OK, this is not particularly representative, but we’ve had a set of survey results back from a small group of Year 11’s (aged 15-16) which got me thinking about what might be called their ‘default’ approach to spirituality (though I accept at the outset that ‘default’ is a dangerous claim!).
As a starting point, 70% believe that people are spiritual beings as well as physical beings and 62% believe in a life after death. What seems odd, however, is that there seems to be real confusion about whether there is a spiritual dimension to life, 38% agreeing there is and 25% disagreeing. At a more personal level only a quarter would call themselves spiritual, even though nearly three quarters of them earlier said they believe people are spiritual beings. So it’s no surprise that when it comes to owning up to having had an experience they would describe as spiritual, just over half are sure they haven’t, most of the rest being undecided.
What seems to be happening is that these young people have an idea that there might be a spiritual dimension to people’s lives, but, for most of them this belief is not borne out in their own lives due to a lack of personal experience. What’s really tragic is that this lack of spiritual experience was also noted by some of those young people who admitted to going to church.
If experience is seriously lagging behind belief, aspiration is still alive and kicking. Just over half admit to having prayed, even though they’re less convinced about whether it makes a difference. And there’s no doubt about their desire for some kind of existential meaning, with over three quarters answering ‘yes’ to the statement "I would like to find out answers to my own ‘big questions’ about life, our existence and spiritual issues."
Is the ‘default spirituality’ of these young people an approximation to neopaganism? There’s a generalised belief about people being spiritual, a strong belief (63%) that we have a responsibility to care for the planet, a desire to find answers to life’s big questions and, some honest attempt at prayer. We know from other surveys and, more to the point, conversations with young people, that there is a fairly broad but vague interest in elements of paganism, most of which is in the realm of formative rather than transformative spirituality. It’s more like collecting bits of different ideas and holding them lightly in the manner of a conversation more than a commitment. We get to talk to a wide range of young people through our work in schools and some are very clear about their beliefs, but we come across very few who would want to identify themselves as pagans.
Although some of the church going young people deny any kind of spiritual experience, we were heartened to discover that 55% of the non-church-goers in this group said they like Christian beliefs and the basic idea of Christianity, even if they wouldn’t describe themselves as Christian. And 55% of this same non-church-going group think the church is a good thing.
These very unfinished thoughts leave me with at least two further directions:
One is to meet up with this group and begin to explore their ideas about spirituality, spiritual experience and aspiration. This shouldn’t be too difficult as we often meet with Year 11 groups.
The other is the question about whether paganism, or neopaganism, begins to describe the ‘default spirituality’ of young people in their early to mid teens. And if it does, how this insight might inform the way we interact with them to enable them to encounter the Lord of all the earth?
Do check out the thoughts of these wise people, all synchroblogging today around the theme of Christianity and neopaganism.
Matthew Stone at Journeys in Between
Christianity, Paganism, and Literature at Notes from the Underground
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com
Heathens and Pagans and Witches … oh my! at Calacirian
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Chasing the Wild Goose at Eternal Echoes
Visigoths Ahoy! at Mike’s Musings
Belief and Being: The difficulty of communicating faith at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
Undefined Desire at Igneous Quill
A Walk on the Wild Side at Out of the Cocoon
Observations on Magic in Western Religion at My Contemplations
Spirituality and the Zodiac: Stories in the Cosmos at Be the Revolution
Rejection, Redemption, and Roots at One Hand Clapping