Is “Fake” Christianity Any Better Than the “Real” Version? August 28, 2010

Is “Fake” Christianity Any Better Than the “Real” Version?

A CNN article about how more teens are becoming “fake” Christians is making the rounds. It discusses Professor Kenda Creasy Dean and her work on the National Study of Youth and Religion:

The study included Christians of all stripes — from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

It sounds like a positive thing… The teenagers might believe in a god (for whatever reason), but it doesn’t mean they’re following the awful dogma of the Christian church. Maybe it’s because they understand how silly it is to believe that every Muslim, gay person, Hindu, atheist, and liberal Christian is living a wicked life and must be eternally condemned. Or that gay marriage is something wrong. Or that atheists are evil. Or that they have to fall in line with Republican party ideals.

I don’t know why they bother to call themselves Christians at all. I wasn’t happy when Anne Rice said good riddance to all those negative aspects of Christianity but stopped short of dismissing faith altogether. But it does seem like this is better than the alternative, right?

[Director of the Youth Theological Initiative at Emory University Elizabeth] Corrie says she sees no shortage of teenagers who want to be inspired and make the world better. But the Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them “to change anything that’s broken in the world.”

Teens want to be challenged; they want their tough questions taken on, she says.

Considering that Christianity has some of the problems in the first place, that’s not surprising.

And isn’t it sad that their church doesn’t challenge them? Or answer their tough questions? So many pastors are so used to spoon-feeding lies about the “truth” of the Bible, or why abortion can never be a viable option, or that morality and faith are somehow intertwined… teenagers see right through the bullshit. They constantly come across people who aren’t Christians but manage to live wonderful, productive, happy lives. There’s a disconnect. And the church hasn’t done a good job addressing it.

One other note: The article is all about “fake” Christians. Which means there’s some “True” Christianity that’s not being followed.

We’ve heard this all before. Is Fred Phelps a True Christian? Ted Haggard? Joel Osteen? Benny Hinn? At some point, doesn’t it just seem like Christians say that everyone who doesn’t practice Christianity like they do must not be doing it right?

If the takeaway from this article is that a lot of younger “Christians” now believe in the gospel of “doing good,” then we’re moving in the right direction. The next step is for them to dismiss the notion that they have to believe in Jesus or go to church or pray to a god to be a good person.

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  • Andy

    This article is just frustrating on a number of levels.

    “There are countless studies that show that religious teenagers do better in school, have better relationships with their parents and engage in less high-risk behavior,” she says.

    Really? I’d like to see these countless studies.

    “If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people,” Dean says. “It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots.”

    What’s wrong with having nice parents???

    “We can all agree that we should all be good and that God rewards those who are nice.”

    Can we all agree this? Really?

  • Siamang

    Moralistic therapeutic deism.

    I like that term. It’s catchy.

    It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

  • george

    @Siamang
    Moralistic, therapeutic, disconnected, not respected, who would ever really wanna go and top that?

    TOP THAT!

    (guitar riff)

  • lilybird

    I think it comes down to expectations and pressure. These teenagers give the answer they think they’re supposed to give. When pressed, they have to jump through hoops to make their real beliefs coalesce with the Christianity of their parents.

    I once had a student tell me, “I don’t really believe in God, but I just can’t use that word ‘atheist.'” This student called herself a Christian because it was fashionable and acceptable, not because she actually believed any of the tenets.

    Eventually, many teenagers will realize that what they believe isn’t Christianity at all, but a belief in personal responsibility and the potential of humans to be good by their own volition.

  • JD

    The schisms were one thing that caused me to question it all, being maybe a dozen significant denominations, several dozen smaller ones, if not many thousand, with offshoots possibly going as small as a single church. As far as I’m concerned, if they can’t settle their own differences, then they really don’t have anything to say to us. Jesus did have a parable about not telling others about how to fix their problems before they remove the plank from their own eye.

    That said, I think the many divisions is better than a complete unification, because we’ve seen that a unified church would have even more leverage to push around the non-church people, to great potential disaster.

  • A lot of interesting opinions about this one on our local freethinker mailing list. Here are a few samples:

    I wouldn’t get too excited about this. A lot of people who are brought up in a faith don’t take it very seriously when they’re young and invincible. Later in life, when they have kids of their own, they feel obligated to get more churchy for the sake of indoctrinating their children. Then, in their declining years, with death (and an uncertain afterlife status) staring them in the face, they get *really* religious. Had this study found that half of American teens thought their parents’ faith was silly, I might be encouraged. As it is, this study just seems to document teen apathy, which is hardly noteworthy.

