The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
A finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award and a Catholic Book Publishers Association bestseller that is now in its sixth printing, The New Faithful was first released by Loyola Press in 2002. The book blends extensive firsthand reporting, storytelling and analysis to shed light on a trend that has far-reaching implications for American religion, politics and culture. It has been featured in nearly 100 magazines and newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, National Review, and Christianity Today.
“… novel and timely … This is a book that generously and comprehensively examines a group that is often misunderstood and caricatured.” – Publishers Weekly
“Highly recommended.” – Library Journal
“Ms. Carroll combines first-hand reporting with social-science metrics to examine a remarkable trend toward religious orthodoxy”– Wall Street Journal
“… a blockbuster of a book …” — Canada’s National Post
Endorsements of The New Faithful:
“Colleen Carroll blends investigative reporting with profound analysis to reveal a world of young people that most of us do not know exists. This brilliant young journalist opens the door to exciting and inspiring vistas.”
– Robert D. Novak CNN commentator and syndicated columnist
“With the knowledge of an insider and the sprightly facility of a good journalist, Colleen Carroll tells one of the largely unheralded stories of our time: the turn of so many highly educated young Americans toward serious religious commitment. How did these young people become, as she puts it so well, ‘defenders of orthodoxy in an age that denigrates dogma?’ Carroll unravels the mystery in a book that will become an important document of our time. The orthodox, the unorthodox and the flexible souls in between will find grist here for lively argument and serious reflection.”
– E. J. Dionne Jr. Author of Why Americans Hate Politics and co-editor (with John J. DiIulio Jr.) of What’s God Got to Do With the American Experiment?
“Colleen Carroll’s reporting and analysis in ‘The New Faithful’ does more than simply chronicle the embrace of Christianity by young adults, as important as that is. Her interviews and meetings with young American adults serve as documentation of the spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of postmodernism. ‘The New Faithful’ is a reminder that when the idols of our age crumble, as they invariably will, it is the truth of Christianity that remains standing.”
– Charles W. Colson Chairman, Prison Fellowship Ministries
“You may have heard, and you may have believed, that decades of moral, cultural, and religious tumult have destroyed the foundations. Colleen Carroll has a different story to tell in this exciting book. Despite everything, the foundations are solid and a new generation of young people, Catholic and Protestant, is discovering the high adventure of Christian fidelity. The rebuilding has begun. The New Faithful is a portrait, both honest and heartening, of the Church of tomorrow, and of today.”
– Fr. Richard John Neuhaus Editor in Chief, First Things
“(O)ne of the brightest young Catholic writers in America . . . Colleen Carroll’s book is replete with wonderful human stories of spiritual struggle followed by conversion.”
– George Weigel Syndicated columnist and bestselling author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II
“A fascinating, highly readable book that opens up a world most of us know little of–the world of young people making their own journeys into faith and discovering the wisdom of traditions many claim that the young have abandoned. Carroll brings the rhythms of the story-teller and the fact-finding of the journalist to bear in helping us to encounter those she calls ‘the new faithful’.”
– Jean Bethke Elshtain Author of Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at The University of Chicago
“This is an important book about the new generation of Christians born since 1965–a new, orthodox, and realist generation tired of the fads, bizarre personal opinions, and sad experiments of their elders, and hungry for the ‘real’ doctrine, the real Church of the ages. These are the young who begin shouting, in 1979, ‘JPII–We love you!’.”
– Michael Novak George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy and Public Policy and director of Social and Political Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
“If you are vitally interested in the renewal and reform of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox in America, this well-documented and very readable book is the good news. If you are not so persuaded but would like to know what’s going on in religion, the growing wave of the future, then this book is a must for you. If you get aggravated by the deeply personal and believing commitment to Christ observed on the part of a significant group of young adults, don’t read this book; it will upset you. Colleen Carroll has done a masterful job of bringing together the profiles of a diverse generation of fervent young Christians who are shaking up the American religious scene. She marshals the anecdotes and studies in such a way that she offers the best sociological indication and explanation of what those who work with young people see that they want – authentic, personal and convinced Christianity. If you are making plans for your church in the next decade you can’t afford to leave this book unread.”
– Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR Author, Journey Towards God
“Colleen Carroll’s ‘The New Faithful’ reveals the first lights of an unexpected dawn: the growing youth movement toward Christian orthodoxy. Yet Carroll also shows that this movement must wrestle with vexing issues of assimilation versus isolation, righteousness versus self-righteousness. If Carroll’s discernment and clarity are typical of young believers, the future of the faith is bright indeed.””
