Tag Archives: emerging adulthood

Marrying Young

About six months ago I read a fabulous book, which helped to confirm for me my love of sociology of religion. The book, by Mark Regnerus, was called Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers and one of its themes included the discrepancies between adults’ teaching/teenagers’ belief/teenagers’ practice when it comes to evangelical sexual ethics. This, among other things, has led Regnerus himself–who is evangelical–to advocate for younger marriage.

The stereotype, of course, is already that conservative Christians tend to marry younger. Still, along with the many non-evangelicals, there are plenty of evangelicals who also would question Regnerus’s recommendation.

I used to be one of them.

It’s not so much that I thought everyone that got married young did so just for sex or that all young marriages were bound to fail. It was much more of a feminist thing for me–it seemed the younger the marriage the more traditional the gender role expectations tended to be. (I’m not certain that there is any social scientific evidence for this, but this was my probably unfair stereotype.) I’ve changed my mind, however, and I feel like sharing some of the reasons with the world. So here is my brief treatise on the benefits of marrying young:

Some Christians criticize others for their lack of a “consistent ethic of human life”–i.e. supporting the death penalty while opposing abortion. I think we Christians need to do some reflection on a consistent ethic of marriage. We have so emphasized not committing adultery and not divorcing that we neglect to discuss many other important things. These items range from how to best support those who have divorced for legitimate or illegitimate reasons to better supporting dual-earner families, from acknowledging female sexuality to recognizing the significance of emotional abuse. I also believe that among these issues is the need to thoughtfully consider and teach the beauty of the very countercultural aspects of marriage.

While marriage is something that has existed throughout history and in many different cultural contexts, it has undoubtedly been done differently depending on the particulars of those contexts. Our context today introduces many interesting elements into the equation, ultimately leading to later marriages. First, the high divorce rate of my generation’s parents has left many anxious about commitment and a few quite jaded. Secondly, casual sex is not always as common as portrayed in movies but is still a part of the cultural landscape (facilitated, of course, by modern methods of birth control). Thirdly, our current economic situation and the direction of our society more generally is encouraging more education, postponing careers. Fourthly, American culture is extremely individualistic. To me, these seem to be some of the most significant factors in delaying marriage today. Together they make marrying young look unnecessary at best, foolish at worst.

Taking even the most positive approach, younger marriage is just likely to cause problems. When you’re in your 20s, you really don’t know what you’re doing with your life. “Emerging Adults” have a lot of growing up to do and are still waist-deep in questions about their future educations and careers. What if you marry someone, only to find out that they work in New York, while you’ve accepted a great job in California? What if you can’t both get accepted into the same or nearby grad schools? What if in your continuing to grow up, one or both of you changes significantly? When you’re not planning on having kids yet anyway, why get married? You can still live together with some degree of commitment, and yet be able to get out if things don’t go as you hope. Additionally, weddings are expensive, and it makes more sense to wait until you have enough money to pay for the accoutrements you’ve always dreamed of, right? Anyway, it seems wiser to wait until you have stable careers with stable incomes.

In this culture with these attitudes, marrying young is weird. And clearly it’s not for everyone–some people haven’t met the right person or aren’t at the right place in their relationship or personal growth to make that kind of a step. And yet, I wonder what it’d look like for Christian communities to encourage a different attitude toward marriage–not so much marrying “young” vs. marrying older as much as Christian marriage as an intentionally countercultural act. You’re deciding you don’t want to leave your options open, you’re not going to try to guarantee the stability of every aspect of your life, you’re going to take some risk as far as your education and careers work out, and you’re willing to commit yourself to one person when you don’t necessarily have to yet and even though you’ve seen a lot of marriages die. To me, that sounds pretty radical in our society.

I’m not trying to say that non-Christians can’t have good and purposeful marriages, of course, just that as Christians we should especially be thinking about how the gospel applies to every aspect of life, including marriage. I know not everyone should actually marry young but going into marriage with a different set of attitudes toward partnership and commitment can be really significant, I think. For example, many Christians emphasize that commitments are important to keep, yet many also still promote some sort of hesitancy (whether in serious conversation or innocent jokes) about commitment. I would argue that an actually more Christian view of commitment maturely measures the risk, yet in the end embraces that uncertainty with excitement and hope.