    Recently, my parents and younger sister have decided to return to church. My sister is part of the local youth group and goes to church functions frequently. She, along with many of her christian friends, is also a frequent user of facebook. If her friends are christians, they are pretty miserable ones.

    My general thinking is that many kids are doing it because it is a group to fit in with, regardless of whether or not they actually believe it. Maybe that is what sets the rest of us (us being this group of folks) apart – we don’t want to be a part of something that is fundamentally disagreeable with our beliefs, even if our friends do it.

    Seems like good news. However, the bigger question is: are they simply replacing organized religion with another type of uncritical thinking or is this the result of actual time spent recognizing that santa claus doesnt exist.

    Sadly, I suspect if polled we would see a rise in wicca, gaia theory, “everything has a purpose” outlook and so forth. Its all still magical thinking even if you get God out of it.

    Job not done yet.

  • JD

    Something to add, there may be a lot of people that might say what they think the questioner wants them to answer, just to move onto a different topic or to get them to shut up and go away. Some people, particularly family members aren’t worth arguing with. Call it dishonest or whatever you like, sometimes the resulting stress or fallout isn’t worth it.

  • Richard Wade

    This study seems to tell us more about the surveyor than the surveyed.

    fewer than half practice their faith

    What does “practice” mean to the designers of the study? Tithing ten percent? Going into a church at least once a week? Kneeling with one’s hands clasped and mumbling fervently? Or just giving the idea of a god a brief thought once in a while? How about treating people with compassion and love? Has not Kenda Creasy Dean just dictated yet another arbitrary, personal set of criteria for what she says is genuine “practice” versus insufficient?

    only half deem it important

    Again, what does that mean? Circling “important” on the survey form? Or something in their behavior that demonstrates how it is a priority over other things?

    most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

    How the heck is that determined? That sounds like the subjective bias of each interviewer talking to each interviewee. It all sounds incoherent to me, even from theologists and apologists. (Maybe even more so.)

  • Richard P.

    isn’t it sad that their church doesn’t challenge them? Or answer their tough questions?

    I often wondered why there were not Q&A after a sermon…
    Then one day I asked some questions and found out.

    The question is irrelevant all Christianity is fake believe.
    We all know the only real christian is the one you are talking to at the moment.

  • I still can’t believe that this made the front page of CNN yesterday!

  • NFQ

    I’m with Richard Wade. The statement that “most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs” especially caught my eye — this seems to apply to all believers, not just to teenagers.

  • Most teens can’t talk coherently about ANY serious topic. That’s why they’re called teenagers not adults. This is such a non-story it’s ridiculous.

  • ManaCostly

    Its a step in the right direction, thats about it.

  • Matt

    This reminds of my early years of high school. I was a born again Christian, but I had a friend who was struggling with the idea of God. He believed God was real (or at least a god) but was having a hard time pinpointing what he believed and how to identify himself.

    One of our friends asked him “Well, you believe in God, right?”

    He replied “Yeah, I guess.”

    She simply said “Well then you’re a Christian!”

    Now, even though I was a born again and would have loved for my friend to be Christian, I didn’t like the idea that anyone who simply believes in a god is Christian. I thought that there were too many kids who identified themselves as Christian simply because that’s what everyone else was, and being anything else was just weird! I’d say a majority of the kids in my youth group (BIG group) were like this and only went because others did.

    My friend and I are both atheists now.

  • anthrosciguy

    Really? I’d like to see these countless studies.

    It doesn’t seem to square with the findings of more teen pregnancies among fundamentalists.

    But this “fake” business is an old thing; virtually no one observes all the rules of Christianity outlined in the Bible, and most of the rules they do follow have simply been made up over the centuries by various councils and preachers.

  • Gary

    I find it amusing that early in the article the minister criticizes kids that have “a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem”. Then at the end of the article, the teen who is supposed to be representing the right kind of Christianity says, “It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt,because God was there, too.” Sounds like the watered-down kind to me.

    Also interesting that the vast majority of the comments on CNN are negative about the article.

  • Miko

    Rather than say “The teenagers might believe in a god (for whatever reason)”, I’d suggest that most teens who believe in a god do so precisely because they don’t have a reason. They haven’t thought about it either way, don’t care about it either way, and only claim to believe in a god because it’s the path of least resistance under current social norms. Ask them if they’re Christians (for example) and they’ll say “Yeah, sure, whatever” and then change the topic.

