How Sure Are Today’s Youth About God?
September 8, 1981
I can understand the concern expressed in your letter. Since you live in a religious country, have been brought up to believe in God, and are yourself young, it is hard for you to believe that so many young people here in Germany reject God’s existence. At least that is what the article you recently read indicates that a great number of them do.
Of course, the figures from a poll, such as the one mentioned in the article, do not always tell us everything we may need to know. The president of a New York–based opinion research firm recently explained that polls “say nothing about whether or not the public . . . has given a subject much thought.” They do not “reveal whether people are at the vague beginning, the turbulent middle or the conclusive end of the process of making up their minds.”
Nevertheless, there are definite signs that belief in God among young people in Germany (and perhaps in your country, too) is on the wane. During the years I have lived in Germany, I have talked to a great number of young people about this subject. But so that I could supply you with some up-to-date material, I asked a few friends of mine to help me interview some representative young people. We discovered that many of them have very definite opinions, whereas others are having real difficulty in making up their minds about God’s existence. Their expressions are quite enlightening. Let me share some of them with you.
Why Some Doubt While Others Believe
The young people raised four basic objections to believing in God. A common one was: “Since I have never seen God, I cannot believe that he exists.” But Joachim, a 15-year-old Catholic, said that “the things I have seen in nature are cause enough to believe.” His classmate, Ulrike, agreed, saying that God “can be seen—in his works.”
A second argument—offered, however, without supporting evidence—was that “science has proved that there is no God.” “To the contrary,” said others, scientific investigation reveals “order and regularity” in the universe, “works of precision” that “could not have come about by themselves.” Sascha, a teenage Catholic, argued that, since “science has proved that everything had a beginning,” there must be some Great First Cause who got everything started—God.
Another reason given for doubt was more of a complaint than an argument. “People say that God will help you, but he never does,” lamented a young girl. Not all agreed. This illustration could be used to point up the weakness of her argument: Have not all of us experienced, at times, that friends or relatives have failed to offer us help when we felt we needed it? There may have been a variety of reasons why they did not help, but their nonexistence was obviously not one of them. Conceivably the fault could have been more ours than theirs.
The fourth objection was the one heard most often: “If there is a God, he would not permit wars, murders and all the other terrible things that happen.” A Hamburg student argued: “If there is a higher power, why doesn’t he forbid such things?” Clearly the student had overlooked the fact that, according to the Bible, God has forbidden these things. But this has not prevented man from doing them. Yet, is it logical to conclude from man’s disobedience that God does not exist? Does a child’s disobedience prove that he has no father?
At times people have stood by and witnessed terrible crimes without taking steps to prevent them. We may question whether they acted properly in doing so or not, but would we doubt the existence of such standby people? Likewise, many persons question whether it has been proper for God to permit wickedness, but this is no reason to doubt his existence.
Resolving this question may seem difficult. Once found, however, the answer is truly satisfying. It involves understanding that an issue has been raised disputing the rightfulness of God’s rule and the truthfulness of his word. Realizing that, to settle this issue effectively, a period of time is necessary also helps us to understand God’s permission of wickedness. The Bible book of Job (chapters 1 and 2), I think, gives a fine explanation.
Belief, but Not “Firm Conviction”
Many young people have little basis for their opinions. Some say they believe, but are not quite sure why—perhaps saying simply, “Because my parents do.” Others do not believe. Often they say: “What I have heard about God is not convincing.” But have they investigated to see if what they have heard is true? Just how diligent have they been in giving the subject consideration?
Out of 66 students in one group, 29 admitted that they did not know whether their parents believe in God or not. Apparently in their homes God is not a subject of general conversation. Not having given the subject much thought, these young people still find themselves “at the vague beginning . . . of the process of making up their minds.”
This is true of many older people, too. An article in the German magazine Der Spiegel recently acknowledged that faith among most Germans is “more hope than faith, more vague assumption than firm conviction.” But in a so-called Christian nation, why should this be?
“The Church”—“An Interference Factor Between God and Man”
Many young persons make a distinction between belief in God and belief in “organized religion.” In fact, many people feel that the orthodox churches have done little to further their belief in God. No wonder that in the past decade alone over 2,000,000 persons have withdrawn membership from the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in Germany.
A major in political science and history said that, despite being raised in a religious atmosphere, it was “only through personal reflection that I arrived at my conviction that there is a God.” In effect, these young people are saying: “God, yes—Church, no.”
