Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Very Interesting Study

As someone who cares about and is involved in what happens to college students, I find this study fascinating. It is a detailed study done on Evangelical Protestant kids from youth to college. The findings first, then some commentary:
The survey found, much to Ham's surprise, a "Sunday School syndrome," indicating children who faithfully attend Bible classes in their church over the years actually are more likely to question the authority of Scripture.

"This is a brutal wake-up call for the church, showing how our programs and our approaches to Christian education are failing dismally," Ham writes in the book.Among the survey findings, regular participants in Sunday School are more likely to:
  • Leave the church
  • Believe that the Bible is less true
  • Defend the legality of abortion and same-sex marriage
  • Defend premarital sex
Very interesting indeed. In other words, the problems are not rising up from college, but from the upbringing of the kids as youth. His conclusion is completely off, in my opinion.
The book explores a number of reasons for the findings, but Ham sees one overarching problem that is related to how churches and parents have taught youth to understand the Genesis account of creation.
The article then goes on to explain that the problem is that kids don't understand a "biblical" account of creation well enough to defend it against the evolutionary idea of creation, which then undermines the Bibles authority in the young minds.

This is not good theology or Biblical study. The initial study is probably fine (although I am not a stat guy, so I wouldn't know any way), but the conclusions are off-the-wall bad. The problem is not in evolution vs. the Bible. The problem is in how we parent our kids and don't give them a solid basis in truly understanding who they are, who God is, what their purpose is, and the freedom to ask questions and then help them seek the answers.


Equus nom Veritas said...

Another possibility is that parents are using the Sunday school classes as a substitute for their own responsibilities in raising their children in the faith. I would bet good money that if the study screened between parents who were involved in their children's education in addition to Sunday School classes (or Catechism classes, of rthat matter), and those who weren't, the study would show that it is the latter which are often losing their faith as soon as (and indeed, before) they move out of the house.

John said...

"In other words, the problems are not rising up from college, but from the upbringing of the kids as youth."

It must always start within the family. Everything else radiates from that point. Sunday school should not be a subsitute for the Domestic Church within the family.

Kevin Jones said...

This apparently conflicts with Pew's detailed survey "Faith in Flux: Religious Conversion Statistics and Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S."

That reported that 65 percent of those raised Protestants who are in their original denom. reported regular Sunday School attendance. 66 percent of those raised Protestant but are now in a different denomination had regular Sunday school attendance.

But only 51 percent of those who were raised Protestant but are now unaffiliated reported regular Sunday School attendance.

Participation in youth groups also correlated with continued religious practice.

While I have my doubts about surveys, I think Pew is more reliable than most anybody who gets an exclusive with WorldNetDaily.

John 6:54 said...

This is a prime example of why you need a Pope & a Magisterium to interpret holy scripture. At times it needs to be taken literally and other times, like parts of Genesis, it shouldn't be.

pozzska said...

Maybe Sunday school isn't the cause. Perhaps it is just the changing zeitgeist regarding science, religion, etc. Kids learn more than their parents, and thusly have different worldviews based on the increase in information.

Good for these kids. Glad they escaped the theological cell.

Marcel said...

Kevin - different studies can bring out different results, depending on how the question is worded, who is asked, etc. Just don't let me buddy who is a statistician get a hold of any study - he tears them all apart.

Pozzska - Kids might have more information at their fingertips than their parents, but they are learning less about the world. We have stopped teaching our kids how to filter information, think for themselves, and understand who they are.

James said...

I don't put any credence in a poll put out by the likes of Ham, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Bible study leads to apostacy. Most Christians don't know what's in the Bible and are confused if not simply appalled by the incoherence and frequent cruelty of its stories and teachings if and when they approach it. Even insisting on enforcing an official interpretation in a social setting such as Sunday school doesn't completely neutralize the vehemence of the book especially since really thinking through the implications of the catachism is also problematic.

I'm not an Hegelian, but I think Hegel was right in claiming that taking theologies and philosophies seriously is what destroys them.

Marcel said...

James - I don't know anything about Ham, and it is probably best that way. But, serious study of the Bible can do no harm to the faith, as long as the hermeneutic is good. With the brand of literalism this guy is coming from, it won't help.

Faith is not self-defeating nor is theology. I believe Hegel was off his rocker.

James said...

I'm not defending Hegelianism, though in my experience those who think Hegel was nuts just haven't read him closely. I'm simply noting that ideologies are often most menaced by the true believers that take them seriously. I'm thinking of people like Gorbachev, a guy who was fatal to communism precisely because he and his cohorts kept faith with its revolutionary promises.

It's a commonplace of the sociology of religion that the same enthusiasm that created the religion in the first place soon becomes dangerous to the institutional church. The martyrs and saints of one generation are the heretics and schismatics in the next. One can assert "Faith is not self-defeating nor is theology;" but that doesn't seem to be true from a historical point of view. Lots of the most ardent leave the church, personally burned out or, not that many centuries ago, literally burned up.

Marcel said...

The institutional church has stood for 2,000 years and the history of the saints is that they will always be saints, whether accepted by the rest of us sinners or not. Those that are faithful to Christianity are not causing the internal issues, it is those who have take the name "christian" and don't live it out.

James said...

You don't believe that Joachim of Fiore, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or, for that matter, Hans Kung have caused internal issues for the church? It seems to me that nothing challenges the church more seriously right now than the American laity who, at least from the perspective of an outsider, appear to be rather more serious about the faith than the rather Breshnevian hierarchy.

It's just anecdotal, of course; but I note that of all the catholic kids I went to school with forty years ago, the ones who are still catholic are the ones who were never seriously religious in the first place. For the most part that observation also holds for the priests I've known for long time. The intense ones are no longer priests, and most of them are no longer Catholic. Of course if you simply define faithfulness to Christianity as obedience to a particular human authority, it becomes trivial true that no amount of faithfulness will cause internal issues. I doubt if that's what you meant, though.

Marcel said...

The American laity, if you are defining them as self-identified Catholicss, are very anti-serious about the Catholic Church. Many Catholics today are merely cultural Catholics. But, there is growing movement back to serious Catholicism because of the laissez-faire upbringing many have had.

Very few kids of my generation got any kind of serious formation in the faith and many left. Those that got good formation are, for the most part, still actively faithful Catholics. I was one of the exceptions.

Of every 'intense priest' you have known, I have known 20 and they are all still priests.

I don't define faithfulness as mere obedience, but it is a part of it and I don't see why obedience is held with such disdain by non-theists. Without some kind of obedience, one cannot be faithful to anything.

Marcel said...

FYI - Comments are not going to be approved again until Monday, when I have time to get around to them. Sorry.

Christopher said...

It could be argued that many children bought up with a strong religious belief feel oppressed. After going to collage and having the world not only explained to them, but encouraged to question the findings of science they feel more comfortable letting go of a dogma that discouraged such questioning and testing. Long story short, perhaps what religion needs to do is actually put it's beliefs up to serious scientific scrutiny and testing. We are all good God fearing people, surly our truth will easly pass the test of reality.

Donella said...

I have seen a correlation, but I don't think that Sunday School was the problem. For me, at least, it was the attitude that we shouldn't question scriptures or think too hard about theological matters because this was, in effect, "questioning God." I understand that not all Protestant families are like this, but asking questions was definitely discouraged in mine. That became a big turn off for me as I got older and, particularly, when I started college. I wanted to find out more about the world around me and thought that my faith would hold me back. I realize now that it was only the way it was taught to me.

Marcel said...

If science could "prove" faith, God, love, etc. then they wouldn't BE spiritual realities.