    I don’t particularly care whether they say they believe in a god or not, because the word “god” doesn’t mean anything to them anyway.

  • But the Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them “to change anything that’s broken in the world.”

    This is stupid on so many levels. First of all, this article attempts to convince parents to perform actions that make their faith look good–acts that their faith obviously isn’t already impelling them to do.

    Belief in Christianity gives people less incentive to help others, not more. When you believe that everything is part of God’s plan or that God will step in and fix everything when he’s good and ready or that praying for someone is a form of charity, you have less incentive to reach out and help others than you do if you recognize that all we have in this world is each other.

  • Ibis

    I think they sorted that out back in 325. To qualify as a Christian (an orthodox one anyway), at minimum you must hold the beliefs outlined in the Nicene Creed. I would think that nowadays, not only teenagers, but many adults who call themselves Christians don’t meet that standard, and they really should drop the label along with the doctrine.

  • Casey Crisp

    As frustrating as this article is, I like the trend of religious estrangement. As I was a teen just a few year ago, I went through a phase similar to this. I believed in a god but not in any dogma. This led to agnosticism and then to atheism, so hopefully we’ll have more free-thinkers out of this group. But the article was stupid, with it’s pro-faith bias and presenting this as a problem that should be fixed.

  • Entropist

    We’ve heard this all before. Is Fred Phelps a True Christian? Ted Haggard? Joel Osteen? Benny Hinn?

    Centuries of religious wars, persecution and various factions declaring one another heretics… and still no answer to the question: Who are the “true christians”?

  • jose

    People love to attribute their own thoughts to God (or to “most people”, like then they say “most people don’t like nude beaches” for example.) They want to “feel good and do good”, so they imagine God wants them to feel good and do good.

    They are atheists, it’s just they don’t know it yet.

  • Ibis, I’d be surprised if most modern Christians had even heard of the Nicene Creed. Nor do I think that they have read the bible. That’s fine, I’m happy for people to be apathetic towards religion. It beats the alternative of crazed fundies killing one another over interpretations of bad translations of poorly copied ramblings of Iron Age, tent dwelling, goat herders.

  • Fundie Troll

    @ Matt –

    If you claim to be an atheist now then you were never born again in the first place.

    1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

    @ Anthrosciguy

    virtually no one observes all the rules of Christianity outlined in the Bible,

    There are no rules outlined in the bible for Christians. When a person puts their faith in Christ and is baptized into his life, death, and resurrection, they are no longer bound by the law. All things are lawful for that person, and they are no longer condemned if they do not keep the commandments. Jesus Christ did what no man could – he lived a life of perfect obedience to God and the law, and then he was crucified on the cross so that we might partake of his righteousness. Any Christian who preaches a list of things to do does not fully understand grace, and may even be in trouble of eternal condemnation.

    Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    1 Cor 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.

    2 Cor 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

  • The only one who gets to decide who is a “true” Christian is Jesus Himself and he isn’t talking (or at least not for the last 2000 years).

    Maybe He should rearrange the stars to spell out (in English) what a true Christian really is.

  • There are no rules outlined in the bible for Christians.

    This is false. Paul outlined some very clear rules on actions that would or would not be acceptable for getting into God’s good graces (preceding that verse in 1 Cor. 6, no less). Jesus himself made clear that divorce was unacceptable.

    Saying that Christians are not under Mosaic law does not mean that the Bible makes no rules for them. Of course, these are just more examples of the contradictions that riddle the Bible and Christianity. Is it any wonder no two people can agree on what makes one a True Christian™.

  • The first thing I thought when I read the article was that in most articles like this one “real” faith is defined as whatever the writer believes and “fake” faith is defined as anything different from what the author believes.

    I definitely think that there’s a disconnect between the teachings and the real world. One of the reasons I didn’t believe some of the things I was being told about religion was that it was clear from the people around me that one didn’t have to be a member of one specific faith to be a good person.

  • Ibis

    @hoverfrog
    Yes, the apathy itself is great, but the problem is our data is highly unreliable. Of those who self-identify as “Christian” how many actually adhere to basic Christian doctrine? Wouldn’t it be useful to know how many of them are more or less pantheists or deists? Or how many of them say they’re Christian because they think the sermon on the mount is special but don’t actually believe Jesus was any more divine than, say, Ghandi? But we don’t have a clue because we rely on people to come up with their own labels without concern for any kind of objective standard. (And most major denominations do teach and recite the creed in some form, even if most Christians don’t know that’s what it’s called).

