soul 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.