Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood
by Christian Smith
Sociologist Christian Smith and collaborators did in-depth interviews with more than 200 teenagers and published Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Seven years later his team did follow-up interviews and published two books: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults and Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.
The latter book paints a disturbing picture of the results of hyper individualism, consumerism and moral relativism. The book focuses on five areas: confused moral reasoning, routine intoxication, materialistic life goals, regrettable sexual experiences, and disengagement from civic and political life. It is the book that awoke me to the need to address not only bounded group religiosity, but also its opposite—a fuzzy approach. I encourage you to read the book with an openness to how the Spirit may awaken you to new initiatives and approaches called forth by the realities presented in the book.
The book displays the inability of many emerging adults to articulate moral justification for their actions. I agree with some critics who state that Smith may have confused the ability to articulate a moral position with the ability to practice a moral ethic. Recall the villagers of Le Chambon in Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, who when asked why they took such risky actions to save Jews from the Nazis, had little to say beyond, “how could we have done otherwise?” Moral reasoning is not the only, nor necessarily the key reason we act as we do. Narratives shape us; we imitate those we look up to; and we are shaped by cues of those around us. So, in terms of this website, to say that someone cannot offer a moral argument for something does not necessarily mean they practice a fuzzy group approach to ethics. To be able to coherently defend a moral position is of value, and I share Christian Smith’s concern over the erosion of this ability. But I am not persuaded it is the central issue he makes it.
Nevertheless, the book is important and valuable. It takes us into the lives of many young adults, and through their own words they graphically portray many destructive and painful results of a fuzzy group approach to life. Read it to get a feel for and better understand those living out of this approach, and to sense the imperative of offering a life centered on Jesus as an alternative.