  • Ibis

    @JeffP

    Sorry, I don’t think Jesus would have that authority. He was long dead and buried before Christianity could be said to have speciated from its Jewish parent.

  • MH

    For a period of about three years I read Beliefnet. When the topic of evolution came up, I would try to point out the truth of it to the locals.

    However, when not discussing that or how society was going to heck in a hand basket. The locals spent an inordinate amount of time discussing CINO’s (Christians in name only), MTD-ism, and how cheap grace was wrecking Christianity and leading to irreligion. The mainline was doomed and only their pure form of Christianity was thriving. Indeed men were less religious because their churches weren’t challenging enough.

    It all reminded me of a political party tacking even farther to the extreme when they realized what they were doing wasn’t working.

    You should have seen them hit the roof when the ARIS survey came out last year. It pretty much proved them wrong as all religious groups lost ground.

  • Carlie

    There are no rules outlined in the bible for Christians.

    You just claimed to have one right before that – that no one who is an atheist now could have been a Christian before. Of course, you based it on a verse that was in the past tense, about people who have already come, and is specifically about antichrists. You really ought to read your own book more carefully and stop adding your own interpretations in.

  • Blair

    For those who are questioning the study’s statistical validity, I suggest getting the study and deciding yourself instead of relying on the popular press. Much of it was published in peer reviewed journals so to dismiss it out of hand seems premature. You may disagree with Dean’s conclusions but bear in mind that she was charged with interpreting the data theologically with the assumption that the sociological data was sound and proven through normal academic procedures.

    As for the co-relation between religious identity and risky behaviors, Dean felt that the article was not sufficiently nuanced and offered a response on her website http://kendadean.com/307/cnn-response/

    Finally, it seems strange to harp on the idea of “fake” vs. “real.” I agree that the author of the article chose an infelicitous and inflammatory title, but that doesn’t mean that measuring beliefs and behaviors against a norm is wrong. For instance, is there not some sort of agreed upon standard of what constitutes an ‘atheist?’ Presumably someone who claimed to be an atheist but in fact did not believe the standard line or behave in such a way as to indicate that they agreed to the norm, would in some very real ways be a ‘fake’ atheist. At best they would be a different atheist, someone who, in the words of the title of the book the interview and article was based on, could be fairly characterized as “Almost Atheist.” This is not necessarily a value judgment but in relative terms to the norm it is a true observation. There is no assumption that this or that, real or fake, atheist is going to heaven or hell merely by accurately describing the relationship each has to an historical norm. Dean is not claiming that teens are going to hell because they are ‘almost’ Christian.

  • Rollingforest

    I saw a church sign today that said, “If God is pulling at your heart, don’t let your mind interfere.”

    Translation: “Don’t think, just believe whatever we tell you.”

    Scary.

  • Ibis

    Ugh. By the way, please just ignore my stupid spelling upthread. Gandhi. I meant Gandhi.

  • Sorry about spelling….cover your eyes if it hurts you!

    Hmmm…magical thinking. I will think about that…. How do ‘hardcore’ Atheist feel about emotions, love, art, the natural world and the idea of wonder? I find there has to be just a tad bit of ‘I don’t know this and am curious and fascinated and excited’ to be creative and inventive and FEEL life in addition to THINKing our life. How does eliminating all ‘magical thinking’ affect quality of life? Just a little, come on! I am curious, sounds a smidgin flat.

    It is fun to hang out here where I am the moderate…when I am used to being on the outskirts of ‘religious’ thought compared to mainstream America.

    But yes, back to the article, when I was in HS there were kids who were very into being churchy yet were the mean and cruel. Certainly not ‘practicing the religion’ but going to church and youth group meetings.

  • p.s.

    naomi,
    Just because I know my emotions are caused by neural pathways and chemicals in my brain doesn’t make them any less… well… emotional. Life becomes much more fulfilling when you understand it’s complexities. Hooray science!! it’s much more interesting than magic.

  • Fundie Troll

    @ Carlie

    You really ought to read your own book more carefully and stop adding your own interpretations in.

    This is not my interpretation, it is the apostle John’s.

    1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

    Matt said himself that he is an atheist. Therefore by the words of John, Matt is an antichrist. Matt went out from us, and therefore he is not of us. He is not a Christian, he was never a Christian, and so he has no right to claim Christianity. That does not mean that God himself does not have the power to save Matt or anyone else who denies the deity of Christ.

