Faith & Reason blog lives: New home, new questions, same writer

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(RNS) Does this blog name ring a bell? I hope so!

Years ago at USA TODAY, I launched the Idea Club, a weekly online conversations with smart and civil (mostly) readers about the intersection of religion, spirituality and ethics with the news and culture of the day. What began as a question of the week, morphed by fall 2008 into a daily blog called Faith & Reason.

Readers by the thousands chimed in to F&R on controversial posts such as Sarah Palin’s invention of “death panels” or the atheist “Woodstock” — the Reason Rally on the National Mall.

Today, in my still-new role as senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, I miss these polite (mostly) and passionate (almost always) exchanges. So, [tweetable]RNS is reviving — resurrecting, you might say — Faith & Reason.[/tweetable]

This will be more a blog than a column. While both offer a point of view, at F&R those views will chiefly be yours. I’ll offer some thoughts on an issue, share my questions and then invite you to chime in. (Finally, more space than 140 characters!)

Bring your brains, your beliefs, your questions and, please, your manners. Along with the familiar Faith & Reason banner, I maintain same motto: All views, respectfully presented, are welcome. I also issue the same call to action: Post early, post often, and invite your friends.

Let’s get started. [tweetable]Faith & Reason Q.: Does kid-centric programing in churches or synagogues lead to faithful adult followers?[/tweetable]

Benjamin Ramirez claps with the music in the aisle during Sunday morning service at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan. on Jan. 13, 2013.  RNS photo by Sally Morrow.

Benjamin Ramirez claps with the music in the aisle during Sunday morning service at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan. on Jan. 13, 2013. RNS photo by Sally Morrow.

The Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans has Jewish institutional leaders in a tizzy. Of particular concern: A significant number of adults are tied to Judaism not by religion but culture or family ties. Some suggest a new “Jewish Head Start” – free Jewish preschool for every family as a way to rev up Jewish identity. And even before the Pew survey, some Jewish leaders have called for reinventing, even simplifying, the Torah study time required for Bar and Bat Mitzvah teens.

But will these efforts lead to more religiously Jewish adults a decade or two down the road? Not if you judge by the experience of Christian churches.

For all the kid-centered programs at family life centers, the pizza-party youth groups and short mission trips to pass out Bibles and shoes in third-world countries, Christians are also moving along the spectrum toward nominal faith or none at all. Young adults lead the way.

A 2007 LifeWay research study found seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. And a third of those said they never went back. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, found in their extensive research, no proof that “spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult. In fact, the research confirms the pattern that many students who are active early in life disengage from their faith as they get older…”

At best, spiritual activity in one’s youth may just enhance the odds in faith’s favor, said Barna

What might work? Megan Hill, writing for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics site, had an idea for the adults: Go to church. She wrote, “If we want the next generation to embrace the faith, parents and extended family have to believe and faithfully practice it themselves.”

As Catholic sociologist William D’Antonio once told me, the children of adults who don’t go to Mass won’t go when they grow up. “People don’t grow into attending Mass.”

Your turn! Did religious school or youth activities at your church or synagogue make you the believer – or nominal or None (no religious identity) – you are today?


  • Ann

    More important for kids to be integrated into the life of the church – participating not shunted off to the “children’s table” – there is a time for activities geared to different age groups but what keeps people (all ages) engaged is feeling a part of the whole.

  • Laura

    A really interesting book on the subject is The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas Bergler.

  • Gary Niblock

    Did religious school or youth activities at your church or synagogue make you the believer – or nominal or None (no religious identity) – you are today? Yes, a believer. My early church experiences including training as an acolyte, catechism and Sunday school were tremendously influential in providing a positive response (as an adult) to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life.

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  • Carrie

    Religious youth activities at my Protestant Non-Denominational church did contribute to my belief as a youth, however it was largely fear-based. As I became an adult, and my critical thinking skills increased I recognized what I called faith was more a CYA. The Internet has made it easier for people to get information and in my opinion this has been the leading contributor to many raised in the church “moving along that faith spectrum” toward “none at all”.

  • Personally, while I see much value in “training up a child in the way he should go” (for in his old age he will not depart from it, or so said wise Solomon, a young rebel with a wiser mother who apparently changed his tune in his sunset years), cultural identity really is the lowest of all possible reasons for taking up the banner of a system of belief.

    I most admire those who experience some sort of a religious conversion at a later stage in life because of an irresistible encounter with reason and/or the Person at the center of their faith. The Apostle Paul, C. S. Lewis, Chuck Colson, and Lee Strobel all spring to mind. But of course there are many others.

