Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" Writ Religious; The End of "No"

Interesting review of a new book, Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005) which is based on a national survey conducted in '02/'03.

The authors first identify the social contexts in which adolescents live and believe, starting with a discussion of therapeutic individualism, a set of assumptions and commitments that "powerfully defines everyday moral and relational codes and boundaries in the United States." Personal experience is what shapes our notions of truth, and truth is found nowhere else but in happiness and positive self-esteem. In religious terms, according to teenagers, God cares that each teenager is happy and that each teenager has high self-esteem. Morality has nothing to do with authority, mutual obligations, or sacrifice. In a sense, God wants little more for us than to be good, happy capitalists. Smith and Denton elaborate: "Therapeutic individualism’s ethos perfectly serves the needs and interests of U.S. mass-consumer capitalist economy by constituting people as self-fulfillment-oriented consumers subject to advertising’s influence on their subjective feelings." And to be good, happy capitalists, we should be good, unless if being good prevents us from being happy.

The authors refer to teenagers' general religious sentiment as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," which simply does not comport with ANY significant religious tradition. Period.

American Christianity is "either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith." When asked to articulate their faith, not one of their interviewees mentioned self-discipline, working for social justice, justification or sanctification, and 112 of them described the purpose of religion in terms of "personally feeling, being, getting, or being made happy" (using the "specific phrase to 'feel happy' well more that 2,000 times").

You will note that Conservatives are now being called "the Party of 'No'". There's a reason for that--and clearly, "No" does not resonate with the chilluns.

HT: Dreher

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