– Frederica Mathewes-Green Christianity Today columnist, National Public Radio commentator, and author of Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy
“Evidence has been accumulating for a few years that a generational and cultural revolt has been brewing in America against the “counter-culture” clichés of sexual freedom and unrestrained hedonism that grew out of the 60’s and 70’s. In this richly reported and beautifully written account, Colleen Carroll takes us inside the lives of those who have participated in that sea-change in American culture. She shows how a new generation of Americans have found truth, beauty and fulfillment not in the trendy hot-tubs of New Age spirituality but in the bracing truths and disciplines of an ancient faith–traditional and orthodox Christianity. The stories she tells are deeply moving. The sense of hope they offer to the spiritual future of this nation is warmly encouraging. This is a marvelous book.”
– David Aikman Former correspondent for TIME magazine and and author of Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century
“As if to prove that the worst of times are also the best of times, Colleen Carroll heartens us with a detailed and documented tale of how the young are turning to Christian orthodoxy. The signs have been all around us for a long time, intimations that something important was afoot. Young people on campuses, new converts, young families, seminarians at places like Denver and Lincoln, suggested that we were coming out of an era of dissent and secularization and dumbing down. Colleen Carroll engaged in vast and exhaustive research to bring the good news that there is indeed a groundswell of orthodoxy among the young. In her book, you hear their voices and they will warm your heart.”
– Ralph McInerny Philosophy professor, University of Notre Dame and author of The Father Dowling Mysteries
“Colleen Carroll writes boldly and beautifully about today’s young adults embracing Christian orthodoxy. Her research, worthy of a competent journalist and scholar, is impressive. Her findings create credibility that faith will be an increasingly important part of building a better world.”
– Richard Leonard Retired editor of The Milwaukee Journal and Nieman Chair Emeritus at Marquette University
“Colleen Carroll deserves serious congratulations. This narrative of her quest for the religion of some of the most thoughtful young Americans is as readable as its implications are profound. For anyone seeking a proper understanding of the immensely complex forces at work in our culture, and indeed for someone at the seeming mercy of those forces but seeking God, The New Faithful charts a course to the truth.”
– Nigel M. de S. Cameron Principal, Strategic Futures Group, LLC Dean, The Wilberforce Forum Former professor and provost at Trinity International University & Divinity School
“This is an important book. Colleen Carroll has captured the deep yearnings of the generation just emerging from college into the work world. In their own words, these new faithful deliver a powerful message: Life is about more than amassing toys, the spirit matters, and they intend to be heard.”
– Howard Means Author of Money & Power: The History of Business
“Though replete with personal testimonies, Colleen Carroll’s The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy goes far beyond the merely anecdotal in her description of Generation X’s markedly traditional and orthodox religious impulse. Filled with sociological data and descriptions of movements and organizations that are spawned by and support the phenomenon, Carroll provides significant narrative and deep insight into a generation of believers who are seeking to embrace Christianity with intellectual rigor and moral integrity in the midst of a postmodern, relativistic, and pluralistic America. In contrast to many of the previous generation, great numbers of those born between 1965 and 1983 are finding the Church to be a faithful mother giving birth to a renewed spiritual life, both for individuals and communities of believers. Carroll explores the uniqueness of this resurgence of belief, which is evangelical in spirit, seeks to engage rather than to ignore the culture, and to transform the world. This engaging book, which is not hesitant to present the criticisms that have been directed to the younger generation by their oft-dismayed elders, is an important tool for understanding the growing number of young, active Christian believers. It would be invaluable for anyone engaged in ministry to this generation with its great spiritual hunger.”
– Fr. James F. Garneau, Ph.D. Academic Dean of The Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio
“Carroll shines a light into the lives of young spiritual seekers that dispels gloomy assumptions about the decline of orthodox Christianity. Unfulfilled by the cream-puff theology of their parents, Gen Xers are turning to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—and Jesus. Carroll sensitively explores how Christian faith informs and fortifies attitudes about sexuality, vocation and education for large numbers of young adults. With its smart cultural critique and journalistic flair, The New Faithful is a groundbreaking study of religion in America.”
– Joseph Loconte William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation and regular commentator for National Public Radio
“This is an important story, well-told by one of our finest young religion writers. The New Faithful should be on the reading list of every church leader and anybody interested in the future of the faith in this country.”
