claims made of this generation being “uniquely postmodern” or looking for a more “authentic faith” than that of previous generations is simply not true. In fact he says it is a fundamentally wrong impression. (Smith, 119) He writes, “the vast majority of American teenagers are exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices. Very few are restless, alienated, or rebellious; rather, the majority of U.S. teenagers seem basically content to follow the faith of their families with little questioning. When it comes to religion they are quite happy to go along and get along.” (Smith, 120)
In 2009 the Barna Group published a survey they conducted on the number of adult Americans who possess a biblical worldview. A few of the categories of belief that helped define a biblical worldview were things like believing that absolute moral truth exists, Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth, and that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works. ( www.barna.org. “Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years”, March, 6, 2009.)
The results of the survey showed that only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview, and that this has remained unchanged for more than a decade. The research also shows that a number of Americans embrace different aspects of a biblical worldview. For instance, even amongst those who consider themselves born again Christians, 47% strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds. This of course means 53% do believe salvation is through deeds. Another startling statistic is that 62% of born again Christians strongly believe that Jesus Christ was sinless. Of course this means 38% believe he sinned.
How this correlates to what Smith has written can be understood from the following conclusion of this survey published by the Barna Group: “less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation-i.e., those aged 18-23, have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.” For those reaching the younger generation, combining the research by Smith and this one by the Barna Group, should hopefully challenge our thinking about where we direct our efforts in ministry. Those efforts may not need to be so much on understanding youth more, though we want and need to understand what is culturally going on with them, but we may need to focus more intentionally in our ministries of challenging adults. As the Barna Group points out, a person’s worldview is primarily shaped and firmly in place by 13 years old. The primary influence over a child’s life between conception and puberty is their parents.