To truly apply this to our ideas about commitment would go beyond our natural enthusiasm for those who are already planning to marry. I think it would change the way to consider things like, “What if we get stuck accepted to two different schools?” or “Shouldn’t we wait until we’re financially stable?” When you’re already acknowledging the risk inherent in commitment (no matter what the circumstances!) and daring to believe that good can come from it, these questions fade in importance. After all, marriage is about more than cleverly engineering your life circumstances to support a relationship. You can grow it in a greenhouse, if you prefer, but the unexpected is likely to make you feel like you’re in the wild, anyway. Why not just start there? Yes, some times might be harder–you can’t really know–but if the whole point of this is commitment, what does school or money or whatever else have to do with it? If you don’t think you want to be committed if some things don’t go as planned, why do you think you might ever want to get married at all?

Personally, I’m enjoying the fact that things don’t always go the way we thought, as it shows me just how good my decision to get married has been. While Jeremiah and I are both waitlisted for PhD programs, we have an uncommon advantage: each other. I’m surprisingly calm about the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing yet or what will happen if one of us gets in and the other doesn’t. I’m remarkably happy about it all and just excited to see how it turns out. Our life together in and of itself seems much more important than our particular plans. What good would it have been for us to wait to get married, apply to various programs, and end up at opposite ends of the country? If you don’t know you want to get married, that’s ok. But if you want to, don’t wait. It doesn’t accomplish anything. And actually going through with something that seems crazy can end up being a really wonderful thing.

And about gender roles: Despite my hang-ups, marrying young says nothing about gender roles. Though this was hard for me to get over (so few of my female friends are married that I was sure there must be something awful about feminists marrying young and that I must be crazy!), I’m learning that we can wait as long as we want to have kids. We can divide chores however we want. We can get as much education as we feel like. We can split time with kids more evenly than most parents. We can be flexible. People can think whatever they want about women and men who marry young–but for us, it’s an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company longer before we have more intense responsibilities, as well as even more time to figure out how we can best make two careers work. And I don’t know what isn’t feminist about that. ;o)

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Theological Imprecision = Sociological Imprecision

I’m reading a fabulous book by Christian Smith on the religion of emerging adults called Souls in Transition, and I’m really enjoying learning not only how younger emerging adults (18-23) believe today but also how their beliefs have changed since they were teenagers.  (He wrote a book on surveys from the same group a few years ago called Soul Searching.)  As I’m reading, however, I’ve had a few significant questions come up with regards to the way their questions are being asked and interpreted.

First, many of those who identified as nonreligious as teenagers now say they see religion as more important to their life and that they’re attending religious services more.  I’m curious how many of them are thinking of “religion” as actual religion in such questions vs. their non-religious views.  For example, some might have gotten involved in a group for atheists and agnostics at college and might see their identity as someone who isn’t religious as more important than it used to be.  (I know there was such a group at UNC, and I know people who were involved in it.)  Should we then have some way to filter the non-religious doing truly religious things from the non-religious whose non-religion has become more important in their lives?

Secondly, the questions about both Jesus and heaven seem very imprecise in their wording.  I realize most young adults aren’t theologians and that overly theological language could be confusion; however, I’m not sure if the questions, how they are asked, paint an accurate picture of emerging adults’ beliefs.

For example, they are asked if Jesus was “the son of God who was raised from the dead,” “an imporant human teacher but not the son of God,” or nonexistent to begin with.  Those who said Jesus was the son of God are then assumed to believe Jesus was divine.  This is a non sequitur, as many who would called Jesus God’s son would not necessarily say he himself was divine—the Arians of the 4th century, for example.