– David Scott Author and former editor of Our Sunday Visitor, the largest U.S. Catholic newsweekly
“In The New Faithful, Colleen Carroll combines her religious sensibilities and consummate reporting skills to take readers on an insightful tour through the world of Generation X “orthodox believers.” Those immersed in lives of faith will find this book a great affirmation, while those not so immersed may find it a great revelation.”
– Cole C. Campbell Fellow of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Reviews and articles about The New Faithful:
“If baby-boomer Catholics have been puzzled by their younger Gen-X counterparts lately, they need look no further than Colleen Carroll’s excellent new book for an explanation of what’s up with Gen-X Christians. The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy is a fascinating study . . . a well-researched, enjoyable read.”
“Anyone who is worried about the future of the Church can look here for hopeful signs.”
— National Review Online
“The New Faithful is certainly encouraging . . . we owe thanks for these dispatches from the front.”
— Books & Culture
“This exploration probes beneath the surface of Christian Orthodoxy, analyzing the root causes and the diverse consequences of this new religious movement.”
” . . . The New Faithful is a hopeful book . . . The people Carroll introduces us to are the kind of people we want to know are around and with us as the Church in America enters the 21st century.”
” . . . highly acclaimed . . .”
— Zenit News Agency
” . . . frequently moving . . . a nuanced and cautious reading of the signs of the times.”
“Watch out, promiscuity! Out of the way, relativism! A wave of young Americans just wants that old-time religion.”
— Christianity Today
CBA Marketplace, September, 2002:
Carroll studies 20- and early 30-somethings who are embracing the Christian faith with passion and fervor in her book, subtitled “Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.” She shares many testimonies of individuals who discovered or returned to the faith; many tell of finding worldly success but being spiritually hungry. Issues she examines include traditional vs. contemporary liturgy, Generation X’s desire for community, and the appeal of a challenging Gospel. What makes this book unique is Carroll’s ability to focus on both Catholics and Protestants returning to the faith. Catholic and Protestant ministries, resources and references are used throughout. This is a great resource for anyone involved in young-adult ministry.
Library Journal, September 2002:
With the help of a Phillips Journalism Fellowship, St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist Carroll traveled the country to interview young adults to ascertain how religion fits into their lives. Most of her interviewees were Catholics or evangelical Protestants, along with some Orthodox Christians. Carroll found a turn to the Right in the religious lives of her peers, born between 1965 and 1983; not everyone in this age group is religiously oriented, but those who are have more often than not turned to traditional beliefs and morality. Among Catholic priests, for example, the youngest are as traditional as the oldest, with the baby boomers falling in between. It is not unusual for married couples in this age group to embrace natural family planning as opposed to artificial birth control and for singles to reject premarital sex. These young adults are seeking authoritative guidelines and meaningful commitments. Carroll’s journalistic skills are evident in this very readable volume about a tendency toward traditionalism that she predicts will spread. Highly recommended.
— John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002:
Carroll’s title promises to answer a question that is not new; the decline of liberal Christianity and the rise of the evangelical movement has been a source of scholarly and journalistic fascination for more than 20 years. Carroll, though, gives an up-to-the-minute account of this phenomenon. She spent a year—beginning in 2001 and ending in 2002—conducting research and interviews around the U.S., and, unlike most treatments of the new American passion for orthodoxy, hers focuses on the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as well as evangelical Protestantism. This emphasis on orthodoxy and ancient, liturgical tradition among young members is both novel and timely. While evangelical Protestant mega-churches were the big story 15 years ago, record-breaking conversion rates in conservative Catholic and Orthodox churches are today’s headline. Carroll quotes many young people who yearn for both conservative interpretations of the Bible and the mystery and symbolism of liturgy. Especially popular among young orthodox Catholics is the pre-Vatican II practice of Eucharistic adoration, which involves reverencing a consecrated communion wafer. In her introduction, Carroll makes brief mention of her identification with the young, conservative Catholics she features, and this identification shows in analysis that often bleeds into advocacy. She does occasionally quote critics of the trend toward orthodoxy, but she never fully explores these dimensions. However, this is a book that generously and comprehensively examines a group that is often misunderstood and caricatured.
The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2002: Back to Basics
By JOHN A. BARNES
In 1993, 24-year-old David Legge seemed to have the world by the tail. Blessed with Tom Cruise-ish good looks, he had just finished his second year at Yale Law School and was a summer associate at a big New York law firm. Making more money than he could spend, he painted the town red four or five nights a week with lavish parties and big bar tabs. A bright future beckoned.
