The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
© 2002 Colleen Caroll
Every action produces its reaction, and to Colleen Carroll decades of religious liberalism have born their fruit in the form of young people flocking back to conservative religious traditions, complete with smells and bells. One of the new faithful herself, Caroll’s own views mingle with those of the Generation Xers she interviews:. Raised in broken families, they are resacralizing marriage; burned out by one night stands and shallow relationships, they are embracing chastity; frustrated by Pontius Pilate’s question, ‘what is truth’, they are sneering at relativism and declaring: the truth is whatever the Bible says. The Youth Faithful mixes anecdotes and statistics, and despite being part of her subject matter, Carroll tries valiantly to be objective: some conducted interviews are with theologians and intellectuals critical of this trend ,and see it merely as a reflection of the age-old defiance of the reigning generation by the young.
But what if that’s not the only motive? Even considering that the now-historic trend commented on here (this book is nearly twelve years old) may be being reversed (considering the surge of people reporting as Nonreligious),what if these young people have motives which can open our eyes to the fact that society-as-usual isn’t providing something they want or need? No one here offers a real reason for re-adopting old dogmas, beyond deferring to St. Augustine or C.S. Lewis, but the prevailing idea that all of reality is subjective is no doubt frustrating. Even if you believe it, who wants to? It rails against every instinct: something must be true. Part of this conservative morality seems linked to the resurgence of the religious right in general in the 1980s, rather than being connected to a return to Orthodoxy. The historic appeal of orthodoxy is touched on — there’s a sense of security in associating with long-established traditions — as is the sense of order and peace that comes from daily rituals. More importantly are the practical reasons for the reversal: Generation X grew up after a series of profound, society-changing movements had started to take effect. They grew up in an era of skyrocketing divorces and sexual license. They were the children whose homes fell apart, whose adolescent peers’ lives were ruined by the rise of STDs and early pregnancy. They are the generation who first experienced these effects, and they are rallying against the cause of them – “liberalism”, used generically . More than anything, the people interviewed in this book are yearning for stability — stability in beliefs, in practice. They want a faith that can be counted on to guide them through the hard times. It’s worth pointing out, though Carroll doesn’t, that her ‘young adults’ are not so young: while there are college students here, many more are thirty-somethings with young families, and thus a heightened appreciation for morality and security are not too surprising. It’s a lot easier to want to set the world on fire with change when you don’t have children of your own who can be burned.
The Young Faithful is a thought-provoking book, if grating by the end as a result of the casual use of ‘liberal’ as an attack word, which damages the general sense of professionalism conveyed by Carroll’s writing. It is out of place in a more serious work like this. Considering that current religious growth is in fact in ‘conservative’ branches of Christianity like Catholicism, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Pentecostals, and the like, as opposed to the more liberal mainline denominations, The Youth Faithful remains of interest despite its increasing datedness, if not wholly appealing.
Crunchy Cons, Rob Dreher. Dreher is a Gen-Xer who left the Baptists for Eastern Orthodoxy.