Not by Faith Alone: Religion, Law, and Adolescence

Not by Faith Alone: Religion, Law, and Adolescence

Not by Faith Alone: Religion, Law, and Adolescence

Not by Faith Alone: Religion, Law, and Adolescence

Synopsis

Teens are often seen as challenging social mores. They are frequently perceived to engage in activities considered by adults to be immoral, including sexual behavior, delinquent activities, and low-level forms of violence. Yet the vast majority report surprisingly high levels of religiosity. Ninety-five percent of American teens aged 13-17 believe in God or a universal spirit, and 76% believe that God observes their actions and rewards or punishes them. Nearly half engage in religious practices, such as praying alone or attending church or synagogue services.Adolescents' religious beliefs are clearly important to them. Yet, the law does not know how to approach adolescents' religious rights and needs. In Not by Faith Alone, Roger J. R. Levesque argues that teens' search for meaning does not always serve adolescents or society well. Religious doctrines and institutions are not all "good," with violence linked to religious beliefs, for example- particularly racial/ethnic and sexual orientation harassment- becoming an increasing concern.Not by Faith Aloneis the first attempt to integrate research on the place of religion in adolescent development and to discuss the relevance of that research for policies and laws which regulate religion in their lives. Levesque asks how religion, broadly defined, influences the development of teens' inner moral compasses, and how we can ensure that religion and the apparent need for "religious" activity lead to positive outcomes for individual adolescents and for society.

Excerpt

Adolescents exhibit strikingly high levels of religious beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Ninety-seven percent of American teens ages 13 to 17 believe in God (or a universal spirit), 76 percent believe that God observes their actions and rewards or punishes them, 93 percent believe that God loves them, 91 percent believe in heaven, and 76 percent believe in hell (Gallup, 1999). In addition to having spiritual concerns, 80 percent of American teenagers view religion as at least fairly important to them; 93 percent report being affiliated with a religious group or denomination, and more than half of adolescents surveyed regularly engage in religious practices, such as praying alone, attending church or synagogue, frequently reading scriptures, or being involved with religiously affiliated youth groups. Surprisingly, more than one in four teens considers spiritual life to be more important to the teen than it is to his or her parents, indicating that teens are slightly more likely to attend church or synagogue than adults. Equally intriguing, more than three-quarters of adolescents feel confident that they will be more religious than their parents.

Adolescents’ religious beliefs, development, and environments clearly are important to them. Yet, the law does not know how to approach adolescents’ religious rights and needs. The law often ignores the many intricacies of this transitional developmental period as it typically classifies adolescents either as children or as adults. In some contexts, the law finds the religious concerns of adolescents indistinguishable from those of young children, which allows it to subject them to paternalistic policies based on assumptions of dependence, vulnerability, incompetence, inexperience, and immaturity. In other contexts, it treats adolescents’ religious concerns as it treats those of fully mature adults, assuming that . . .

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