My Sisters the Saints: A
Colleen's new memoir, My Sisters the Saints, will be published
October 30 by the Image imprint of Random House. Pre-order copies direct
Random House or from
Barnes & Noble. Watch this site for more details.
The New Faithful: Why
Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
A finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the
Year Award and a Catholic Book Publishers Association bestseller that is now in its sixth printing,
The New Faithful was first released
by Loyola Press in 2002. The book blends extensive firsthand reporting,
storytelling and analysis to shed light on a trend that has far-reaching
implications for American religion, politics and culture. It has been
featured in nearly 100 magazines and newspapers, including The
Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, National
Review, and Christianity Today.
"... novel and timely
... This is a book that generously and comprehensively examines a group that is
often misunderstood and caricatured."
- Publishers Weekly
- Library Journal
"Ms. Carroll combines
first-hand reporting with social-science metrics to examine a remarkable
trend toward religious orthodoxy"
- Wall Street Journal
"... a blockbuster of a book ..." --
Canada's National Post
Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time
Published in 2007, this anthology from
Crossroad Publishing features Colleen's essay on her father's journey
through Alzheimer's disease, "Hope in the Ruins."
"In these 35
meditations, the most beloved Catholic literary figures, scholars, and theologians of our
day join members of other faiths to show how we can find hope in our family
life, our spiritual practice, our fondest memories, and even our darkest
Endorsements of The New Faithful:
blends investigative reporting with profound analysis to reveal a world of young
people that most of us do not know exists. This brilliant young journalist opens
the door to exciting and inspiring vistas."
and syndicated columnist
"With the knowledge of an insider
and the sprightly facility of a good journalist, Colleen Carroll tells one of
the largely unheralded stories of our time: the turn of so many highly educated
young Americans toward serious religious commitment. How did these young people
become, as she puts it so well, 'defenders of orthodoxy in an age that denigrates
dogma?' Carroll unravels the mystery in a book that will become an important
document of our time. The orthodox, the unorthodox and the flexible souls in
between will find grist here for lively argument and serious reflection."
E. J. Dionne Jr.
of Why Americans Hate Politics and co-editor (with John J. DiIulio Jr.) of
What's God Got to Do With the
reporting and analysis in 'The New Faithful' does more than simply chronicle
the embrace of Christianity by young adults, as important as that is. Her interviews
and meetings with young American adults serve as documentation of the spiritual
and intellectual bankruptcy of postmodernism. 'The New Faithful' is a reminder
that when the idols of our age crumble, as they invariably will, it is the truth
of Christianity that remains standing."
Charles W. Colson
Prison Fellowship Ministries
"You may have
heard, and you may have believed, that decades of moral, cultural, and
religious tumult have destroyed the foundations. Colleen Carroll has a different
story to tell in this exciting book. Despite everything, the foundations
are solid and a new generation of young people, Catholic and Protestant,
is discovering the high adventure of Christian fidelity. The rebuilding
has begun. The New Faithful is a portrait, both honest and heartening,
of the Church of tomorrow, and of today."
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus
in Chief, First Things
"(O)ne of the brightest
young Catholic writers in America . . . Colleen Carroll’s book is replete
with wonderful human stories of spiritual struggle followed by conversion."
- George Weigel
Syndicated columnist and bestselling author of Witness to Hope: The
Biography of John Paul II
highly readable book that opens up a world most of us know little of--the world
of young people making their own journeys into faith and discovering the wisdom
of traditions many claim that the young have abandoned. Carroll brings the rhythms
of the story-teller and the fact-finding of the journalist to bear in helping
us to encounter those she calls 'the new faithful'."
Author of Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy
and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at The
"This is an
important book about the new generation of Christians born since 1965--a
new, orthodox, and realist generation tired of the fads, bizarre personal
opinions, and sad experiments of their elders, and hungry for the 'real'
doctrine, the real Church of the ages. These are the young who begin
shouting, in 1979, 'JPII--We love you!'."
Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy and Public Policy
and director of Social and Political Studies at the
American Enterprise Institute
“If you are vitally
interested in the renewal and reform of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant and
Orthodox in America, this well-documented and very readable book is the good
news. If you are not so persuaded but would like to know what’s going
on in religion, the growing wave of the future, then this book is a must for
you. If you get aggravated by the deeply personal and believing commitment
to Christ observed on the part of a significant group of young adults, don’t
read this book; it will upset you. Colleen Carroll has done a masterful
job of bringing together the profiles of a diverse generation of fervent young
Christians who are shaking up the American religious scene. She marshals
the anecdotes and studies in such a way that she offers the best sociological
indication and explanation of what those who work with young people see that
they want – authentic, personal and convinced Christianity. If you are
making plans for your church in the next decade you can’t afford to leave this
Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR
Author, Journey Towards God
'The New Faithful' reveals the first lights of an unexpected dawn: the growing
youth movement toward Christian orthodoxy. Yet Carroll also shows that this movement
must wrestle with vexing issues of assimilation versus isolation, righteousness
versus self-righteousness. If Carroll's discernment and clarity are typical
of young believers, the future of the faith is bright indeed."”
Christianity Today columnist, National Public Radio commentator, and author
of Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy
been accumulating for a few years that a generational and cultural revolt has
been brewing in America against the "counter-culture" clichés of sexual freedom
and unrestrained hedonism that grew out of the 60's and 70's. In this
richly reported and beautifully written account, Colleen Carroll takes us inside
the lives of those who have participated in that sea-change in American culture.
She shows how a new generation of Americans have found truth, beauty and fulfillment
not in the trendy hot-tubs of New Age spirituality but in the bracing truths
and disciplines of an ancient faith--traditional and orthodox Christianity.
The stories she tells are deeply moving. The sense of hope they offer
to the spiritual future of this nation is warmly encouraging. This is a marvelous
correspondent for TIME magazine and and author of Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century
|“As if to prove that the worst of
times are also the best of times,
Carroll heartens us with a detailed and documented tale of how the young are
turning to Christian orthodoxy. The signs have been all around us for a
long time, intimations that something important was afoot. Young people on
campuses, new converts, young families, seminarians at places like Denver
and Lincoln, suggested that we were coming out of an era of dissent and
secularization and dumbing down. Colleen Carroll engaged in vast and
exhaustive research to bring the good news that there is indeed a
groundswell of orthodoxy among the young. In her book, you hear their voices
and they will warm your heart.”
Philosophy professor, University of Notre Dame and author of The Father
|“Colleen Carroll writes boldly and
about today's young adults embracing Christian orthodoxy. Her research, worthy
of a competent journalist and scholar, is impressive. Her findings create credibility
that faith will be an increasingly important part of building a better world.”
- Richard Leonard
Retired editor of The Milwaukee Journal
and Nieman Chair Emeritus at Marquette University
deserves serious congratulations. This narrative of her quest for the religion
of some of the most thoughtful young Americans is as readable as its implications
are profound. For anyone seeking a proper understanding of the immensely complex
forces at work in our culture, and indeed for someone at the seeming mercy of
those forces but seeking God, The New Faithful charts a course
to the truth.”
Nigel M. de S. Cameron
Strategic Futures Group, LLC
The Wilberforce Forum
professor and provost at Trinity International University & Divinity School
“This is an important book. Colleen Carroll has captured
the deep yearnings of the generation just emerging from college into the work
world. In their own words, these new faithful deliver a powerful message: Life
is about more than amassing toys, the spirit matters, and they intend to be
Author of Money & Power: The History of Business
with personal testimonies, Colleen Carroll's The New Faithful: Why Young
Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy goes far beyond the merely anecdotal
in her description of Generation X's markedly traditional and orthodox religious
impulse. Filled with sociological data and descriptions of movements and
organizations that are spawned by and support the phenomenon, Carroll provides
significant narrative and deep insight into a generation of believers who are
seeking to embrace Christianity with intellectual rigor and moral integrity
in the midst of a postmodern, relativistic, and pluralistic America. In
contrast to many of the previous generation, great numbers of those born between
1965 and 1983 are finding the Church to be a faithful mother giving birth to
a renewed spiritual life, both for individuals and communities of believers.