    The Christian faith is likened to an endurance race, and we know that someone is a believer by the fact that they finish the race.

  • A Portlander

    Naomi,

    I’m a fairly “hardcore” atheist (capitalization isn’t necessary, it’s not actually an affiliation), so I’ll bite:

    – I feel like emotions are an intriguing adaptation to our environment and each other, and I’m sometimes frustrated, sometimes amused that knowing they’re just brain chemistry doesn’t diminish their power to frame and shade the events of my life.

    – I feel like “love” is fuzzy terminology, but a good idea; we’re likely to call the most desirable, pleasing, and honorable peaks of the emotional landscape “love”, so it’s self-fulfilling as a positive force in human existence (except when it’s hijacked by religiosity). That’s fine with me.

    – I feel like art is an amazing emergent outgrowth of our evolved powers of pattern recognition, tool use, symbolic communication, and conscious reflection. We consume and destroy just like every living thing, but through the artistic urge we are driven to create and transform; it redeems us.

    – “The natural world” is a pretty big topic; I feel lots of things. The whole world’s animals, vegetables & minerals, including me, are made of the same stars and comets, so for the fact that I’m here at all I do feel a sort of aimless gratitude. I appreciate nature’s beauty and its lessons, and accept that someday my molecules will go back into the soil and sea.

    – I feel that true wonder is something only an atheist can experience. We get just as awe-struck as believers when contemplating the great mysteries, and we can be just as poetic about the experience, but the difference is that we are actually interested in learning to solve the mysteries, or at least we believe the solutions are discoverable given time and effort. Being satisfied with “god(s) did it” is hardly wondering at all, is it? There may be questions we will never answer, but that won’t stop us from hewing as close as we meaningfully can.

    I’ll wrap this up by suggesting that you aren’t familiar with the technical definition of magical thinking. Nobody here is objecting to the emotional/numinous dimension of life; only the fallacious desire to conflate desirable outcomes for humans with any sort of cosmic agency.

  • A Portlander
  • just reacting to the title, but i have to say, that’s what did it for me, when i was a teen. the grandparents insisted that me and sis go thru a xtian ceremony of the family’s traditional xtian church. it felt so.. fake. everything about it, all the words i had to memorize, the vibe i got off the (otherwise nice, decent) pastor. i just *knew* in the way that you do when you’re a kid, and you can still tell truth from fiction with utter clarity, that it was all made up. not real. delusion, although i probably wouldn’t have known that word at 13 well enough to use it. still, i didn’t like intellectual dishonesty then, and i don’t like it now. i love dressing up and watching movies and playing pretend games with my nieces. i don’t want to venerate the Candyland board, or bow down before Indian Jones anymore than i want to do that for ‘heaven’ and ‘god.’

  • teenagers see right through the bullshit.

    i enjoyed this post, but let me remind you that today’s older xtians were once “teenagers seeing thru the bullshit” of their elders. bobby soxers, james dean wannabes, etc. so it’s not that “today’s teens” are that different than teens thoughout all history. it’s something else that is helping them loose the grip of religious insanity, today.

    imho: it’s the internet. very simply, even the most repressed teen in the most religious family in the world can sneak out and find a linked in-terminal. this is increasingly true… all around the world.

    have you guys ever read any Iranian blogs? i forget the name now, but i read this one a few years back, and it was a totally nifty moment for me. here’s this guy, a 20something talking about wanting to find a girlfriend, get a good job, his annoying mom, how stupid the parties in his government are, the fundies and their ridiculous bullshit, how dumb it is to put your “trust in Allah” when common sense was so much more valuable… i swear, it was like reading an american liberal atheist blog, just change the words from “Allah” to “jesus” and “mullah so and so” to “pat robertson.”

    it only takes once minute of exposure to well reasoned doubt to plant the Seed. this is happening every minute of every day, all around the world, in households with young believers or those in believer families. there are strong social pressures to remain in or outwardly pretend to believe, in most communities. but once the older generations die off, the nontheist commonality of the younger set will emerge, and it will be a major element in the social change to come.

    when one is exposed to a plethora of divinity in the form of World of Warcraft and other popular cultural products that use religion with the careless abandon they employ sex, it’s hard to take “Jesus” more seriously than “Thor” or “Gravthor.” +100 Lightning Bolt works equally well, if you’re Allah’s Ranger or The Serpent Goddess’ High Priestess.

    and i just love “feel good and do good.” heh, so quintessentially american.

