Dr. Christian Smith is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Credentials of that caliber will usually place an academic’s scholarly work outside normal day-to-day banter.
Sometimes, but not always.
Such is the case with Dr. Smith’s new book entitled, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. This collaborative work with Patricia Snell contains some interesting and eyebrow-raising information Christians need to know. My colleagues and I have been discussing this book in recent days and I thought you might be interested in the topic as well.
Souls in Transition sets out to answer some fundamental and basic questions about what today’s younger generation believes. Smith and Snell ask if “emerging adults” are growing less or more religious as they age (answer: less) and how they’re dealing with a variety of religious and moral beliefs (answer: not very well).
To anyone paying even the slightest attention to cultural trends at-large, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the majority of college-aged individuals (18-24 years of age) are struggling in the area of morals and values. After all, they have grown up in time of dramatic and cataclysmic cultural shifting. Take for example what was widely thought “normal” regarding traditional marriage just a generation ago. Those who adhere to a biblical understanding of marriage today might run the risk of being labeled a bigot.
It is, indeed, a perilous time to be an emerging adult.
So, at the core of Souls in Transition was, according to Smith, a desire “to get respondents to talk about whether what they take to be substantive moral beliefs” are based on universal truths or rather on mere personal opinions. In other words, like Pilate mockingly asked of Jesus just prior to sentencing Him to death, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
What did Smith find? There is both good news and bad news regarding the answers to the questions within the book.
First the bad news: Smith discovered that today’s rising generation is completely flummoxed and uncomfortable with the topic of ultimate truth. For them, truth is a relative thing—what might be right for you could just as easily be bad for me. When asked to name their authority on truth one respondent replied, “Myself—it really comes down to that. I mean how could there be authority to what you believe?”
Using the logic of that young person, there can be no consensus on matters of right or wrong. In a word: Wow.
If all truth is relative than all things are both possible and permissible.
Now for the good news: According to Smith, “Many know there must be something more, and they want it. Many are uncomfortable with their inability to make truth statements and moral claims without killing them with the death of a thousand qualifications. But they do not know what to do about that, given the crisis of truth and values that has destabilized their culture.”
The hunger for truth is real and obvious, and Smith’s work makes clear how important it is for parents and educators to teach about the purity and power of universal truths. Another over-arching term for this is the “Natural Law”—or that which is according to a popular definition, “inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society.”
Of course, the real-world implications for legislating, governing and operating under the auspices and acceptance of the natural law are significant. My friend and colleague here at Focus on the Family, Tim Goeglein, said it best in a recent email: “The remarkable thing is that the best social policy is always completely consonant with the natural law, which makes our views of family, marriage, and parenting not only appealing but also true.”
What about you? I’d be curious to learn how you’re teaching your kids about the universal truths which frame and shape a Christian worldview.