Carroll explores the uniqueness of this resurgence of belief, which is evangelical
in spirit, seeks to engage rather than to ignore the culture, and to transform
the world. This engaging book, which is not hesitant to present the criticisms
that have been directed to the younger generation by their oft-dismayed elders,
is an important tool for understanding the growing number of young, active Christian
believers. It would be invaluable for anyone engaged in ministry to this
generation with its great spiritual hunger."
- Fr. James F.
Dean of The Pontifical
College Josephinum in Columbus,
a light into the lives of young spiritual seekers that dispels gloomy assumptions
about the decline of orthodox Christianity. Unfulfilled by the cream-puff theology
of their parents, Gen Xers are turning to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—and
Jesus. Carroll sensitively explores how Christian faith informs and fortifies
attitudes about sexuality, vocation and education for large numbers of young
adults. With its smart cultural critique and journalistic flair, The New
Faithful is a groundbreaking study of religion in America."
William E. Simon
Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation and regular
commentator for National Public Radio
"This is an important
story, well-told by one of our finest young religion writers. The New Faithful
should be on the reading list of every church leader and anybody interested
in the future of the faith in this country."
- David Scott
Author and former editor of Our Sunday Visitor, the largest U.S. Catholic
"In The New
Faithful, Colleen Carroll combines her religious sensibilities and
consummate reporting skills to take readers on an insightful tour through
the world of Generation X "orthodox believers." Those immersed in
lives of faith will find this book a great affirmation, while those not so
immersed may find it a great revelation."
- Cole C.
Fellow of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and former editor of
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Reviews and articles about The New Faithful:
"If baby-boomer Catholics have
been puzzled by their younger Gen-X counterparts lately, they need look no
further than Colleen Carroll's excellent new book for an explanation of
what's up with Gen-X Christians. The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are
Embracing Christian Orthodoxy is a fascinating study . . . a
well-researched, enjoyable read."
"Anyone who is worried about the
future of the Church can look here for hopeful signs."
-- National Review Online
"The New Faithful is
certainly encouraging . . . we owe thanks for these dispatches from the
-- Books & Culture
"This exploration probes beneath
the surface of Christian Orthodoxy, analyzing the root causes and the
diverse consequences of this new religious movement."
" . . . The New Faithful
is a hopeful book . . . The people Carroll introduces us to are the kind of
people we want to know are around and with us as the Church in America
enters the 21st century."
" . . . highly acclaimed . . ."
-- Zenit News Agency
" . . . frequently moving . . . a
nuanced and cautious reading of the signs of the times."
"Watch out, promiscuity! Out of
the way, relativism! A wave of young Americans just wants that old-time
-- Christianity Today
Carroll studies 20- and early 30-somethings who are embracing the
Christian faith with passion and fervor in her book, subtitled "Why Young
Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy." She shares many testimonies of
individuals who discovered or returned to the faith; many tell of finding
worldly success but being spiritually hungry. Issues she examines include
traditional vs. contemporary liturgy, Generation X's desire for community,
and the appeal of a challenging Gospel. What makes this book unique is
Carroll's ability to focus on both Catholics and Protestants returning to
the faith. Catholic and Protestant ministries, resources and references are
used throughout. This is a great resource for anyone involved in young-adult
With the help of a Phillips Journalism Fellowship, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
journalist Carroll traveled the country to interview young adults to
ascertain how religion fits into their lives. Most of her interviewees were
Catholics or evangelical Protestants, along with some Orthodox Christians.
Carroll found a turn to the Right in the religious lives of her peers, born
between 1965 and 1983; not everyone in this age group is religiously
oriented, but those who are have more often than not turned to traditional
beliefs and morality. Among Catholic priests, for example, the youngest are
as traditional as the oldest, with the baby boomers falling in between. It
is not unusual for married couples in this age group to embrace natural
family planning as opposed to artificial birth control and for singles to
reject premarital sex. These young adults are seeking authoritative
guidelines and meaningful commitments. Carroll's journalistic skills are
evident in this very readable volume about a tendency toward traditionalism
that she predicts will spread. Highly recommended.
-- John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ.