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  • Georgia

    I underwent heavy indoctrination as a child in Catholicism and believed it entirely until I was 16 or so. I even wrote an essay opposing abortion! But my faith didn’t survive my transition into adulthood — the conflict between religion and sexual politics being at the forefront of my own personal deconversion. I didn’t leave religion so much as I fell in love with a real life person at college. I wanted sex, but knew I was too young to get married, yet didn’t want to be pregnant. Years later, we’re still together, but I’ve long since left my childhood faith in the dust. Getting a science degree probably didn’t help either 😛

    Religious doctrines need a way to survive people wanting to have sex. Some encourage people to marry very young within their sect (e.g. Orthodox Judaism, Mormonism) and some take a liberal attitude towards sex. Those Catholics who do retain their faith do so by largely ignoring the teachings on sex. Modern women want to have careers and relationships without being celibate, and birth control allows us to do that. All the Sunday school in the world isn’t going to change that.

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  • Tyler Staiver

    I was dragged to church, sometimes daily, by my overzealous catholic mother. He beliefs never made any sense to me, and I became an atheist at the age of 4. I still had to go through the motions until I left her house, or risk punishment. Once I left, though, I never wasted my time again. I cannot imagine ever being a believer.

  • –helen

    In my (distant) youth, children were brought to whatever was happening in our Lutheran church, from an ordinary Sunday morning service to a funeral. [We never heard of “babysitters”.] We started Sunday School at 6 years or thereabout and the emphasis was on “school” not playtime or crafts; (after it we went to Divine Service). We began in Sunday School by memorizing portions of Luther’s Small Catechism, (supervised by a parent on Saturday) an exercise we repeated each fall until we went to the Pastor for confirmation class (12-13 ordinarily). Those who finished the entire catechism quickly were assigned Psalms, Bible verses and hymns each year.
    There was a youth group from 13 to early 20’s which did various recreational activities. It did not figure largely in our religious education, but all the participants were fellow Lutherans, from our own or neighboring churches.
    Did it matter? It made me choose to live very frugally at a “church” college, where I took a religious education class every semester, although my major was in science. 🙂
    It has been my help through a rolling stone existence thereafter and still is.

  • Julia

    It was the example of my father that counted most in my Catholic upbringing. He was a high school state champ in apologetics. He was a serious member of the church, respectful to priesta and sisters, but counselled me that a lot of what I was hearing from my grade school and HS religious sisters was pious, well-meaning baloney and not necessarily the core teaching of the Church. Then I went on to a Jesuit university and got a science degree. That solidified it for me. No conflict between science and the Catholic faith – in fact, many of the scientific breakthroughs over the centuries have been made by priests and monks. Among other things, my Jesuit cousin who is a physicist told me about the Jesuit who first proposed the Big Bang Theory. Bottom line: if you get goofy and weirdly-pious explanations of the faith when young, a young person is likely to drop out. A wishy-washy or nicey-nicey pablum of instruction when young is going to backfire as the child gets older.

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  • As Apostle Paul learned at the feet of Gamaliel, I received the foundation of my spiritual training in the home with my father. To date, his spiritual insight far exceeded my Sunday school teaching. It has made me the person I am today!

  • Kim

    When it comes to my religious childhood experiences, all I could think about were the long, boring hours we’d spend in church as a family. The agonizing feeling of having to wake up early after a long Saturday night practically having to force yourself out of the bed. Oh, not to mention the loud, screaming voice of your mother saying “WAKE UP GIRL.” So, for as long as I could remember as a child I dreaded church. However, as an adult I became more spiritually connected with the “word” or the lesson that was being taught.

  • Scott M

    3 summers of week-long Christian camp, which consisted mostly of singing, praying, and sitting through sermons, coupled with 24 years of attending a Protestant Congregationalist Stone-Campbellist Restorationist Non-demoninationalist Church of Christ church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays definitely contributed to making the whole church experience feel burdensome and not fun. However, even with all that time immersed in the culture, relatively little true religious education took place. There was no critical analysis of Bible stories, no condemnation of the gruesome atrocities attributed to God and men acting in the name of God, and no outsider viewpoints or education about other religions and irreligions.

    The real education on Christianity came from Wikipedia and the idea that the Internet was more than just a place to play video games and socialize, but a place to learn anything you want to know or didn’t know you wanted to know. Doubts and questions and a search for truth led to books about Atheism, which led to books about science and Christian Apologetics, which led to reading the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and The Portable Atheist.

    Certainly staying active in a church and being sheltered from what I now consider to be the truth helps maintain a level of nominal Christianity, but when all of the children who are your age left with their families to start a new church of a slightly different denomination or the remaining ones don’t attend as regularly as you, church stops being fun and you start feeling the drag of hearing the same tired myths and rhetoric, while becoming an expert at singing hymns.

  • Scott M

    And I believe people attend church and believe because they want to attend and believe, because it’s an enjoyable experience. How many adult people do you know who attend religious services for the sake of saving their souls, but hate every single second of it? None, unless they’re married to it or it’s their first & last time attending.

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