Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Souls in Transition: notes on a book by Christian Smith

I have recently read the book by the above title, which has some important things to say about our American culture. This book presents a study of what happens to the religious and social orientation and characteristics of people transitioning into adulthood from adolescence—it looks at people between the ages of 18-23 (hereafter called "emerging adults"). Following is my redaction of a significant message from this book:

It seems difficult, if not impossible, in this world for emerging adults to actually believe anything objectively real or true that can be rationally maintained in a way that might require people to change their minds or lives. Truth and reality are considered unreal facts in the world of emerging adults. For them, all knowledge and value are historically conditioned and culturally relative. Emerging adults have not been equipped with adequate intellectual and moral tools to evaluate the facts of culture/society, so…they just rely on how they feel about their world and do not worry about making any kind of impact on culture. And…as a result, they do not criticize anything that other people choose to believe, feel, or do. One way of life, for them, is just as good as any other way of life. Everything to them is relative, anyway. They will not risk being rude, presumptuous, intolerant, or unfeeling.

All of the above encourages the true virtues of humility and openness to difference. This is, after all, a good quality; but it hamstrings them from being able to decide what is right, good, and true. This leaves them uncertain about basic values; and, therefore, they are suffering from a troubling uncertainty about life’s big questions—they are adrift in a very complex world without guideposts. Some of them might want to move forward, but they feel paralyzed, not knowing how they might possibly know anything worthy of conviction and dedication. A lot of this fuzziness in life’s questions has been fostered by academia’s penchant for deconstructive postmodernism, which has sought to reduce all knowledge and value claims to arbitrary exertions of power and control. The glut of information on the Internet causes a lack of authorized gatekeepers to judge, evaluate and rank the merits or value of excess data.

Emerging adults struggle to establish themselves as autonomous and sovereign individuals, with unfettered freedom. The problem is, however, that they do not know what to do with their freedom; they lack conviction and direction. They lack larger visions of what is true and real and good in both the private and the public realms. One thing that hampers them from resolving their dilemma is a slavish obsession imposed on them by the culture driving them to establish private, material, comfort and personal possessions—this seems to be a key purpose in their lives.

Some, but not all, emerging adults spend their undirected lives in the amusements of alcohol and drug intoxication, and the temporary thrills of hook-up sex; but many of them have found these activities unsatisfying and dangerous. Some of them are looking for something more meaningful; but they have great difficulty finding it in their worlds. Thus ends the redaction part of this post.

Well…if any of my readers are interested in knowing more about this very interesting group of Americans, I can strongly recommend the above book. Thanks for reading!

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