Lib., New York
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002:
title promises to answer a question that is not new; the decline of liberal
Christianity and the rise of the evangelical movement has been a source of
scholarly and journalistic fascination for more than 20 years. Carroll,
though, gives an up-to-the-minute account of this phenomenon. She spent a
year—beginning in 2001 and ending in 2002—conducting research and interviews
around the U.S., and, unlike most treatments of the new American passion for
orthodoxy, hers focuses on the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as well as
evangelical Protestantism. This emphasis on orthodoxy and ancient,
liturgical tradition among young members is both novel and timely. While
evangelical Protestant mega-churches were the big story 15 years ago,
record-breaking conversion rates in conservative Catholic and Orthodox
churches are today’s headline. Carroll quotes many young people who yearn
for both conservative interpretations of the Bible and the mystery and
symbolism of liturgy. Especially popular among young orthodox Catholics is
the pre-Vatican II practice of Eucharistic adoration, which involves
reverencing a consecrated communion wafer. In her introduction, Carroll
makes brief mention of her identification with the young, conservative
Catholics she features, and this identification shows in analysis that often
bleeds into advocacy. She does occasionally quote critics of the trend
toward orthodoxy, but she never fully explores these dimensions. However,
this is a book that generously and comprehensively examines a group that is
often misunderstood and caricatured.
The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13,
Back to Basics
By JOHN A. BARNES
In 1993, 24-year-old David Legge seemed to have the
world by the tail. Blessed with Tom Cruise-ish good looks, he had just
finished his second year at Yale Law School and was a summer associate at a
big New York law firm. Making more money than he could spend, he painted the
town red four or five nights a week with lavish parties and big bar tabs. A
bright future beckoned.
There was only one problem. He wasn't happy.
"I had a good time, I guess," Mr. Legge recalls, "but
I didn't have that many real friends in New York. And I realized that it was
just kind of an empty life."
Like many Gen X (and Y) Catholics raised in the wake
of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Mr. Legge's childhood
religious formation had been spotty at best. He was raised in a Catholic
family, but he found that his religious courses in school consisted mostly
of "psychobabble." The spiritual emptiness he was feeling that summer in New
York led him to apply to his own faith the kind of intensity he had
previously reserved for his legal studies. The result was a revelation.
"It was like God hit me over the head with a bottle,"
he said. It took a few years, but eventually Mr. Legge found the courage to
walk away from his job and the girlfriend who did not share his deepening
Catholic faith and enter a Dominican seminary to become a priest.
David Legge's conversion (or re-conversion) story is
one of many that animate the pages of Colleen Carroll's "The New Faithful"
(Loyola, 320 pages, $19.95). A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms.
Carroll combines first-hand reporting with social-science metrics to examine
a remarkable trend toward religious orthodoxy among Americans born roughly
between 1960 and 1983. These were the children exposed full-force to the
consumerism, secularism and "me-first" ideology that seized the helm of
American society in that period -- very much including most mainstream
Concentrating her reporting on Catholics and
evangelical Protestants, Ms. Carroll borrows G.K. Chesterton's definition of
"orthodoxy" as the Apostles' Creed. ("I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth . "). For the young adults profiled in her book,
that means the acceptance of a transcendent moral authority, a commitment to
regular prayer and worship, a belief in absolute truth and an allegiance to
objective standards of conduct.
What drives these young people in such a, well,
un-orthodox direction? The high rate of divorce among baby-boomer parents
certainly played its role. And anyone with the least experience of young
people knows that a high percentage of them, almost by reflex, are skeptical
of the dogmas laid down by their elders. That seems just as true when the
dogmas are relativism, permissiveness and militant secularism as when they
are their opposites. The appeal of Pope John Paul II to young people,
evident from the first days of his pontificate, is mentioned frequently by
Catholics and Protestants alike.
"They want to get off the merry-go-round," says the
Rev. David Burrell, a Catholic priest. "They really want something that can
touch their souls. And a faith culture is the only thing that can respond to
One of the most refreshing aspects of Ms. Carroll's
book is the near absence of I-found-God-when-I-hit-rock-bottom stories. Most
of the newly faithful are successful in their worldly endeavors, a fact that
conventional wisdom would say works against fervent religious belief.
But as Ms. Carroll notes, affluence may now be one of
the engines driving religious revival. One result of the good (secular)
life, apparently, is the kind of "premature mid-life crisis" that David
Legge experienced. And while most who confront such a crisis do not end up
at a seminary, many do find that their turn to religious seriousness
requires new friends and a new career.