  • Also interesting that the vast majority of the comments on CNN are negative about the article.

    i haven’t gone there yet, but if this is true, it doesn’t surprise me. i’m impressed and pleased by the number of places and links i’ve gone where the atheists seem to be out in force. at least on the internet, we’re not a shy, silent minority. i’ve been on many threads at mainstream websites on which atheist commentary is the majority.

  • @Ibis

    Of those who self-identify as “Christian” how many actually adhere to basic Christian doctrine?

    There are many ideas of what a Christian is. Christians disagree on them vociferously. For me the only way to tell a Christian is if the person claims to be a Christian.

    Wouldn’t it be useful to know how many of them are more or less pantheists or deists?

    Maybe. I’m not particularly bothered. If mainstream Christianity is shifting towards a more reasonable and secular line in America as it has done in Europe then so much the better. If that means that what it means to be a Christian blurs a bit around the edges then surely this benefits Christians as much as the rest of society. It isn’t the label that I find dangerous and stupid but the magical thinking and adherence to dogma that really hurts.

    Or how many of them say they’re Christian because they think the sermon on the mount is special

    For me the Bible is such an integrated part of western society and thought that it would be impossible to shed it completely. If people read the sermon on the mount and think that it contains some wisdom then I’m fine with that. We all draw our views from multiple sources and cherry picking the few good parts of the bible is part and parcel of living in a society with our rich history.

    we rely on people to come up with their own labels without concern for any kind of objective standard

    Should we expect an objective standard for self identification? I self identify as an agnostic atheist and a secular humanist. I choose these labels because my views fit the definitions best, not because a rigorous standard is being applied. How would you like it is someone told you (for example) that you couldn’t be a Democrat or a Republican because you disagreed on one or two party policies? Surely the same applies to someone’s religious viewpoint.

  • Claudia

    Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

    I can accept this easily, but I don’t really see why it must be restricted to teenagers. The VAST majority of Americans have sex before marriage, there are nowhere near enough churches to fit even the bare majority of self-identified Christians on a given Sunday morning, porn consumption is higher in the “red” religious states etc. The point being that teens that self-identify as Christians without bothering to follow any of the rules are simply the future adults that do the exact same thing.

    Next to basic questions about their own religion I would have liked to have seen basic questions about the democratic process and the political reality, geography and some basic biology. I think you’d find that ignorance of their religion was only one facet of a depression diamond.

    What I find more worriesome is that deep ignorance of your own faith combined with more than questionable obedience to it doesn’t stop people from attempting to oppress others based on faith. It’s perfectly possible for someone who has never cracked open a Bible, practices oral sex (that’s sodomy) with his girlfriend and hasn’t been to church in 10 years to say that gays should be allowed to get married because it’s “against my religion”. The stunning hypocrisy of it changes nothing, until we can get it into people’s head that personal religious beliefs are NOT a justification for public policy.

  • Jeff

    @fundie troll: If you claim to be an atheist now then you were never born again in the first place.

    Of course – the ultimate Christian trump card. This one concept, more than any other, has saved millions of you from having to look your belief system square in the eye when confronted with contradictory evidence.

    The Christian faith is likened to an endurance race, and we know that someone is a believer by the fact that they finish the race.

    How bloody convenient. This is the reason so many of you go into professional sports and the military – you’re perfectly comfortable with the idea of winners and losers. And if the loss is eternal? Too effing bad! As long as you’re saved – that’s all that matters.

    Thank you for reaffirming my conviction that it’s impossible for a Christian to say anything that isn’t too drearily stupid for words.

  • Chris

    I find the idea that young Christians lack “passion” to be somewhat comforting. When they are all filled with passion people tend to be tied to stakes and burned.

  • Matt said himself that he is an atheist. Therefore by the words of John, Matt is an antichrist. Matt went out from us, and therefore he is not of us. He is not a Christian, he was never a Christian, and so he has no right to claim Christianity.

    Then you’d damn well better hope that you never lose your faith, or it would mean that the faith you have RIGHT NOW is false. How can you possibly know for sure unless you dig in deeper out of fear? What a pathetically anti-rational viewpoint.

  • Carlie

    If you claim to be an atheist now then you were never born again in the first place.

    Just keep telling yourself that – it’s the thing that lets you sleep at night when the doubts creep in. Your faith is so strong, you’ll never falter like those atheists, because of course none of them ever believed as strongly and purely as you do.

