Saturday, March 30, 2013

BkRev: Carroll's The New Faithful

Colleen Carroll, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Chicago, Loyola Press, 2002, 321 pages.

SUBJECT. In The New Faithful, author Colleen Carroll looks mainly at two subjects: (1) the motivation of the young men and women who are becoming orthodox Christians; and (2) the nature of their activism as young, orthodox Christians.

For various meanings of "orthodox" among Jews and Christians, see the Jan. 27, 2013 post here on TME. Carroll defines Christian "orthodoxy" as a set of ideas about God, God's relation to man, and God's ethics for man's guidance:

The Apostles' Creed [supposedly formulated by Christ's twelve apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit, and possibly written as a set by later Christians as early as the 100s CE] confesses belief in a triune God who created heaven and earth; in the full divinity and humanity of his son, Jesus Christ; and in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The creed also affirms the existence of a universal church, one baptism, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, among other doctrines. Its embrace … has implied adherence to the Ten Commandments … as well as … faith, hope, and love, and acceptance of the Beatitudes delivered by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. For the Christians introduced in this book, the acceptance of a transcendent moral authority as revealed in the Scriptures translates into a commitment to regular worship and prayer, a belief in absolute truth, and a recognition of objective standards of personal and public morality. (pp. 13-14)

THE AUTHOR. Colleen Carroll (here) wrote speeches for President George W. Bush, worked as a journalist for news magazines, and now hosts a television show, "Faith and Culture."  She herself is an orthodox Catholic. Without God, she says (p. xi), "nothing else would be possible or meaningful." Her worldview, plus her youthfulness at the time of her research for the book, around the year 2000, gave her an entrance to interviewing other young Americans who are the "new faithful."

The individuals she interviewed were aged nineteen to thirty-seven. (p. 13) Those individuals who had committed to a particular denomination of Christianity were generally either Roman Catholic or evangelical Protestant (see for various meanings labeled today by the term "evangelical"), but some were from eastern Orthodox Churches or "mainline" denominations such as the United Methodist Church. (See

STYLE. The author's style is effective in communicating her theme. She describes individuals in their settings. You can see them and hear their voices speaking of their spiritual aspirations and identifying the problems they face. With those concretes established, the author can then occasionally draw conclusions. Those are the abstractions, the generalizations, she forms from her personal experiences and her research.

THEME. The theme of the book is multipart. First, there is a movement of young individuals into orthodox Christianity. How large is the movement? That is not clear in the book. Overall, the author is cautious about using statistics, as she should be. Measuring movements and gauging their direction are difficult to do with confidence. The author occasionally reminds readers that the "new faithful" are a minority of the youth of the country, but an articulate, ambitious minority that is upcoming and will probably have a cultural effect in the decades ahead.

The author is also careful to note contrary evidence. For example:

Countertrends clearly exist, especially in the realm of sexual behavior and morality. Divorce is rampant among evangelicals. Many Catholics disregard Vatican bans on contraception, premarital sex, and remarriage without annulment. And New Age spirituality—which often accompanies a movement away from moral absolutes—is gaining steam in many circles of American culture and in many American churches. Many polls of young adults reveal a high tide of moral relativism among the next generation and a deep suspicion of objective standards of truth and beauty. Indicators such as these do not portend a universal embrace of Christian orthodoxy and conventional morality. (p. 8)

A second part of the theme is that many individuals who become orthodox Christians do so as a reaction to two factors in their environment: the emptiness, even nihilism, of secular culture in the USA; and the relativism that infects much of the culture, even sections of religious culture. (The "new faithful" struggle as much against "liberal" Christians as they do against atheists.) The antidote to the meaninglessness of modern secular culture, the new faithful believe, is traditional Christianity with its emphasis on the "objective truth" of an ethics provided by God not humans, all known or at least substantiated by a mystical connection to God through one's personal relationship with God (held especially by evangelicals) and through rituals such as the Eucharist, in which the wafer and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ (a practice held especially by orthodox Catholics).

Across the nation, from the runways of beauty pageants to the halls of Ivy League universities, a small but committed core of young Christians is intentionally embracing organized religion and traditional morality. Their numbers—and their disproportionately powerful influence on their peers, parents, and popular culture—are growing. The grassroots movement they have started bears watching because it has thrived in the most unlikely places, captured the hearts of the most unlikely people, and aims to effect the most unlikely of outcomes: a revitalization of American Christianity and culture. (p. 4)

RECOMMENDATION. The New Faithful is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in beginning a study of a relatively small, but potentially very influential religious movement dedicated to activism, a movement that could affect the course of cultural and political history in the United States. The book explains the reasons interest in orthodox religion has arisen among some young "spiritual seekers."

The book also shows the wide range of forms of activism that these young individuals have undertaken to bring their views to others. Someday this movement may have political power and thereby force their  views on the whole culture.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

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