Americans Turning Back to Religion to Find Identity and Meaning
ABC News charts parents’ desire to pass on meaning, values to their children
by Andy Butcher
Schools full of violence and homes empty of values are sending a growing number of Americans back to religion to find answers, according to an ABC News report. But at the same time, fewer families are regularly attending church or other services, a new survey has revealed.
Paul Vitz, a psychology professor at New York University, told ABC that many young adults are turning to religion as a source of identity. “For some decades, two of the major ways of getting a personal identity were from nationalism and leftist politics,” he said. “That’s collapsed, so what’s going to take its place? Religion. They are discovering that they have everything they wanted and nothing that they need.”
The report pointed to a 1998 Gallup poll that showed nine out of 10 people wanting their children to receive some type of religious instruction as evidence of the return to–or, for some, first discovery of–religious faith.
The search for deeper meaning has created an explosion in the sale of religious books, CD-ROMs and videos, especially in the last few years. Sales of Christian children’s books jumped more than 20 percent between 1997 and 1998. Among those who have noted the growth are Christian Supply Centers, Inc., which since 1993 has expanded from six to 25 stores in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and seen revenue increase tenfold. Chief operating officer Gary Randall said part of the reason was increased demand for home school curriculum products.
“The driving force is just some of the alarming things that have happened with youth–school shootings, the murder of parents,” Bill Anderson, president of the Christian Booksellers Association, told ABC. “Christian publishers and Christian retailers have really stepped up to the front with a lot of really good product that’s interesting to kids.”
Most children growing up in the 1950s received some sort of religious training, but that practice has dropped off dramatically through the years, said ABC. But the trend was starting to reverse as people were exploring spirituality, not just for themselves but also “for their children because they realize that they must pass something on,” Vitz said.
Typical is Julie Ormsted, who rejected the “strict” Christian faith of her parents when she was a student in the 1970s. Now a parent herself, she told ABC: “You come to a point where you say, like the old song, ‘Is that all there is?’ The things of this world will always pass. I want them to know something eternal.”
Confirmation of the changes in the last couple of generations comes in a family life survey by “Family Circle” and Lever 2000 published this week. The survey of 2,500 mothers in two groups–those with children 19 and under, and those with older children–showed that weekly religious services attendance dropped from 48 percent in the older group to 37 percent in the younger.
Nearly 70 percent of the younger mothers said that television was too “sexy” these days, contrasted with just 30 percent of older moms’ views of their time. Younger generation interviewees were even more disturbed by TV violence–76 percent saying there is far too much bloodshed. Only 32 percent of the older generation felt the same way about when their children were young.
Parent-child “sex talks” still take place at the same time–around 9 or 10–but drugs warnings are coming earlier. Older mothers would broach the subject when their children were 10. Today moms raise the topic when their youngsters are just 6 or 7.