The orthodoxy vogue, if it may be called that, does
not please everyone. Some baby-boomer priests actually seem bitter about it
-- or envious. After all, new and orthodox religious orders like the New
York-based Sisters of Life and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are
turning away candidates while liberal orders wither on the vine. Potential
seminarians, approaching a particular order, warily demand to know whether
the priests wear their clerical collars and whether they accept the teaching
authority of the Church on abortion and extramarital sex. "There's a kind of
nostalgia for a church they've never experienced -- and I have," one priest
grouses. "I don't want to go back there."
But the young orthodox faithful are not looking back.
They are looking forward, striving to make something "countercultural" in
the non-1960s sense of the word. Thus they are eager to evangelize their
peers. That their peers often remain unaffected doesn't discourage them,
either. You don't need to convert a whole generation, one of Ms. Carroll's
subjects points out. Jesus, after all, started with just 12.
Mr. Barnes, a corporate communications executive with
Pfizer Inc., is writing "Jesus on Leadership: Executive Lessons From the
George Weigel: The Catholic
Difference - October 23, 2002
Young, smart, successful ... and passionately orthodox
By George Weigel
Two and a half years ago, I went to Smith College in
Northampton, Massachusetts, to give a lecture on “the soul of John Paul II”
and to have a dinner-discussion with Smith’s religion faculty and senior
religion majors. Smith is one of the academic centers of American feminism,
and given academic feminism’s usual take on this pontificate, I was a bit
concerned that the afternoon and evening could turn dicey. On the contrary.
My lecture was heard respectfully, the questions were intelligent, and the
dinner discussion was polite, engaging, and intellectually stimulating.
Smith’s faculty and students even took the Pope’s challenging “theology of
the body” seriously -- which is more than can be said for the editors of
Commonweal, among others in the Catholic opinion business.
All of which prompted the thought that something
interesting was afoot in Gen X, or Gen Y, or whatever generation we’re in
Now comes Colleen Carroll, one of the brightest young
Catholic writers in America, with a book painting a similar picture on a
much broader canvas.
After several years as a beat reporter and editorial
writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen Carroll was awarded a
Phillips Journalism Fellowship, which allowed her to spend a year going
around the country talking to Christians who are young, bright,
professionally successful -- and quite passionately orthodox in their
religious and moral convictions. The results of Carroll’s research are now
available in The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian
Orthodoxy (Loyola University Press).
The “new faithful” come from different ethnic,
religious, educational, and family backgrounds. Some grew up in devout
Catholic or Protestant families and drifted away, only to return to the
faith with fervor. Others skated along on the surface of the consumer
society until the hollowness of the world depicted in Abercrombie & Fitch
ads created an ache that purchasing-power couldn’t heal. Still others
pursued fast-track academic and professional careers, and then found that
success was empty without something more, something deeper.
But whatever the path they took, the “young orthodox”
have one trait in common: they find Christian orthodoxy an exhilarating,
exciting adventure. Unlike their parents’ generation (i.e., mine), which
grew up at a time when the smart thing to do was to put down tradition,
reverence, doctrine, and a demanding morality, the new generation of “new
faithful” aren’t interested in how little they can believe and how little
they have to do to stay “inside” the Church. They’re interested in exploring
the fullness of Christian truth and making it their own.
That exploration takes place in a host of settings.
Some are traditionally parish- or campus-based. But there are also Gen X
innovations like Regeneration Forum, a network of reading-and-discussion
groups in more than two dozen cities, and “The Vine,” an occasional
ecumenical conference of Gen X-ers interested in issues of faith and
According to Colleen Carroll’s research, the “new
faithful” are not the quietists some skeptics might expect them to be. They
are actively engaged in bringing their convictions into public life through
instruments like “Faith and Law,” an ecumenical study group of young,
orthodox Christian Congressional staffers. (As an occasional speaker at
“Faith and Law” breakfast seminars, I can testify to the seriousness of the
discussion and the Christian commitment of its members). Gen X “new
faithful” are passionately pro-life; indeed, as Carroll points out, one of
the striking (and virtually unreported) phenomena of American politics today
is that the pro-abortion forces are getting older and greyer while the
pro-life world is displaying a much younger face.