  • One could argue that any decent Christians are not really “Christians”, in the sense that they don’t really take the Bible for the divine word of God when they treat non-Christians, gays, etc., as fellow human beings instead of condemning them for sinners.

    The same is true for decent Muslims, too.

  • MH

    Someone needs to invent a time machine to go back in time and inform the Apostle John that he is committing the no true Scotsman logical fallacy. It makes him look really uninformed for someone who claimed to have spoken with an all knowing being.

  • Curious Pagan

    While I understand why you would want less people following dogma that encourages oppression of others, why is it that you would care whether or not these teenagers still believe in a god? If they think that god wants them to feel good and do good without all of the judging that seems to come from the bible, why do you care that their not atheist? Does their belief in god offend you or something?

    I’m not asking to be inflammatory, I’m genuinely curious as this is an attitude that I’ve seen in many places and I would like to know where it comes from.

  • Ibis

    @hoverfrog

    There are many ideas of what a Christian is. Christians disagree on them vociferously. For me the only way to tell a Christian is if the person claims to be a Christian.

    That’s preposterous. The only thing you can tell from that is what label a person is using. Which tells you almost nothing useful. You can’t get at any real data. If you want to know what people actually are, you have to identify the criteria which makes a person one thing rather than another and then compare what beliefs they hold (and/or practices they engage in) and categorise them according to the standard.

    It doesn’t matter what a person calls themselves if they are ignorant about what label fits their beliefs the best.

    Maybe. I’m not particularly bothered. If mainstream Christianity is shifting towards a more reasonable and secular line in America as it has done in Europe then so much the better. If that means that what it means to be a Christian blurs a bit around the edges then surely this benefits Christians as much as the rest of society. It isn’t the label that I find dangerous and stupid but the magical thinking and adherence to dogma that really hurts.

    The problem is that the use of false labels gives a false picture of the state of the culture. You have a group of people who claim to be in the majority, who bully politicians based on this false picture, who demand special treatment in education among other things. They can do this partly because the small group of “true believers” can easily claim to be just the vocal ones of the bunch. But what is the reality? How the hell can we tell if they all use the same label and everyone just accepts it at face value?

    For me the Bible is such an integrated part of western society and thought that it would be impossible to shed it completely. If people read the sermon on the mount and think that it contains some wisdom then I’m fine with that. We all draw our views from multiple sources and cherry picking the few good parts of the bible is part and parcel of living in a society with our rich history.

    You’re missing the point. An atheist or buddhist or hindu or gnostic can think it contains some wisdom. Whatever. Who cares? It’s irrelevant because it doesn’t make a person a Christian.

    Should we expect an objective standard for self identification? I self identify as an agnostic atheist and a secular humanist. I choose these labels because my views fit the definitions best, not because a rigorous standard is being applied.

    Yes. But you chose those labels because you made some effort to figure out what labels matched what you believe (i.e. you applied a rigourous standard more or less). However, there are people who hold the same views as you but call themselves Christian. This makes any serious study of religious trends extremely difficult and use of the numbers we have for Christians & other religious groups problematic.

    How would you like it is someone told you (for example) that you couldn’t be a Democrat or a Republican because you disagreed on one or two party policies? Surely the same applies to someone’s religious viewpoint.

    This is not a very good comparison. Most people choose their political affiliation as adults (or at least in their teens) based on an assessment of their own values. They have a pretty good idea what a party stands for (even if they haven’t read the platform) and it would be rare for a person to have views consistently opposite to those held by a party but still claim membership. For most people, there’s no social pressure to belong to a party, no social pressure to belong to a particular party. There is no pressure to remain in a party once you’ve joined. One can easily change parties overnight if your views or values change. Even political leaders do this without much repercussion. All of these conditions are not present when speaking of religion.

  • muggle

    What a stupid article that tells us nothing really. Absolutely nothing.

    First of all, I would agree with hoverfrog that there’s literally hundreds of definitions of Christian and just because one sect says that’s not a Christian doesn’t mean that the others who define Christians their way are wrong to call themselves Christian in any sense except the one that said that’s not a Christian (who possibly isn’t considered a Christian according to the Christian they’re pointing at’s definition). Whew! That was a tongue-twister.

    But, in a country of religious freedom, one sect doesn’t get to define Christian any more than any other sect.