Back in 1968 the magazine Stern was already warning: “A third of all the Christians in the Federal Republic are in danger of losing [faith in] God.” And then, pointing an accusing finger, it added: “Ministers are helping them do it.”
True. Ministers who over the years have fostered a “God is dead” theory. Ministers who have placed undue emphasis on a do-it-yourself “social gospel” and ignored God’s kingdom, the divine solution to man’s problems. Ministers who, in God’s name, have taught doctrines that are both unreasonable and clearly unscriptural. Ministers who, as a group, have set a miserable example. “Even the Church does not pattern itself according to the Bible,” reasoned one North German. So why should anyone else?
A young man who angrily declared that “everything connected with the Church is swindle” was speaking for many. In his case “everything” included “belief in God.” The Churches, although claiming to represent the Creator, have in reality misrepresented him, and thereby succeeded in making multitudes of their own people doubt his very existence.
This has not gone unnoticed. A young African student in Hamburg, his eyes scarcely concealing his feelings of betrayal, lashed out: “The nerve of you Europeans! You came to Africa and converted us from so-called pagan religions to the worship of a God I now discover none of you even believe in!”
In an attempt to regain lost membership, the Catholic and Lutheran Churches are seriously considering undertaking an advertising campaign that would result in magazine readers finding, amid advertisements for soap and toothpaste, church-sponsored ones “selling faith.” According to press reports, advertising experts preparing the campaign are in agreement “that the ‘good news’ [is] being sold in the robes of day before yesterday, rather than in the language of the people of today.” To correct this fault, they have prepared clever slogans and appealing pictures to sell their product.
But trying to sell faith by wrapping it up in an attractive dress does not go far enough. More important than the packaging is the product itself. People—especially young people—want to know what they should believe, why they should believe it, why it is logical to believe it, and what benefits can be derived from believing it. In short, they want their questions answered.
The Churches of Christendom and their ministers, instead of copying the fine example of Jesus in giving clear, straightforward answers from God’s Word, have resorted to long-winded and evasive explanations that caused one of the advertising experts to remark: “The Church is an interference factor between God and man.”
Helping Young People Develop Strong Faith
What the clergymen of Christendom’s Churches have failed to do, Jehovah’s Witnesses are trying hard to accomplish. By letting God’s Word of truth speak out in answer to the questions of inquiring youth, they are having success. The following experience from a person now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is typical of many:
“The questions I asked clergymen while going to school and to confirmation classes were either answered incorrectly, unsatisfactorily or not at all, leaving me at this point unable to deny the existence of God, but also not thoroughly convinced. But I gave the matter little consideration. After all, even learned theologians varied as to their views about God and the Bible. ‘If clergymen who study theology at college cannot understand the Bible, then it must be a book incapable of being understood and one that contradicts itself.’ This is what I fully believed.”
These words describe how thousands of young people today feel. The desire and the need to believe are present with many; the logical basis for doing so is often absent. They are still “at the vague beginning . . . of the process of making up their minds.” This is well illustrated by the words of a young man who explains why he became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I had always believed that God existed, but I had no idea of what his purpose was for the earth or for mankind. I was in complete darkness as to the real meaning of life. I had question after question for the Witness who weekly came to see me. I tried to think up particularly difficult questions for him, convinced that he would be unable to answer them. The opposite was the case. He was not to be ruffled, and for each question he had a Bible answer. No priest had ever opened up the meaning of the Bible to me as he did.”
How gratifying to hear how Bible answers can fortify a person’s faith in God’s existence and give him confidence that God will soon step in to solve mankind’s problems by means of His kingdom! And, Alan, I am sure you are happy to hear that, although many young people here in Germany do not believe in God’s existence, yet a great many others do. It is hoped that many young people who are still “at the vague beginning” or “the turbulent middle . . . of the process of making up their minds,” and whose belief is more “vague assumption” than it is “firm conviction,” will yet take advantage of the fine educational opportunities offered free of charge by Jehovah’s Witnesses and will thus find answers to their Bible questions.
Well, it has been a real pleasure conversing with you, Alan, even if it was only by means of paper and pen. Hoping to hear from you soon, and sending warm greetings of Christian love, I remain
[Blurb on page 18]
The Churches Are Causing Many To Lose Faith
[Blurb on page 19]
‘For Each Question I Asked, The Witness Who Came To See Me Had A Bible Answer’
[Picture on page 16]
“I have never seen God”
[Picture on page 17]
“God has never helped me”