Monday, September 05, 2011

Can Parents Make Faith Last?

a review of 'Sticky Faith,' by Kara Powell and Chap Clark

“My parents were very religious when I was young. We went to church (or temple or whatever) every week. My parents never, or seldom, prayed or talked about faith at home. As I got older and things got busier, we started attending only at holidays. I do not consider myself religious today.”

This is a good summary of about 80 percent of the personal reflection essays my Intro to World Religions students handed in last week. I asked them to describe their experience with religion to date. I was surprised (and pleased) by their candor. I was surprised that their accounts were so similar. I was surprised, too, by how clear the correlation was between the importance of religion in the parents’ lives over time and the importance of religion in my students’ lives as they enter adulthood.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Like everyone else, I’ve heard all about the dismal attrition rates among Christian young people, who are active through their teen years only to leave the church--and very often the faith--when they head to college. And I think deep down we all suspect that parents play an important role in making sure their kids’ develop lasting faith. But I was surprised by how conscious my students--and not just Christian students, but Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist students--are about the role their parents play in their faith.

This is anecdotal, but I picked up on some patterns. The students whose parents prioritized religious services but didn’t practice religion at home were likely to consider themselves “unreligious” today. Students whose parents emphasized both religious services and devotion at home--even if those practices became less important as the kids got older and schedules busier--were more likely to identify as not practicing but hoping to be more devoted in the future. Students seemed very turned off to religion if their parents are defensive or intimidated about their spiritual questions. By contrast, one student, who is Muslim, said that what keeps him connected to Islam is that his father is willing to discuss his questions. When the father doesn’t have answers, he admits it to his son and they look for answers together. Taken together, this drives home the point that parents are integral to their children’s spiritual lives. To read more, click here.

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