Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, by Greg Cootsona: Chapter 2- Emerging Adult Faith: Not an LP, but a Digital Download
We are reviewing the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Today we look at Chapter 2- Emerging Adult Faith: Not an LP, but a Digital Download.
Cootsona is the Onsite Co-Project Leader, along with David Wood, Co-Project Leader from Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe, IL and Dave Navarra, Program Administrator/Primary Contact from Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, CA of Scientists in Congregations. Scientists in Congregations is a $2 million grant program, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, created to catalyze the dialogue of theology and science in local congregations. They conducted an 18 month research project on the attitudes of 18-30 year-olds called, SEYA: Science Engaging Young Adults. They presented groups in Northern California and in New York City ( a total of 638 participants) with a questionnaire based on surveys from Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults and David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith. They surveyed the participants before presenting them with a seminar on integrating science and religion and then after the seminar. So what he presents in this chapter is a result of the surveys and the discussions that occurred during the seminar, as well as his 18 years of pastoral ministry in congregations filled with college students.
Cootsona notes that the term emerging adult refers to that psychological developmental period or stage of life where a person no longer feels like an adolescent but is not yet fully an adult. This term recognizes the current cultural shift (at least in America or the first world) in which individuals are reaching the five milestones of adulthood—leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent (i.e. getting a job), getting married, and having children—much later than they did in the past. He notes a 2009 analysis that found in 1960, two-thirds of young adults had achieved all five of these markers by age thirty, but by 2000, less than fifty percent of women and one-third of men had done so. Of the six grandchildren I mentioned, ages 14-21, three post-high-schoolers still do not have their driver’s license (don’t even get me started, and yes, I’m a ride enabler, and part of the problem). Cootsona also notes that those in lower socioeconomic levels often do not have the luxury of being “in between” and move out of adolescent life into adulthood more quickly than their peers of greater affluence.
Since the marrying age is around 28 for men and 26 for women, most emerging adult’s relationship to faith is not defined by family. This reality presents a jarring contrast to the organization of most church ministries. The church’s “focus on the family” tends to not make room, or even ostracize, emerging adults in their 20s. Cootsona quotes Christian Smith from the above mentioned book:
The features marking this stage are intense identity exploration, instability, a focus on self, feeling in limbo or in transition or in between, and a sense of possibilities, opportunities, and unparalleled hope. These, of course, are also often accompanied by… large doses of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, disappointment, and sometimes emotional devastation.
Cootsona outlines 3 possible ways he thinks Christian ministries could engage emerging adults.
- Take on some new topics. The psychological effects of screen time, the possibility of artificial intelligence, the promise of transhumanism. Concerns about sexuality and gender and the findings of neuroscience that there is no immaterial soul.
- A different understanding of faith, its pluralism and diversity, open to reinterpreting religious institutions, that most emerging adults are, frankly, not committed to anymore. One impediment for many congregations embracing their emerging adults is that they don’t put much into the collection plate—partly because they don’t carry cash or checks, so why invest in them if they aren’t going to invest in the institution?
- Third, we’d see Christian faith as Spotify mix instead of a vinyl LP. Young adults don’t buy a record and listen through it in the order the musicians recorded it. They make their own “mix”, the listener, not the musician, determines the sequence of the music today. The parallels with the faith are obvious. Emerging adults are leading us out of the two-dimensional “science and religion” dichotomy to something much more multi-dimensional.
Cootsona, in a number of chapters in this book has what he terms “case studies”, a kind of digression or sidebar to the main chapter topic. In this chapter his case study is “Addressing the New Atheism”. I get why he includes it.
But most emerging adults express a live-and-let-live attitude towards those who disagree with them, and it is rare to find a young person expressing the stridency and aggressive anti-religion sentiment of the so-called “New Atheists”. They exist, but mostly online. And I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that most of the “angry internet atheists” are boomers.
That is not to say that young people aren’t moved by the appeal that atheism has to everybody. The logic of– if you can’t measure it—it doesn’t exist. The spooky, cold, absurd, vast indifference of the universe we now know of and the tiny, insignificant speck we inhabit in it. Unanswered (and seemingly unacknowledged) prayer. The finality of death. And of course, that greatest of atheist arguments—The Problem of Evil. But these issues have always been around, and will always be around in all ages of humanity.
My one grandson is currently professing to be an atheist. He has watched a couple of Richard Dawkin’s YouTube videos. He brought them up to me and I showed him the following video:
We laughed, and had a pretty good discussion of Dawkin’s circular arguments, as well as those of the Christian apologetics. I think he realized there are no “slam-dunk” arguments for either side, and maintaining respectful dialogue is a worthwhile thing. His grandmother’s efforts to threaten him with hell is a pretty much useless strategy.