There was only one problem. He wasn’t happy.
“I had a good time, I guess,” Mr. Legge recalls, “but I didn’t have that many real friends in New York. And I realized that it was just kind of an empty life.”
Like many Gen X (and Y) Catholics raised in the wake of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Mr. Legge’s childhood religious formation had been spotty at best. He was raised in a Catholic family, but he found that his religious courses in school consisted mostly of “psychobabble.” The spiritual emptiness he was feeling that summer in New York led him to apply to his own faith the kind of intensity he had previously reserved for his legal studies. The result was a revelation.
“It was like God hit me over the head with a bottle,” he said. It took a few years, but eventually Mr. Legge found the courage to walk away from his job and the girlfriend who did not share his deepening Catholic faith and enter a Dominican seminary to become a priest.
David Legge’s conversion (or re-conversion) story is one of many that animate the pages of Colleen Carroll’s “The New Faithful” (Loyola, 320 pages, $19.95). A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. Carroll combines first-hand reporting with social-science metrics to examine a remarkable trend toward religious orthodoxy among Americans born roughly between 1960 and 1983. These were the children exposed full-force to the consumerism, secularism and “me-first” ideology that seized the helm of American society in that period — very much including most mainstream religious denominations.
Concentrating her reporting on Catholics and evangelical Protestants, Ms. Carroll borrows G.K. Chesterton’s definition of “orthodoxy” as the Apostles’ Creed. (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . “). For the young adults profiled in her book, that means the acceptance of a transcendent moral authority, a commitment to regular prayer and worship, a belief in absolute truth and an allegiance to objective standards of conduct.
What drives these young people in such a, well, un-orthodox direction? The high rate of divorce among baby-boomer parents certainly played its role. And anyone with the least experience of young people knows that a high percentage of them, almost by reflex, are skeptical of the dogmas laid down by their elders. That seems just as true when the dogmas are relativism, permissiveness and militant secularism as when they are their opposites. The appeal of Pope John Paul II to young people, evident from the first days of his pontificate, is mentioned frequently by Catholics and Protestants alike.
“They want to get off the merry-go-round,” says the Rev. David Burrell, a Catholic priest. “They really want something that can touch their souls. And a faith culture is the only thing that can respond to that.”
One of the most refreshing aspects of Ms. Carroll’s book is the near absence of I-found-God-when-I-hit-rock-bottom stories. Most of the newly faithful are successful in their worldly endeavors, a fact that conventional wisdom would say works against fervent religious belief.
But as Ms. Carroll notes, affluence may now be one of the engines driving religious revival. One result of the good (secular) life, apparently, is the kind of “premature mid-life crisis” that David Legge experienced. And while most who confront such a crisis do not end up at a seminary, many do find that their turn to religious seriousness requires new friends and a new career.
The orthodoxy vogue, if it may be called that, does not please everyone. Some baby-boomer priests actually seem bitter about it — or envious. After all, new and orthodox religious orders like the New York-based Sisters of Life and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are turning away candidates while liberal orders wither on the vine. Potential seminarians, approaching a particular order, warily demand to know whether the priests wear their clerical collars and whether they accept the teaching authority of the Church on abortion and extramarital sex. “There’s a kind of nostalgia for a church they’ve never experienced — and I have,” one priest grouses. “I don’t want to go back there.”
But the young orthodox faithful are not looking back. They are looking forward, striving to make something “countercultural” in the non-1960s sense of the word. Thus they are eager to evangelize their peers. That their peers often remain unaffected doesn’t discourage them, either. You don’t need to convert a whole generation, one of Ms. Carroll’s subjects points out. Jesus, after all, started with just 12.
Mr. Barnes, a corporate communications executive with Pfizer Inc., is writing “Jesus on Leadership: Executive Lessons From the Servant Leader.”
George Weigel: The Catholic Difference – October 23, 2002 Young, smart, successful … and passionately orthodox
By George Weigel
Two and a half years ago, I went to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, to give a lecture on “the soul of John Paul II” and to have a dinner-discussion with Smith’s religion faculty and senior religion majors. Smith is one of the academic centers of American feminism, and given academic feminism’s usual take on this pontificate, I was a bit concerned that the afternoon and evening could turn dicey. On the contrary. My lecture was heard respectfully, the questions were intelligent, and the dinner discussion was polite, engaging, and intellectually stimulating. Smith’s faculty and students even took the Pope’s challenging “theology of the body” seriously — which is more than can be said for the editors of Commonweal, among others in the Catholic opinion business.