Similarly, when asked if they believe in heaven and who gets there, it feels assumed that Christians either are more conservative and believe in heaven or are more liberal and they don’t.  There are no questions, however, about the resurrection of the dead or the recreation of all things.  I think it’s probably a small number of emerging adults that would try to distinguish these sorts of beliefs from a belief in heaven, but I do feel the numbers are growing.  I definitely knew many in college who, thanks to InterVarsity staff, began to see a somewhat different picture of life after death.  To assume the options are “all people go to heaven,” “only good people go to heaven,” “only people whose sins are forgiven though faith in Jesus Christ go to heaven” or “there is no heaven,” are the only options is like asking Christians about the end times and only giving the option of a pre-tribulation, mid-trib, or post-trib rapture—when in reality many are postmillenialists, many are amillenialists, etc.  I would probably answer such a question “there is no heaven,” because that’s not the way I explain my beliefs, but if I were interviewed, Christian Smith would have realized that he was probably making some assumptions about me he shouldn’t have.

All this to say, it seems to me that while these questions tell us a lot, if sociological questions are not asked with any theological sensitivity to the actual beliefs out there, we can make some wrong conclusions.  Of course, I’m not a sociologist yet, and I don’t know if it might be important to not offer over-nuanced options as to not confuse respondents or encourage some sort of social desirability effect (if certain theological beliefs are thought be better in some way than others).  So perhaps there is a reason why questions we asked like this.  At the same time, I stand by my original perception that these questions are not precise enough to give us excellent data rather than good-ish data.

Maybe Christian Smith or some other clever person can come set us straight?

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Filed under Scholars & Books, Sociology, Sociology of Religion, Uncategorized

we have found nothing to suggest that groups of young people can be discriminated against

While Article 14 of the ECHR prevents discrimination against individuals and groups on various grounds, the grounds do not specifically include discrimination on the grounds of age.  It is possible for the courts to find discrimination on grounds other than those specifically cited; we have performed preliminary searches but have found nothing to suggest that groups of young people have the characteristics of a group that can be discriminated against.

Do you remember hearing about the Mosquito ring tone a few years ago?  The high-pitched cell phone tone that teens use to receive text messages in class that almost everyone under 20 can hear… but almost no one over 30 can?  (For the record, at 22, I can still hear it, at least using the MP3 sample version I found online.)  I’m not a huge fan of the ring tone, but I’m not passionately against it either.  To me, it just sounds like kids being kids.  Trying to find a way to get done what they think they need to do, even when it’s against the rules.

What I never knew, though, were the origins of the ring tone.  Apparently, before teens thought to use it on their phones, it was being used around stores in the U.K., continental Europe, and the U.S. to repel teenagers.  Yes, repel them.  The system is called Mosquito Teenage Control Products.  Because they are nothing but troublemakers, apparently.  (It has been interesting to see some articles talk about, “Oh, maybe this will help fight gangs!” which I like… but…  not enough to gain my support of the device right now.)

It makes me frustrated enough that they would do this, but when I think about the fact that such devices also repel university students–even graduate students like me…  it makes me quite angry.  While clearly, an annoying noise can be tolerated if one really wants to shop somewhere, it’s the fact that someone doesn’t want me around and is bold enough to say it that upsets me the most.  I was always irked when I see buffet lines that require parents to accompany those 10 and under–when I was 10 I thought that was incredibly insulting, as if I, a 5th grader, really thought it was ok to stick my hands in the mac n cheese before putting it on my plate.  Ok, ok, but some kids do have trouble not touching food.  It’s a public health concern, I guess.  Sure, whatever.  But for someone to be trying to keep you from their establishment completely?  With any other demographic group, there would be an outcry.  It wouldn’t be legal.

Actually, some have questioned the device.  They’ve wondered if either by causing hearing loss or discriminating against teens its use could be a human rights violation.  Well, studies show that it doesn’t damage hearing, and at least for now, it seems to be legal.  One particular firm has outlined why the device should be able to be used, and it’s interesting that besides a few more legitimate arguments they actually state what I posted above.  That apparently, it’s not even possible to discriminate based on age.  That even something even more blatant wouldn’t be real discrimination.  Because you can’t discriminate against teens.  You can do whatever you want.  And it’s not discrimination.  Apparently.

I do recognize that youth is a quality that is temporary, which is different from ethnicity or disability or (without serious surgery) sex.  But does that mean you can do whatever you want to young people?  What if there was simply a sign that said “No one under 18” or “No one under 21” or even “No one under 30” outside certain stores.  If one can’t disciminate against the young, are these signs just as legal as Mosquito?

