They are mostly not atheists. They are mostly not Jesus-followers. They are, largely, Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. I set my teaching compass to this.
I came across Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) in reading (5 years ago) U. of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith's Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. MTD consists of beliefs like these:
1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."
Much American adolescent belief and faith can be reduced to this.
If this is your child, how did they get this way? Kendra Creasy Dean of Princeton says: "Your child is following a "mutant" form of Christianity, and you may be responsible."
Dean has written Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. She writes:
She writes, “The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe, namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people…” She goes on to say that “if churches practice MTD in the name of Christianity, then getting teenagers to church more often is not the solution (conceivably it could make things worse). A more faithful church is the solution….Maybe the issue is simply that the emperor has no clothes.” (Quoted here.)
- Christianity is not a big deal
- God requires little (God is our Big Butler in the Sky)
- "Church" is a helpful social institution filled with nice people
I love having them in my classes and getting to know them, and meet over coffee with them.