All of which prompted the thought that something interesting was afoot in Gen X, or Gen Y, or whatever generation we’re in these days.
Now comes Colleen Carroll, one of the brightest young Catholic writers in America, with a book painting a similar picture on a much broader canvas.
After several years as a beat reporter and editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen Carroll was awarded a Phillips Journalism Fellowship, which allowed her to spend a year going around the country talking to Christians who are young, bright, professionally successful — and quite passionately orthodox in their religious and moral convictions. The results of Carroll’s research are now available in The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola University Press).
The “new faithful” come from different ethnic, religious, educational, and family backgrounds. Some grew up in devout Catholic or Protestant families and drifted away, only to return to the faith with fervor. Others skated along on the surface of the consumer society until the hollowness of the world depicted in Abercrombie & Fitch ads created an ache that purchasing-power couldn’t heal. Still others pursued fast-track academic and professional careers, and then found that success was empty without something more, something deeper.
But whatever the path they took, the “young orthodox” have one trait in common: they find Christian orthodoxy an exhilarating, exciting adventure. Unlike their parents’ generation (i.e., mine), which grew up at a time when the smart thing to do was to put down tradition, reverence, doctrine, and a demanding morality, the new generation of “new faithful” aren’t interested in how little they can believe and how little they have to do to stay “inside” the Church. They’re interested in exploring the fullness of Christian truth and making it their own.
That exploration takes place in a host of settings. Some are traditionally parish- or campus-based. But there are also Gen X innovations like Regeneration Forum, a network of reading-and-discussion groups in more than two dozen cities, and “The Vine,” an occasional ecumenical conference of Gen X-ers interested in issues of faith and culture.
According to Colleen Carroll’s research, the “new faithful” are not the quietists some skeptics might expect them to be. They are actively engaged in bringing their convictions into public life through instruments like “Faith and Law,” an ecumenical study group of young, orthodox Christian Congressional staffers. (As an occasional speaker at “Faith and Law” breakfast seminars, I can testify to the seriousness of the discussion and the Christian commitment of its members). Gen X “new faithful” are passionately pro-life; indeed, as Carroll points out, one of the striking (and virtually unreported) phenomena of American politics today is that the pro-abortion forces are getting older and greyer while the pro-life world is displaying a much younger face.
Colleen Carroll’s book is replete with wonderful human stories of spiritual struggle followed by conversion. Those stories also pose a challenge to secularists, and to those determined to deconstruct Catholicism into high-church Unitarianism: the clock is ticking, and the world isn’t working out the way you thought it would. The great human adventure remains the adventure of orthodoxy. It beats the flat, arid world of secularism. It beats the frantic world of shop-‘til-you-drop hyper-consumption. It beats the brave new world of a remanufactured humanity.
And it beats Catholic Lite. Which is one reason why there are far more young faces at “The Vine” than at “Call to Action” conventions.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association During the past decade, there has been a remarkable resurgence of religious fervor among members of Generation X. Born into privilege and prosperity, many of these young people are now searching for spiritual, rather than materialistic, fulfillment. They are finding answers to their questions in a relatively new style of Christian Orthodoxy. Conservative churches are attracting droves of new members seeking both substance and sustenance. Not content to merely practice their faith privately, many of the newly committed embrace a more evangelical and action-oriented approach to worship. Based on countless interviews with young adults across the country, this exploration probes beneath the surface of Christian orthodoxy, analyzing the root causes and the diverse consequences of this new religious movement.
— Margaret Flanagan
Capital Times (Madison, WI), December 17, 2002: BOOKS ON FAITH AND ETHICS ENLIGHTEN, ADVISE
Looking for a sense of enlightenment, entitlement, fresh perspective or foolproof advice? Check the store shelves for these titles
By Mary Bergin of The Capital Times
“The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy” by Colleen Carroll (Loyola Press, $19.95) – The author, a newspaper journalist in St. Louis, contends that young adults are doing an about-face regarding religion and morality by rebelling against the liberal traditions of their families.
That conclusion is based on Gallup polls, sociological research, church membership trends and the observations of denominational leaders on and off major college campuses.
