Tonight my husband and I had the opportunity to hear Chris Smith, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame. He had been invited by the honors college and the President to give a talk about his new book, "Souls in Transition".
Dr. Smith has widely studied and viewed American society from many aspects; history, culture, religion, psychology, modernity, and social structures. He said that the emerging adult generation (ages 18-29) are marrying 5 years later, experiencing many kinds of relationships and experimenting with different lifestyles, before settling down and taking responsibility. He thinks that this is due to a 'post industrial" society, where work is not as valued as leisure, the prevalance of birth control, and alternate living arrangements and parents supporting adult children into their 20's. He finds that the adult culture is directly responsible for the environment that the children acclimate to. So, parents are ultimately responsible for their children and how they succeed.
Religion is not influencing this age group as it had in the past. And families in general are not experiencing a serious commitment to religion, as evangelical religion is infilterated by consumerism and "watered-down" commitment.
When asked how he defined religion, he acknowledged that this was a big question in many disciplines, but that he was talking about the practice of a certain or specific religion or denomination. And he suggested that the differences in our culture, breed tolerance, which was a good thing. He spoke against having an extreme view in regards to "truth" and convictions. He said that there was a third and "better way" that promotes democracy's "civil discourse".
His main interest was in defining "what is the human person". He emphasized that the human person is more than his physical or biological make-up. There is something unique and special about the human person , and yet, the basic needs of humans are universal. When the young emergent generation does not get their needs met, there is long-term damage affecting society at large. He was not too optimistic about the future, as it looks today, but emphasized that sociologists study what is, and do not pretend to make predictions.
Dr. Smith ascribes change through religion, if the religion is taken seriously and is distinct from the American consumer culture. He also thought that "at risk kids" needed adult mentors to give them a sense of being cared for, otherwise, their success would be limited. And he ventured to suggest a 'family forum' type of ministry program in churches, where the whole family was "formed".
He expressed concern for our future, if society continues along the same course it has for the last number of years.
All in all, he seemed to have done his 'homework" and the questions and answers were thoughtful.
My personal critique validates most of his claims, except his view on religion. He doesn't seem to suggest any reason why American religion has turned to consumerism, other than prosperity.
Prosperity has been looked upon in Marxist ideology as "unfairness" and "inequality", which has been condemned as indulgent and irresponsible in regards to the larger world, which is against "universal brotherhood"and "love of neighbor". Isn't there more to loving someone than meeting their material needs? There are many children whose material needs are more than met, but their emotional needs lie untouched by any significant other.
Consumerism is the mantra of the Obama adminstration. The materialist is guilty of materialism in his ideological commitments, and yet, he accuses the Christian church of materialsim. There is no getting around the fact that one's ideological commitments drive what defines one's values, without understanidng complexity of the issues involved.
And he doesn't give any rationale for religion in the first place. Is religion a description for "community"? Is community also the "only value" that post-moderns think is good?
Religion can be just a destructive as constructive, and Dr. Smith acknowledged that this was a prevalant view in today's climate, where religion defines the cultural wars.
Religion is diminishing in the West, should we be concerned, as religion was the trascriber of social norms? Today, there seem to be little to form a unifying factor, other than church affliation.
In conclusion, Dr Smith did a great job in analyzing our society and suggesting alternative ways of addressing it's ills. We should applaud his noble effort.
Thanks, Dr. Smith.