The good news:
Nearly a third of Australian teenagers have no religious beliefs, new research has shown.
The bad news according to The Age: it’s because they are all narcissistic, tight-arse, loners or they soon will be due to their lack of religious faith:
God on the nose with the 'Me' generation.
The research on which said newspaper article is based was carried out by Dr. Michael Mason and Assoc. Prof. Ruth Webber (both from the
They argue, according to The Age, that:
those with serious spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to be more involved in their communities and donate money … and be more concerned about their society than their non-religious counterparts.
Webber claims that the apparent disparity between secular and religious teenagers is worrying:
If you are secular and there is no other way that you can get an entry into those values, then that's some kind of concern to society as a whole.I quote the newspaper report because the conference paper and/or journal article is not yet available. I have emailed the authors requesting it.
What is available online, however, is the survey questionnaire (pdf) used in the research. The questions asked cast doubt on the validity of the findings as presented by The Age and the concerns of Webber.
The two questions on volunteer work specifically exclude gaining information on the “organisation or cause” to which teenagers donate their time. Similarly the three questions on donating money ask nothing of the charity, cause or organisation which is benefiting from the respondents’ generosity.
These two omissions are disappointing and somewhat surprising. It may be that much of the time and money religious teenagers are donating is going towards their own church. If this is the case there is little correlation between religious faith and generosity as such. Rather these donations can be better classed as a hobby.
If, in fact, as the researchers and the newspaper article seem to imply, religious faith is correlated to generous actions which benefit wider society then there is cause for concern. As religiosity declines, such a correlation would mean that donations of time and money will also decline.
Yet is religious faith really the important variable here? It’s much more likely that participation in church life gives teenagers more opportunities to donate time and money. It forces them, as such, into situations where collective action is more likely.
If this research proves trustworthy, and the inevitable decline in religiosity leads to a decrease in teenagers donating time and money, it may be up to the secular community (if there is such a thing), among others, to foster spaces in which young people can come together and become more involved in the wider community.