Tag Archives: teenagers

New Things

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I’ve been trying to figure out for a little while what to do with this blog. I haven’t been keeping up very well with posting, and part of the reason for that is that I didn’t want to be investing in a blog that ultimately I was going to reinvent (I should save new posts for the new blog instead, right?). I also wanted to have some sort of complete thought worth sharing before posting.

One of my ideas was to become more active (er, active at all…) on Walking Towards Jerusalem, a blog my husband Jeremiah started last year. He intended this to be a “biblioblog”—a blog focused on biblical studies—and told me I could join. I initially was enthusiastic because there aren’t many female bibliobloggers, but my interest has waned. It’s not that I don’t like blogging about the Bible—I just don’t like to feel constrained. He said I could blog about other things, as well, but I have never known if that blog was a good fit.

I also have considered helping this blog become more focused in order to attract a real audience. Ever since I stopped posting (i.e., when I started dating Jeremiah last March), my visits have virtually disappeared. I used to have a fairly active, though small, readership, but when you’re inconsistent for a while, even that small readership tends to fade. I thought that maybe if I came up with one thing to talk about, I could “market” this blog and make it “cool.” However, this is much easier said than done. Most of the time, I’ve felt void of ideas and like I was trying too hard.

In the end, I think I’ve decided two things. First, I’m working on an experimental blog, which is not yet up and running, aimed at smart teenagers who want to learn more about theology, etc. I have no idea if it will catch on, but this is my attempt to write about something that interests me that I feel the Internet actually needs. Hopefully there will be at least five high schoolers that agree that it is needed and will visit my little corner of the web. I’m interested in seeing what middle and high schoolers, as well as young college students, are interested in discussing from a more intellectual/academic perspective (or a more holistic perspective that at least begins to look at this angle of Christianity) and what needs might not be met by youth groups. Obviously, it’s only a sliver of the general population that really wants to learn more about theology, but I know I had various curiosities and interests in high school and am sure there are others like me out there. I don’t know many places offering the opportunity for teens to get an introduction to anything I’ve learned about in seminary (except for an interesting program at Duke Divinity School), so I’m interested just to see if there is a felt need for something like this—I hope to learn a lot in the process. If it is a total flop, the worst thing that has happened is I lost $15 on a domain name.

The second decision I’ve made is to try to stress a bit less about making this blog interesting or cool. I’m not going to try harder to think of a topical focus or to recruit an audience. I think that really, I may be better off acknowledging that many of my friends live far away and would be more interested in seeing what I’m doing and thinking about than my poor attempts at polished pieces of writing. (Not that many of my past posts have been particularly polished…)

I have tried to avoid a “personal blog,” because it feels too much like a twelve-year-old’s online diary, but the fact is, I don’t write for beliefnet or some other place that’s going to get me lots of traffic and turn me into a respectable guru on one of my passions. Instead, I’m just Ashleigh, a grad student who is thinking about various things and enjoying my life. Hopefully photo posts, incomplete thoughts, and similar goodies will be just as exciting to my five readers—maybe I can even entice my best friend to start reading again. ;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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