As the interview data is accumulating, a few interesting trends are starting to emerge. I’ll be sharing some of these with you in each update during the coming months. Today I’d like to share about the importance of critical thinking in faith retention.
During the interviews I’m discovering that those who were encouraged, not just allowed, to think critically about their faith during their teenage years were more likely to stay in the faith. The key here, I think, is the word encouraged. Many of those who claim a vital relationship with God were, at some point, challenged by an adult to ask hard questions about God and faith. For example:
“If God is so loving, why does he let people go to Hell?”
“If God is good, why does he allow people to go through awful stuff that isn’t even their fault?”
“Is Christianity anti-science? Does the Bible contradict science?”
“How do we know that the Bible isn’t just a bunch of books written by men?”
Many of those who left the faith said that they felt that they were discouraged from asking hard questions, or they felt that no one around them was willing to ask hard questions. Anna, a college sophomore who has walked away from her faith, says of her former faith community, “Biblical literacy skills are missing. Critical thinking skills are missing. There is too much arguing about semantics.”
On the other hand, faith seems to flourish amongst those who were encouraged to ask hard questions. Emily, a recent college graduate who has an active relationship with God, shares about her youth group experience: “As a middle schooler and young high schooler (when you’re desperate for someone to take you seriously), one of the best things someone can do for you is listen to your questions and turn them into a group discussion. I felt valued under [my youth pastor’s] leadership.”
But what if they don’t know what questions to ask? Many of the interviewees stated that during their younger years they just accepted what they were taught and didn’t start asking questions until later. Laine, a 26 year old who is no longer sure if she believes in God, says, “I learned what I had to because that’s what I was told to do.” By the time she started questioning she was a young adult and beyond the direct influence of her faith community.
Amongst those who retained the faith they had been raised in, many shared that they didn’t “make their faith their own” until they were in college and took the time to question and refine what they believed, nearly always with the help of a spiritual mentor.
So what can we do? This kind of information makes me wonder if perhaps the Church might be able to help young women refine, grow, and ultimately retain their faith by “jump-starting” the questioning process earlier, by helping students understand that not only is it OK to ask hard questions, but that it’s encouraged! Do you have any other thoughts and ideas? Please feel free to share your wisdom and insights, and as always, thank you for your continued prayers and support!
Keep hoping. Keep praying. Keep loving.
Kristi, for WeConnect