    To think that this study is impartial and applied any strict criteria other than how the teens self-identified is ridiculous. Unless they spied on these kids for a year, no, they don’t know if they’re “fake” Christians or not. And again by what criteria and which sect’s definition of Christians? They might as well have said Fundie Troll thinks they’re fake Christians. It’s as much a measurable standard as any other ridiculous thing they have.

    When I was a teen, I’d have sounded a good deal like Fundie Troll and I’d have said the same thing he does now (which has me wondering how old he is). I sincerely believed so deeply that I studied the Bible to get closer to God and know him better and considered those who did not take his word literally to be fake Christians. But since I didn’t stay the race to the end, I guess I was never a real Christian. Nobody need worry about the fact that I prayed in school. All too amusing.

    Religion is dying. It’s dying plain and simple because it can’t hold up to close scrutiny and science is explaining more and more of the mysteries of the universe and doing more and more of what would have once been called miraculous while proving there’s nothing miraculous about it — all it takes is an understanding of how things work to utilize how they do to make them work in ways we want them to.

    I don’t expect to live to see its demise. It ain’t going to be that quick and it doesn’t go down without a fight with people tearfully clinging to their challenged superstitions but I hope my grandson will live to see it. If he doesn’t I suspect his grandchildren and most likely even his children will.

    Fundie Troll, read your Bible. I challenge you to read it five times in a row from front to beginning, no skipping even the begats on your own without your religious leader. Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself. Enjoy!

  • @Ibis

    That’s preposterous. The only thing you can tell from that is what label a person is using. Which tells you almost nothing useful. You can’t get at any real data. If you want to know what people actually are, you have to identify the criteria which makes a person one thing rather than another and then compare what beliefs they hold (and/or practices they engage in) and categorise them according to the standard.

    I agree. The label “Christian” is almost entirely useless as a way of assessing what someone believes. It is far too broad to have any common values between members at all. Nevertheless it remains a way for individuals to identify with a large “umbrella” group.

    It doesn’t matter what a person calls themselves if they are ignorant about what label fits their beliefs the best.

    I think it matters to the person labelling themselves.

    The problem is that the use of false labels gives a false picture of the state of the culture.

    The labels aren’t false though, only the minority viewpoint isn’t representative of the label. I would hope (probably in vain)that those who identify as Christian who also believe in good science education and access to family planning resources would say to their political leaders that the minority group doesn’t represent their viewpoint. I’m ever the optimist though.

    How the hell can we tell if they all use the same label and everyone just accepts it at face value?

    We can tell by the actions of the group. If Muslims blow up a building a murder thousands then I’d expect other Muslims to vehemently disassociate themselves from the minority. If Christians murder a doctor who performs abortions then I’d expect other Christians to say that the murderer is a minority lunatic and that the majority are nothing like that. If mainstream Christians don’t like being tarred with the same brush as science denying, gay hating, women oppressing, child raping, deceitful, hateful, superstitious and frankly insane Christians then they can always shed the label and call themselves Christ followers or something. 😉

    You’re missing the point. An atheist or buddhist or hindu or gnostic can think it contains some wisdom. Whatever. Who cares? It’s irrelevant because it doesn’t make a person a Christian.

    Fair enough and I’d add that I would bet that a typical atheist has read more of the Christian bible than a typical Christian. I take your point though.

    However, there are people who hold the same views as you but call themselves Christian. This makes any serious study of religious trends extremely difficult and use of the numbers we have for Christians & other religious groups problematic.

    I see. I’m afraid I’m arguing from the point of view of the individual self identifying and you are arguing from a social point of view. I can see how broad labels are problematic for those who seek to highjack the group for their own ends and those who are indifferent to this highjacking. I suppose it is too much to expect our elected officials to see through such blatant exaggerations.

    For most people, there’s no social pressure to belong to a party, no social pressure to belong to a particular party. There is no pressure to remain in a party once you’ve joined. One can easily change parties overnight if your views or values change. Even political leaders do this without much repercussion. All of these conditions are not present when speaking of religion.

    I would hope that you are exaggerating the importance of religion and understating the importance of politics but I accept that the comparision isn’t precise.

  • LaurenF

    I’m with Brielle – I can’t believe CNN wasted space on this “news”. Especially given that I remember hearing the exact same thing some ten, fifteen years ago in the midst of my high school die-hard evangelical phase. Seriously, it sounded so familiar that I had to scroll up and check the date to make sure they hadn’t accidentally linked to a ten year old article.

    And for some odd reason I’d be willing to be that it wasn’t a new complaint when I heard it back then, either….