This afternoon I was a living book. East Riding College held a “Living Faith Library” where representatives of different faiths were available to talk about their faith and to answer questions on beliefs and practices.
In reality I asked as many questions as I answered, finding out about people’s previous experiences of the church and ideas about God and Jesus. I found myself comparing these students to my peers at the same age, and the difference was noticeable. The majority of those with whom I attended sixth form knew why they didn’t believe. They might not have cared enough to express it at such an event, but if you asked them about it they could tell you why they had rejected God. Be it the church’s teaching on issues such as abortion or homosexuality, being unable to reconcile a loving God with a suffering world, or having tried it and found the experience lacking in some way.
But today’s students were different. It was obvious that for most of them their rejection of faith came simply from the fact they had never considered it. They hadn’t engaged with ethical or religious questions and found Christianity (or indeed other faiths) unable to answer satisfactorily. They had just never asked the questions. God and faith were so far off their radar.
This wasn’t entirely surprising, all the surveys have shown this for a while, but it was the first time I’d experienced it so acutely. It brought home the challenges we face. Not just the challenge of a generation who know almost nothing about Christian teaching, but a generation for whom God and the church just don’t exist. How do we begin to engage in a way which demonstrates Jesus has something to offer them?
There were exceptions. I had a spirited discussion on the issue of suffering with one student, and an interesting conversation on the nature of the afterlife with a student whose hobby was paranormal investigation. Both of them had been put off Christianity by being forced to attend church when they were younger because of connections with school or cubs. Perhaps there too is a lesson…