Colleen Carroll’s book is replete with wonderful human
stories of spiritual struggle followed by conversion. Those stories also
pose a challenge to secularists, and to those determined to deconstruct
Catholicism into high-church Unitarianism: the clock is ticking, and the
world isn’t working out the way you thought it would. The great human
adventure remains the adventure of orthodoxy. It beats the flat, arid world
of secularism. It beats the frantic world of shop-‘til-you-drop
hyper-consumption. It beats the brave new world of a remanufactured
And it beats Catholic Lite. Which is one reason why
there are far more young faces at “The Vine” than at “Call to Action”
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in
Booklist, the review journal of the American
During the past decade, there has been a remarkable
resurgence of religious fervor among members of Generation X. Born into
privilege and prosperity, many of these young people are now searching for
spiritual, rather than materialistic, fulfillment. They are finding answers
to their questions in a relatively new style of Christian Orthodoxy.
Conservative churches are attracting droves of new members seeking both
substance and sustenance. Not content to merely practice their faith
privately, many of the newly committed embrace a more evangelical and
action-oriented approach to worship. Based on countless interviews with
young adults across the country, this exploration probes beneath the surface
of Christian orthodoxy, analyzing the root causes and the diverse
consequences of this new religious movement.
-- Margaret Flanagan
Capital Times (Madison, WI),
December 17, 2002:
BOOKS ON FAITH AND ETHICS ENLIGHTEN,
Looking for a sense of enlightenment, entitlement,
fresh perspective or foolproof advice? Check the store shelves for these
By Mary Bergin of The Capital Times
"The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are
Embracing Christian Orthodoxy" by Colleen Carroll (Loyola Press,
$19.95) - The author, a newspaper journalist in St. Louis, contends that
young adults are doing an about-face regarding religion and morality by
rebelling against the liberal traditions of their families.
That conclusion is based on Gallup polls, sociological research, church
membership trends and the observations of denominational leaders on and off
major college campuses.
Anecdotal evidence is plentiful. The book has Gen X and Y tales of the
search for meaning in life, and the religious rituals that have become their
priorities. We read of students who start their own Bible study/prayer
groups, who attend Latin Mass, who are saving sex for marriage. Carroll, a
Marquette University grad, received a $50,000 Phillips Journalism Fellowship
to produce this book. She shows a bit of her hand in the book's
acknowledgements, where she writes that she is "grateful to the God who
answered the call of my heart."
Kathryn Jean Lopez
Even the most faithful Catholics could easily find
themselves depressed after this past year. So far as the mainstream media
are concerned, the Catholic Church is synonymous with abuse and scandal.
Most of us know better, but still the headlines and the water-cooler talk
can be hard to bear. A young reporter named Colleen Carroll has an antidote
for such discouragement.
In her new book 0 The New Faithful: Why Young Adults
Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Carroll tells the story of a "small but
committed core" of young Christians who want nothing more than to be
authentic members of their churches, young people who are increasingly
opting for "time-tested approaches to metaphysical questions." While the
book is not just about Catholics, Carroll herself is Catholic, and many of
the young Christians she writes about found their faith on the path to Rome.
If you have trouble praying for miracles, this book
might help. Consider: Well-educated twenty- and thirty-somethings-she
focused on those born between 1965 and 1983-who have grown up with moral
relativism, who have been taught to believe that there is no singular truth,
are again seeking Truth. And once they get hold of it, they're not
only singing its praises, they're living it. Peter Kreeft of Boston College
says, "Today's young adults are rejecting 'the old, tired, liberal, modern'
mindset in favor of a more orthodox one."
According to Carroll, this is not a small, isolated
movement. Something of a mini-Great Awakening seems to be afoot. University
of Chicago philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain told Carroll: "I certainly have
detected among my students a quest for some kind of purpose or meaning." She
notes the most surprising trend-students who arrive at a secular university
with a religious faith that deepens during their years there. And as Carroll
writes, these are not "perpetual seekers." These young adults are "committed
to a religious worldview that grounds their lives and shapes their morality.
