soul searching, the movie

51SgwRFSD0L-_SL500_AA240_.jpgsoul searching, a documentary. Starring: Christian Smith Director: Michael Eaton, Timothy Eaton.

christian smith is the director of the national study of youth and religion. he spent a dozen years as a sociology professor at unc chapel hill, and is now at notre dame. chris is widely regarded as one of the leading sociologists in the US (particularly in the area chris co-authored, with Melinda Lundquist Denton, the important, research-based book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

the documentary is an excellent overview of the book (which is handy, since the book is really long!), and, as movies tend to do, adds faces and real life stories. the stories of real kids are so fantastic (and not all predictable and neat). i found myself teary in more than one spot, as the teens and youth workers in the film share with an amazing level of honesty.

smith and lundquist denton have added a phrase into the lexicon of youth ministry: moralistic therapeutic deism, the term they use to describe the faith system most widely adopted by teenagers in america, including those who are active in youth ministries. this is an unarticulated faith system that includes the notion that the goal of life is to be happy, that religion is about being good (and that good things happen to good people – kind of a karmic religion of sorts), and that god is distant, but willing to problem-solve for us when we have therapeutic or other needs. these ideas are unpacked in a way that’s really helpful in the film (but, of course, not with the depth the book covers).

one thing that really stood out to me was a minor bit in the film. they found, across various faiths (particularly conservative evangelicalism, mormonism, and judaism — religious streams with more clearly defined boundaries and behavioral codes), that students who attend church on a weekly basis, as opposed to something like twice a month, are strongly predictable to be less involved in various at-risk behaviors. in one sense, this isn’t surprising, but i found the difference between regular-but-not-weekly attenders and weekly attenders to be interesting.

i highly recommend this movie for all youth workers and parents. it would be a fantastic film to show for a youth ministry volunteer training session, or a parent meeting.

6 thoughts on “soul searching, the movie”

  1. good review marko. i thought the documentary was great at putting flesh on statistics. i enjoyed it alot. a few of us youth pastors got together and watched it as well. i keep getting the same question from people though and maybe you marko or some others could answer:

    “Can I show this to my youth?”

    I am not sure how to answer that.What do you guys think?

  2. joe — while i don’t think that was christian’s purpose (he said yesterday that he envisioned youth workers showing it to parents), i don’t see why you wouldn’t show it to students, with discussion afterward. could be really productive. probably more of a high school thing — lots of big words, and all!

  3. Do you know the best place to find this film? Would love to show it a training session. Good review. The outlook on teen’s view of Christianity was scary and made me hold a “spiritual mirror” up to the ministry at the church I currently serve at. Thanks Marko.

  4. I went to the amazon page and found an interesting critic of the movie where the reviewer wrote of “its lack of an accurate representation of youth in America”. … “the majority of the interviews were with White, middle to upper-class youth. Though there was one African American and a few Hispanic Americans throughout (in addition to the White Americans), the Hispanic Americans were from the inner cities, and appeared rougher, adding to the negative stereotyping of Hispanic Americans (e.g., there weren’t any White Americans from lower socioeconomic status, nor any Hispanic Americans from middle-class suburbia).” Your comment?

  5. not true of the study — it was a statistically accurate slice of teenagers in america. maybe the person is referring to the kids in the movie, who were only illustrative of the kids in the study, and not teenagers involved in the study (because, as chris smith told us, “filming them changes things, and would taint further input.”

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