Religion’s Failure to Reach the Young
THERE are many youths today who question ideas that have been passed down for generations. They do not see how having more material possessions than your neighbor does—a bigger car or more ostentatious home—is a worthwhile goal in life.
Many reject a materialistic society that often is too prone to judge a man by how much money he earns, rather than by what he is as a person or by what he does. Some even reject the dress code that marks one as being a part of the prosperous, established community, which they feel has oppressed the poor and needy.
They see the world’s injustices, and the falsehood and hypocrisy of materialistic churches. Many youths consider their parents’ churches to be mere social clubs.
They recognize, as Methodist minister Charles Merrill Smith said in his book The Pearly Gates Syndicate, that many people “join a religion for reasons having nothing whatever to do with spirituality—such as because it is popular, or socially advantageous, or is a source of promising business contacts, or is good politics, or for any number of other laudable but not exactly spiritual reasons.”
These facts have not been lost upon the highly critical and keenly observant youth of today. Time magazine reported that converts to the “Jesus movement” often “speak disparagingly of the blandness or hypocrisy of their former churches.”
“America is spiritually starving to death,” said Joseph Laiacona, a former Roman Catholic seminarian who joined one of the “Christian communes” in New York state.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a noted Protestant clergyman, said in an article in Reader’s Digest: “For years we watched a spiritual vacuum growing among our young people.” The churches provided “meager fare for the spiritually starved,” he said. “‘Go away,’ we said to them. ‘Take a bath. Cut your hair. Put on conventional clothes. Accept our values. Then come back and we’ll talk with you.’”
The churches became more concerned with the world’s social ills than with the “Christ Gospel of salvation,” admitted noted Catholic priest Fulton J. Sheen. “When the pulpits no longer resounded with that Name ‘above every name,’ the young began calling themselves ‘Jesus people.’”
These young people ask: “What is the satisfaction of a house, new car, and a career if you have only lived to die, and all mankind is no more than 20 minutes from extinction?” Nobody wants the human race to be blotted out in twenty minutes in an atomic holocaust. “Nobody wants to believe that his life has no meaning,” they say, adding: “Jesus is meaning.”
Today’s “established” religions have a foot in both worlds. They claim to follow Jesus, but are involved in the world’s social and political life. And certainly they do not require obedience to the strict principles of morals, honesty, doctrine and zeal that Jesus specified for his followers.
The churches’ concern with non-Biblical matters has moved them away from the teachings that produced such zeal among the early Christians who lived in Jesus’ day and shortly thereafter. Many youths have seen little in today’s churches to hold them. Some have dismissed religion as “irrelevant and hypocritical.” “Jesus people” stress the fact that they are not returning to “religion,” but to “Jesus.”a
What, then, is it that attracts so many persons to this movement? The “Jesus people” do not care what a person looks like, or how he is dressed. Someone, either one of their ministers or a member of his flock, has gone out particularly to interest these youths, and whether a person has a shirt or socks does not matter to them.
Sometimes the service is conducted by a young person, who says he too took drugs, but that he found the drug scene just “isn’t where it’s at.” Young people who hunger for God are made to feel at home. And, liking companionship and being of a nature to help others, they bring their friends.
Another thing that attracts these young people is the opportunity to participate. They may clap and sing. Some raise their hands to heaven and moan. They offer “testimonies” about how they abandoned drugs, prostitution, or other vices.
Many persons would be surprised at the interest with which so many young people listen to a discussion of a Bible book such as Hosea—and to the effort that is made to apply it to their lives. The interest in Biblical explanation is great; it is only that the churches have ignored this need, and many youths have turned away from them to half-correct explanations, not knowing where to find something better.
But what is wrong with the explanations? And is there something better?
a A dialogue in one of their Jesus comic books has one youth offering another some dope (“reds”). It goes like this: “Wantsum reds?” “No, man, I got something better!” “What is it?” “Jesus!” “Oh, religion.” “No, man, Jesus!”