Anecdotal evidence is plentiful. The book has Gen X and Y tales of the search for meaning in life, and the religious rituals that have become their priorities. We read of students who start their own Bible study/prayer groups, who attend Latin Mass, who are saving sex for marriage. Carroll, a Marquette University grad, received a $50,000 Phillips Journalism Fellowship to produce this book. She shows a bit of her hand in the book’s acknowledgements, where she writes that she is “grateful to the God who answered the call of my heart.”
Crisis Magazine, April 2003 Orthodoxy Returns
By Kathryn Jean Lopez
Even the most faithful Catholics could easily find themselves depressed after this past year. So far as the mainstream media are concerned, the Catholic Church is synonymous with abuse and scandal. Most of us know better, but still the headlines and the water-cooler talk can be hard to bear. A young reporter named Colleen Carroll has an antidote for such discouragement.
In her new book 0 The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Carroll tells the story of a “small but committed core” of young Christians who want nothing more than to be authentic members of their churches, young people who are increasingly opting for “time-tested approaches to metaphysical questions.” While the book is not just about Catholics, Carroll herself is Catholic, and many of the young Christians she writes about found their faith on the path to Rome.
If you have trouble praying for miracles, this book might help. Consider: Well-educated twenty- and thirty-somethings-she focused on those born between 1965 and 1983-who have grown up with moral relativism, who have been taught to believe that there is no singular truth, are again seeking Truth. And once they get hold of it, they’re not only singing its praises, they’re living it. Peter Kreeft of Boston College says, “Today’s young adults are rejecting ‘the old, tired, liberal, modern’ mindset in favor of a more orthodox one.”
According to Carroll, this is not a small, isolated movement. Something of a mini-Great Awakening seems to be afoot. University of Chicago philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain told Carroll: “I certainly have detected among my students a quest for some kind of purpose or meaning.” She notes the most surprising trend-students who arrive at a secular university with a religious faith that deepens during their years there. And as Carroll writes, these are not “perpetual seekers.” These young adults are “committed to a religious worldview that grounds their lives and shapes their morality. They are not lukewarm believers or passionate dissenters. When they are embracing a faith tradition or deepening their commitment to it, they want to do so wholeheartedly or not at all.” In other words, they are exactly the kind of young people you want in your church-particularly when you think about its future.
The numbers, though scarce, appear to back up the author’s hopeful contention. One study has found that nearly 80 percent of teenagers consider religion a significant influence in their lives. George Barna found in a 1999 survey that 42 percent of those born between 1965 and 1983 were likely to attend church weekly (compared with 33 percent of their parents). A more recent survey of Catholics found that “the three core elements of faith of today’s young Catholics are belief in God’s presence in the sacraments (including the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist), concern for helping the poor, and devotion to Mary as the mother of God.” Another survey found that young priests today are “increasingly conservative on theological questions” and (in Carroll’s words) “have more in common with conservative elderly priests than with the more liberal middle-aged baby boomers who directly preceded them.” This new generation of priests has not been bred in the culture of theological dissent. Good news-especially if they are able to benefit from the lessons of that culture’s failure.
The author considers the rising demand for traditional liturgy as another sign of this renewal. She remarks on “the popularity of traditional services in mainline Protestant churches-like the Sunday night compline service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle that has drawn crowds of more than six hundred, most of whom are young adults.” The number of U.S. dioceses offering Tridentine Masses rose from six in 1990 to 131 in 1999. Not long ago my own alma mater, the Catholic University of America, was under the leadership of a president who adamantly preached that the school was “a university before Catholic.” Now, under a new administration, the university hosts a popular Eucharistic adoration service.
The author is also interested in the impact this new generation of converts may have on the culture at large: “The young adults who embrace organized religion tend to be cultural gatekeepers who have a disproportionately large impact in academic, artistic, political, and professional circles. Their talents, education, and positions make them natural trendsetters in the church and the culture.” The book profiles Capitol Hill staffers, book publishers, beauty queens, and, of course, priests.
Carroll’s generally sympathetic tone leaves room for important reservations. She does not ignore the remnant mentality alarmingly common among her orthodox contemporaries:
Conservative Catholics, besieged by fellow Catholics and the culture at large, tend toward defensiveness and isolation. Condemnations of them as judgmental and self-righteous sometimes reveal the critic’s own prejudices against orthodoxy. But often those criticisms are deserved, as many young Catholics who adhere to papal authority or revere liturgical tradition regard liberal Catholics or non-Catholics with a mixture of condescension and contempt. Some seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of the pre-Vatican II church that gave too little credence to the laity and of cultural Catholics who confuse accidentals of the faith with its essentials. Many young orthodox Catholics are sensitive to this problem, but many others spend so much time with like-minded friends that they fail to realize how others perceive them. If they do not guard against that tendency toward rigidity, they could render their orthodox revolution irrelevant.