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Laci’s Journey (Pt 1): Hell & Kid Conversions

Laci is a 19-year-old woman in California.  She likes pretty piano music and talking about stuff that matters.  In this four-piece-and-growing series, she talks about her experiences in the Mormon church as a child and adolescent, culminating with her coming out as an atheist to friends and family this past spring.

Take a look:

I appreciate Laci’s thoughtful reflection on her religious experiences, and I thought this was an interesting video because she touches on few things that I think are often seen as problems by kids of evangelical families of origin, as well as Mormon: hell and “making a decision” about faith early in life.

With regards to heaven/hell, I wouldn’t say that at this point most of my evangelical friends–who tend to be more moderate theologically–put a lot of emphasis here, but I don’t think that’s true of evangelical churches as a whole.  Many of them, I believe, still are quite into talking about heaven/hell as one of the big reasons to become a Christian.  I think fundamentalists use this as a scare tactic, while many evangelicals would say they try to emphasize the importance of a relationship with God instead…

But here’s the thing.  I don’t think the rest of us (who aren’t fundamentalists using hell as a scare tactic) have figured out what we really think about hell or how to talk about it.  Especially as some of us have begun to embrace a larger understanding of the gospel that focuses largely on God’s renewing this earth and establishing a kingdom here, we don’t know what hell is anymore (especially since various Greek works are translated as “hell”…  *sigh*), and we do a poor job explaining this aspect of Christianity to ourselves and others.

So from one evangelical to another: let’s figure it out.  Let’s keep asking questions, let’s acknowledge all we don’t know, let’s think carefully.  And while we are not ever going to know everything there is to know about the world, let’s try to come up with a better alternative to silence.  Because if there’s silence, all Laci or anyone else has to go by is what fundies say.  And that doesn’t seem fair to Laci or us either one–it’s not a representation of what many of us think Christianity is about.  I haven’t taken 90% of my seminary courses yet, so maybe I’ll come up with some fabulous answer before you know it, but the fact is, if I, a seminary student who was raised in church and has a lot of experience in the evangelical world and also has read more than one nerdy book relating to Christianity…  if I don’t know what to think about hell, many regular people in pews who aren’t wacko-nerds are at least as clueless as me.  And that’s a problem.  If we don’t give people good theology, there’s a vacuum–and people will absorb somebody else’s theology without even engaging in a dialog with ours.

Secondly, Laci talks a lot about how strongly she was encouraged to make a faith decision as a young child (as well as how excited she was to make one), and it seems she now resents this.  I am not saying we shouldn’t talk about religion with children, but I wonder if we emphasized conversion as a process rather than a moment this would be less of an issue.  I also wonder if we are foolish sometimes to think a kid so young can really know what they’re doing.  In some ways, this is the beauty of infant baptism.  Everyone knows a kid isn’t making a decision then, and that’s ok.  We help them make decisions big and small as they grow up and move toward being able to really decide what they believe.  Addtionally, we often offer classes for teens that allow them to learn about our faith more formally.  It doesn’t always work out, of course (not only do some leave the faith but some remain Christian but of a very nominal sort which is possibly much worse), but it offers a little more autonomy, perhaps.

I know a lot of people feel strongly about “believer’s baptism”–requiring a profession of faith before baptism rather than baptizing babies–and I can respect that.  But as someone that has spent a good deal of time in traditions on both sides, I think we need to figure out ways to better shepherd kids that do make “decisions” at a young age.  In some ways, I almost feel it’s appropriate to downplay those decisions and let them know that, yeah, we understand they’re sixteen now, that they have bigger questions than when they were six, that, in a sense, they do need to decide again at sixteen, and maybe at twenty-six, and maybe at thirty-six and eight-six, too.

I think there are ways to still emphasize conversion as a process even if we like to make a conversion moment with baptism.  And I think that the better we emphasize this faith journey, the more freedom teens will feel to actually ask tough questions.  They need to know that they’re not locked into a simplistic form of Christianity forever, that it’s ok to have doubts and struggles and to wrestle with them honestly.  That’s the only way, I think, for anyone with questions to make an authentic adult decision to remain Christian.

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