A changing world, a changing church and a new generation
Each generation has to cope with changes in technology and culture but how is life really experiences by young people today? How has the church changed to help young people through these current challenging times and will it be enough to keep faith part of English culture? James Dawes has discussed these issues with leaders and fellow young people to discover their thoughts.
Young people today have more availability to information and a confidence to communicate, compared to an apparent lack of openness fifty years ago. Adults were more removed from the younger generation who rarely shared feelings, because that was the expected way of life then.
Kathy, a helper at our local church youth group says that changes in hymns and the move from the Book of Common Prayer to Common Worship has had a big effect on church services and the way Christianity is experienced by young people. Young people may now feel Christianity is practised in a more ‘up to date’ way which they feel is easier to understand, but although faith may be expressed in a more modern way, does it help answer the questions facing young people today?
Questions about science and faith
With the advancement of science and technology, do faith and science still go together?
For example, our ability to clone animals has increased rapidly, but would these new life forms, maybe even humans cloned in the future, be spiritual beings? Would they have a soul? Extensive research into particle physics has shown the universe to be formed entirely of atoms, with evidence that suggests that everything can be explained by the particles that make it up. Where does belief in The Holy Spirit or in the soul exist with science?
Many world religions believe in the existence of the soul. I heard that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupāda, a leading Hindu teacher, says that “the only difference between a living and a dead body is the absence of the soul.” So the advancement of science seems to present more opportunities and challenges for Christianity, now more than ever before. Also, belief in Christian teaching is not taught so widely as it was 50 years ago, leaving young people to find their own spirituality in a seemingly non-religious environment such as school.
In my opinion Religious Education or Philosophy and Ethics in school are taught in such a way that the beliefs are left unjustified and detached from science and reason. But science and religion might not be such polarized concepts. Jacob, a young person who attends the youth group, says that “They [science and religion] don’t conflict very much, you can view Genesis as literal or figurative, you could view the seven days of creation as just seven amounts of time spanning millions of years, so there isn’t a barrier between science and faith.” Chloe, another member, agrees that the two can merge, saying: “For example, my Mum believes that God made the big bang.”
Although young people have the advantage today of acquiring and sharing information, the means of doing so creates risks which have never been seen before. Lucy, a young person who attends regular Christian youth groups at Aylsham church, says: “A good thing about technology is that it can let us research more into Christianity. Rapid advancement of social media has let ideas and explanations be shared faster than ever before. Websites and online Bibles help you explore the Christian message from your laptop.”
Yet social media presents new challenges for young people. Communication is becoming increasingly informal and the threat of cyber-bullying and anti-social messaging is growing. It would help if young people received more guidance about safety and appropriate use of social media not just from school but from churches as well. It’s important to try to be a Christian on social media as well as in our offline lives.
As awareness about our impact on the environment is revealed, the message is held seriously by young people, as it affects their generation and future generations the most. For many the environment links strongly to Christian faith and teaching. Lucy says: “There is a link, because Christians care for people and God and the environment.”
I am personally a strong believer in environmental morals, especially because of how today’s companies dangerously exploit the environment without the knowledge of consumers.
Palm oil, an ingredient widely used in food products, is one of the main causes of deforestation and destruction of the environment.
In everything we buy, eat and throw away there is a cost or gain for God’s earth, and the lack of awareness of how our consumerism affects our earth for us and for our children worries me. Our consumerism will have to be paid for by future generations. A belief shared by Christians and other religions is that we are responsible for the earth, that we should be stewards of God’s creation, and try and leave it a better place than when we found it. So the environment is important for young people perhaps more than ever.
Today transgender and a variety of sexualities are more accepted. Does this contradict teachings in the Bible, for example in Lev 18:20 where it says “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”? Chloe says: “I haven’t heard much open discussion about this topic in the local church, but I know people have very different opinions.” With these new issues and questions being asked I think we will have to look at the Bible differently and discuss how sexuality fits into Christianity. Naomi believes that we shouldn’t take the entire Bible literally: “The Bible was written thousands of years ago and everything is open to interpretation.” Others shared the view that the Bible should be read in context. Jacob also says: “In Matthew 7:12 it states to love your neighbour as you love yourself which is the overriding command of everything from Jesus”.
What about the future?
Naomi feels that Christianity is under more criticism nowadays. She thinks this is because of the diversity of beliefs in England and the lack of spiritual teaching for young people. Atheist families bring up non-religious children who have little reason to believe in God because these reasons are never shared with them, and the knowledge of Christianity they might have is limited. She goes on to say: “There is a lot less understanding now, and jokes and misinterpretations about Christianity are a difficulty for young people.”
The youth group expressed interest in the Tech café being held in Aylsham church which aims to give support and guidance to older people about how to use and solve problems with technology.
I went along to the event and was pleased to experience the intergenerational culture expressed there; the older generation teaching the younger and the young people giving knowledge to the old.
The church also increases its focus on teenagers and young people by holding youth groups and more informal services. “Being a Christian in the 21st century is more communal and social,” says Naomi. The youth groups are definitely an inspiration for me in my spiritual journey, and other peoples’ questions and ideas show me that I am not alone.
There are more opportunities for young people in church and this may be where the future lies for tackling challenges and supporting the younger generation. Having a place to meet friends and talk about issues is a valuable resource because young people might feel isolated and unable to share their struggles with their church or peers. Holding intergenerational community events could help the younger generation feel more involved in the church and their community.
I hope that this generation of young people can continue to discover and spread the message of love Christianity holds and that with these changing times, we can trust in God, as many people have done before us. We might find that our struggles now can be dissolved by looking into the past and uncovering guidance and wisdom which have helped countless people on their spiritual journeys. I think that if we see the opportunities in the new world and its people, we will be able to share the love of God and it will help us to understand the great gifts and experiences the younger generation, and all generations, have to offer.
Jamie is 13 years old and attends Aylsham High School. He goes to his local parish church. He is a scout who enjoys playing music on the piano and cornet.
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