Young evangelicals, on the other hand, have exactly the opposite problem: Instead of isolating themselves from the greater culture, they are sometimes “tripping over themselves to prove how relevant, culturally engaged, and non-judgmental they are.” Carroll argues convincingly that prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments are the solution to both problems.
Overall, The New Faithful is a hopeful book. The conversion stories Carroll has collected give us reason to believe that the Church may be quietly gaining ground on at least one front. The people Carroll introduces us to are the kind of people we want to know are around and with us as the Church in America enters the 21st century.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is executive editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com) and an associate editor of National Review.
================================================== ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome
Generation X and the Turn to Christian Orthodoxy: Journalist Colleen Carroll on a Surprising Trend
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The growth of evangelical “mega-churches” has long been a focus of media attention.
Much less noted has been the embrace of traditional Christianity by Generation X and the rejection of the religious and cultural values of that generation’s parents, the baby boomers.
A Gen-X journalist, Colleen Carroll, set about to document this trend. The result was a highly acclaimed book, “The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy” (Loyola Press).
Carroll described the phenomenon of “the new faithful” in an interview with ZENIT.
Q: How did you ever launch upon this project of finding out about “the new faithful”?
Carroll: I first saw signs of the trend toward orthodoxy in the mid-1990s, when I was a student at Marquette University. The students there were not necessarily of the “new faithful” mold, but they also defied the “cynical slacker” stereotype of Generation X. Many had an almost visceral attraction to God, the Church, and self-sacrifice.
Later, as a young newspaper journalist, I continued to see a disparity between media portrayals of my generation and the young adults that I saw all around me. Not all young adults are attracted to orthodoxy, but a growing number are seeking truth and embracing a demanding practice of their faith.
Their stories were not being told in the mainstream media, and many religion experts seemed to be tone deaf to their voices. So, with the help of a grant from the Phillips Foundation and a book contract from Loyola Press, I set out to explore this trend and tell their stories.
Q: Is this “new faithful” phenomenon a part of the new springtime in the Church?
Carroll: Yes, I believe the new faithful are at the heart of the Church’s new springtime and are a driving force behind the new evangelization. I interviewed a mix of young Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians for “The New Faithful.”
The Catholics I interviewed certainly stand at the forefront of renewal in the Catholic Church. They are committed to spreading the Gospel — a commitment instilled in many of them by their hero, Pope John Paul II.
Q: Who are the new faithful? Did they have any previous religious background?
Carroll: As I mentioned earlier, the New faithful come from denominations across the Christian spectrum, though most are Catholics or evangelicals. They range in age from about 18 to 35. They are united by firm, personal, life-changing commitments to Jesus Christ.
Their religious backgrounds vary. Many grew up in secular homes or fallen-away Catholic homes. Many others were raised in evangelical or mainline Protestant churches or Catholic parishes. Nearly all of them faced a reckoning in young adulthood that forced them to decide if they would make following Christ the central concern of their lives or not.
These young adults have chosen to take Christianity seriously, and have decided that embracing Christian orthodoxy is the way to do that. Their faith commitments have led them to make countercultural decisions about everything from who and how they date to which careers they pursue and which political causes they embrace.
Q: Your title suggests that the new faithful are embracing Christian orthodoxy. Does that mean Catholicism?
Carroll: The orthodoxy embraced by “The New Faithful” is a small “o” orthodoxy that encompasses more than one denomination. Many, many Catholics have embraced an orthodox practice of their faith, and my book focuses a great deal of attention on them. But this trend crosses denominational borders.
To draw boundaries for this book, I borrowed a definition from G.K. Chesterton, who said orthodoxy means “the Apostles’ Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.” Or, as one young man told me, “orthodoxy means you can say the Apostles’ Creed without crossing your fingers behind your back.”
Q: Are the new faithful receiving good catechesis? From where are they receiving such teaching?
Carroll: Yes and no. Most of the New faithful, particularly the Catholics in this group, did not receive good catechesis as children. Many were raised by parents who did not know or teach the faith. Many others attended Catholic schools and parishes where they learned “God is love” — and little else.
