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Is Religion the Answer for Teens in Crisis?

Posted from today's daily Angelus News email:

Some interesting ideas but I think they miss the mark...
For those who weren't with us last night for Bishop Barron's video on G. K. Chesterton, we learned that Chesterton was equally at home on both the right and the left of the political spectrum, and while he may not have always agreed, he did always listen, and didn't let a person's views get in the way of friendship and civility. A lesson we could all use in these times... but I digress...

This article comes from the National Register, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. You can't get much more conservative than that! So even if your leanings are more toward the left, there's some good nuggets in this article.

As a life-long catechist, clearly I believe that being the member of a religious community is beneficial in many ways, and the article does point out the Pew studies that show how those who actively participate in a religious community are happier, healthier, and live longer. The article also goes to great lengths to point out what seems to be an increase in teen suicide, depression, and other mental illnesses. And their answer to this problem is getting them some religion.

While I can't disagree with the overall premise, I do question some of their research and conclusions. First, they go to great lengths to show us what seems to be a dramatic increase in the instances of teen suicide, depression and mental illness. While this seems to be anecdotally true, I still have to question the validity of their data. A lot of these increases could be attributed to better reporting and increased populations. It would have been nice to know where the are getting their information. But for the sake of argument, let's accept the premise that teen depression is on the rise.

Their response is to get these kids some religion. Again, agree and believe this is beneficial (otherwise why am I paying all that Catholic school tuition!). But according to the article, "They no longer value themselves for their inherent worth and dignity as created by God." So, they're saying self worth is the problem? The article continues to say that, "they no longer find self-worth in their efforts to lead lives based on truth and love. Instead, many of our young people look outside themselves for validation."

This makes sense, but I think they're putting too much emphasis on the self-worth part, and not enough on the "action" part... the part that teaches us that religious practice is reaching out to one another, and putting others before ourselves. Is that the opposite of self-worth? Or is it the mechanism by which self-worth is gained?

The article does go on to say, "Having faith in God and attributing a religious meaning to life anchors people, directs their efforts to things beyond the material world, protects them against setbacks, and provides supportive community." This is all true, but it's not just the self-worth gained by a relationship with God and a loving, supportive community. Those are all important, but they don't go into any of the "religious meaning to life," and what that entails. Religious meaning isn't born out of a sense of self-worth, it's born out of selfless action. A recognition that we are called to recognize the dignity of others over ourselves, and physically reach out to help them. The purpose religious life gives us is through the action of spreading the Gospel. Sometimes with words, but all the time with our actions.

Put another way, it gives them a job. Something to do. And this is where I personally think we're failing our young people. We're not teaching them to reach out to others. We're not giving them the skills to take care of themselves. We're not giving them a true sense of things greater than themselves. Religion doesn't just give us a caring community, it gives us a mission... to reach out and bring God's love to others. It gives us a purpose... a higher purpose. That helps us put our self-worth in perspective. And that's the key I think this article misses.

There's a lot of other stuff the article goes into about the role of government and such. Some of these points are valid.  But overall I think their argument is overly simplistic.  There are many dynamics at play here, and a lot of the context of these situations is missing.  And again, I think all that steers us away from the real issue... putting words into action, and putting others above oneself.

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