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A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation.

Can it be that Augustine's prayer, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," is confirmed by a sociological analysis of the baby boomer generation? Wade Clark Roofs A Generation of Seekers would answer, "Not yet."

The data come from an initial survey of 1,579 boomers, a follow-up survey, in-depth interviews, group interviews and seven persons whose stories are particularly representative of the generation born in 1946-64. Roof, who teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara, documents the theological perspectiveness of "loyalists" (boomers who never left the religious group in which they were raised), "dropouts" and "returnees" (those who had ceased any practice of religion for at least two years, and who have returned, though not necessarily to the same denomination).

A Generation of Seekers offers an indepth exploration of the ways in which 76 million Americans understand themselves, how they relate to the sacred and what this could mean for future religious trends. Roof asserts that the perception of boomers as selfish and materialistic is mere stereotyping. According to his analysis, they are really a generation of post materialist seekers."

Beginning their quest for meaning and purpose in life after experiencing a dissatisfaction with material possessions as well as the declining level of expectations in the 1970s and 1980s, the baby boomers now characterize themselves as "spiritual." Spirituality is that which "has to do with feelings, with the power that comes from within, with knowing our deepest selves and what is sacred to us."

Unfortunately, spirituality" is placed in opposition to religion," stereotyped by boomers as that which deals with rituals, doctrines and other such |externals." Boomers perceive doctrine as rigid and restrictive. The authoritative voice that conveys doctrine is seen as untrustworthy, even by hypocritical.

Part of this dismissal of doctrine and authority comes from the rampant individualism of American society, and part comes from the tremendous impact of the events of the 1960s upon the lives of this generation. The assassination of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the bitterness of the Vietnam War, political corruption and the Watergate scandal crushed the youthful idealism of a generation and led to a loss of confidence in government and a deep suspicion of those in authority.

Except for conservatives and evangelicals, the boomer generation definitely favors tolerance, personal choice and do-it,yourself piety. When asked whether a person can be a good Christian without going to church, 85 percent answered yes. Lacking any deep loyalty to the denominations in which they were raised, boomers "shop" for synagogues and churches that meet their needs.

A particular church or religious group may be chosen because it provides for self-improvement and finding a better quality of life. Since personal relationships are very important to this generation, a better quality of life includes finding ways of improving relationships within families and having churches and synagogues contribute to the moral and spiritual development of their children. These reasons for choosing a particular church or congregation are, according to Roof, expressions of the generation's post-materialist values. They are the values of those who place more stress on psychological than material expectations, whose yearnings have more to do with personal well-being and cultivation of the inner life."

While Roof takes us deeply into the psyche of the baby boomers, Robert Wuthnow's timely Christianity in the 21st Century provides a more comprehensive perspective. Incorporating the data and insights of many social theorists as well as his own impressive studies, Wuthnow speculates about the not-too-distant future. He does so not in order to predict what will happen, but to give ourselves a conceptual space in which to think about the present."

This method is both informative and practical. Wuthnow, professor of social sciences and director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, delves into past and present, comments on the data, analyzes national trends and explores the significance of people's stories.

Wuthnow divides his work into five sections, each dealing with a basic challenge to Christianity: institutional, ethical, doctrinal, political and cultural. The trends Roof sees as a development of post, materialist values are viewed by Wuthnow as serious challenges to institutional Christianity now and in the decades ahead.

In addressing the ethical challenge, Wuthnow points out the crucial importance of role models, examines the ways conduct themselves in the marketplace, and addresses the moral dimensions of the abortion issue.

The last two sections deal with the role religion will play in addressing political and cultural challenges. It is surprising to read that even people deeply involved in caring activities perceive "social justice" as a legal or economic term that "only experts understand," rather than a motivating concept.

Regarding the public role of Christianity, a key question centers on whether the current conflict between the religious right and the religious left will continue to play itself out in the public forum and on the 6 o'clock news. Judging from the data, polarization will continue unless both liberals and conservatives can learn how to participate in reasoned public debate regarding the issues.

Robert E. Obach is a theologian/adjunct Professor at Antioch University and at the College of Mount St. Joseph, and pastoral associate at St. Mary Church, Dayton, Ohio.
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Author:Obach, Robert E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 10, 1993
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