These twenty- and thirty-something Catholics grew up in the years after Vatican II, when the American Church was still struggling to make sense of the changes. They suffered the effects of a religious education crisis, and many never learned even the most elementary Christian teachings.
The good news: Many young adults have taken it upon themselves to learn the faith and study Church teaching, by forming parish groups to study Scripture, the Catechism, or the teachings of the Holy Father. And many have benefited from the new boom in Catholic apologetics materials and the rise of such popular apologists as Scott Hahn.
The Catholic apologetics craze — driven in large part by the catechetical demands of this generation — reflects the deep and widespread hunger for truth among today’s young Catholics.
Q: What aspects of Catholicism did the new faithful feel drawn to? Why have they chosen the Church or Christian orthodoxy rather than the New Age spiritualities the Church recently addressed?
Carroll: The New faithful Catholics are drawn to precisely those aspects of Catholicism that repelled many of their baby boomer elders. They love Church tradition and history. They relish devotions like the rosary, and they line up for confession in droves. They are committed to eucharistic adoration and evangelization. And they love the Pope — not simply because they admire his personality, but because they admire his commitment to defending the truth in season and out of season.
These young Catholics grew up in a society saturated with moral relativism and dominated by the idea that they should “do whatever feels good.” They see orthodoxy as a fresh alternative to those values, an oasis of truth and stability in a world gone mad.
While many of their elders criticize Church teaching as rigid or retrograde, these young adults love the Church’s time-honored teachings and countercultural stands. To them, it is New Age spirituality — not orthodox Catholicism — that’s empty, boring, and yesterday’s news.
Q: What factors within the culture and the larger society do you think gave rise to the new faithful?
Carroll: The rise of the new faithful is partly the result of a pendulum swing. Many of these young adults are the sons and daughters of the hippies, children of the flower children. These young adults think that authority and tradition make more sense than free love and no-fault divorce.
Many suffered ill consequences from baby boomer experimentation in morality and religion, and they want their own children to experience a more stable life. They crave stability for themselves, as well. But sociology only gets us so far in this analysis. In the end, each of these young adults tells a story far richer, and far more complex, than the story of the pendulum swing.
I met doctors, lawyers, Hollywood writers, and cloistered nuns who told me amazing conversion stories, stories of faith and hope and a love that reached out and grabbed them when they least expected to find God.
For a Christian, the only way to understand those stories is to take these young adults at their word, and judge God by his works, and see this as the amazing grace of the Holy Spirit being poured out on a generation once considered lost.
Q: Do you have any sociological data to back up your findings? How widespread is this phenomenon of the new faithful and why is it largely found among young, educated, professional people?
Carroll: The book overflows with statistics — from the Gallup poll that shows a growing number of teen-agers identifying themselves as “religious” instead of “spiritual but not religious,” to the UCLA freshmen poll that shows approval for abortion and casual sex dropping year after year. This trend has not swept over the entire generation, of course.
The new faithful still constitute a fairly modest segment of the population. But their influence extends well beyond their numbers because so many of these new faithful are educated professionals with a disproportionate amount of cultural influence.
They are rising stars in politics, the arts, the entertainment industry, in medicine and law and journalism. They are the sort of bright, culturally engaged young adults that their peers tend to follow. And they are uniting — across denominational lines, in many cases — to bring the Gospel to every realm of American life that they touch.
Q: Do you see this phenomenon continuing for the foreseeable future?
Carroll: This phenomenon is on the rise, and for the reasons mentioned above, it has considerable room to grow and serious staying power.
As this movement grows, the new faithful will be tempted to fall into extremes of either isolation from the culture or capitulation to it. Both extremes could undermine this movement and hamper the spread of the Gospel by these believers. Those who want to be “salt and light” in the world will have to keep those dangers in mind, and strive to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
Q: How has the secular media responded to your findings? Has your book received much attention outside of Christian media?
Carroll: The secular media has given this book a good deal of attention, which has been gratifying. “The New Faithful” has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Washington Post, National Review, PBS, Canada’s National Post, and dozens of other regional newspapers and secular radio outlets.
Many secular journalists still struggle to understand this trend: It’s counterintuitive for those who assume religion is on the wane and orthodoxy is on life support.
But to their credit, a fair number of baby boomer journalists in the secular media have been willing to consider that the excesses of their generation may have made today’s young adults reluctant to follow in their footsteps, and attracted those young adults to orthodoxy.