“Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately,” wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. But, “if you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing-rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.”
Lewis’ punchy analysis is apt for, among other things, assessing the spiritual health of American Christianity. How people within a cultural setting think about and practice spirituality is interrelated. Statistically, the most significant relationship, by far, for cultivating spiritual belief and commitment is between parents and children. That’s always been true. However, there are reasons to believe that, in light of new data from the Institute for Family Studies, successfully passing faith from one generation to the next is more difficult than ever. To borrow Lewis’ analogy, the “tree” is not looking very healthy.
“…the challenges of passing on the faith remain considerable,” writes study author Jesse Smith. That’s an understatement, but it comes with a silver lining: “…religious conservative parents are managing that challenge somewhat better than others.”
Accounting for other important factors, such as the relative importance of religion to the parents and whether or not they “practice what they preach,” Smith noted the role that the substance of religious beliefs played in transmitting them; for example, a high view of the Bible, belief in objective morality and traditional sexual ethics, and a sense of tension between faith and the larger society.