They are not lukewarm believers or passionate dissenters. When they are
embracing a faith tradition or deepening their commitment to it, they want
to do so wholeheartedly or not at all." In other words, they are exactly the
kind of young people you want in your church-particularly when you think
about its future.
The numbers, though scarce, appear to back up the
author's hopeful contention. One study has found that nearly 80 percent of
teenagers consider religion a significant influence in their lives. George
Barna found in a 1999 survey that 42 percent of those born between 1965 and
1983 were likely to attend church weekly (compared with 33 percent of their
parents). A more recent survey of Catholics found that "the three core
elements of faith of today's young Catholics are belief in God's presence in
the sacraments (including the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist),
concern for helping the poor, and devotion to Mary as the mother of God."
Another survey found that young priests today are "increasingly conservative
on theological questions" and (in Carroll's words) "have more in common with
conservative elderly priests than with the more liberal middle-aged baby
boomers who directly preceded them." This new generation of priests has not
been bred in the culture of theological dissent. Good news-especially if
they are able to benefit from the lessons of that culture's failure.
The author considers the rising demand for traditional
liturgy as another sign of this renewal. She remarks on "the popularity of
traditional services in mainline Protestant churches-like the Sunday night
compline service at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle that has drawn
crowds of more than six hundred, most of whom are young adults." The number
of U.S. dioceses offering Tridentine Masses rose from six in 1990 to 131 in
1999. Not long ago my own alma mater, the Catholic University of America,
was under the leadership of a president who adamantly preached that the
school was "a university before Catholic." Now, under a new administration,
the university hosts a popular Eucharistic adoration service.
The author is also interested in the impact this new
generation of converts may have on the culture at large: "The young adults
who embrace organized religion tend to be cultural gatekeepers who have a
disproportionately large impact in academic, artistic, political, and
professional circles. Their talents, education, and positions make them
natural trendsetters in the church and the culture." The book profiles
Capitol Hill staffers, book publishers, beauty queens, and, of course,
Carroll's generally sympathetic tone leaves room for
important reservations. She does not ignore the remnant mentality
alarmingly common among her orthodox contemporaries:
Conservative Catholics, besieged by fellow Catholics
and the culture at large, tend toward defensiveness and isolation.
Condemnations of them as judgmental and self-righteous sometimes reveal the
critic's own prejudices against orthodoxy. But often those criticisms are
deserved, as many young Catholics who adhere to papal authority or revere
liturgical tradition regard liberal Catholics or non-Catholics with a
mixture of condescension and contempt. Some seem doomed to repeat the
mistakes of the pre-Vatican II church that gave too little credence to the
laity and of cultural Catholics who confuse accidentals of the faith with
its essentials. Many young orthodox Catholics are sensitive to this problem,
but many others spend so much time with like-minded friends that they fail
to realize how others perceive them. If they do not guard against that
tendency toward rigidity, they could render their orthodox revolution
Young evangelicals, on the other hand, have exactly
the opposite problem: Instead of isolating themselves from the greater
culture, they are sometimes "tripping over themselves to prove how relevant,
culturally engaged, and non-judgmental they are." Carroll argues
convincingly that prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments are the solution to
Overall, The New Faithful is a hopeful book. The
conversion stories Carroll has collected give us reason to believe that the
Church may be quietly gaining ground on at least one front. The people
Carroll introduces us to are the kind of people we want to know are around
and with us as the Church in America enters the 21st century.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is executive editor of National
Review Online (www.nationalreview.com) and an associate editor of
ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome
Generation X and the Turn to Christian Orthodoxy: Journalist Colleen Carroll on a Surprising Trend
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The
growth of evangelical "mega-churches" has long been a focus of media
Much less noted has been the embrace of traditional
Christianity by Generation X and the rejection of the religious and cultural
values of that generation's parents, the baby boomers.
A Gen-X journalist, Colleen Carroll, set about to
document this trend. The result was a highly acclaimed book, "The New
Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy" (Loyola
Carroll described the phenomenon of "the new faithful"
in an interview with ZENIT.
Q: How did you ever launch upon this project of
finding out about "the new faithful"?
Carroll: I first saw signs of the trend toward
orthodoxy in the mid-1990s, when I was a student at Marquette University.
The students there were not necessarily of the "new faithful" mold, but they
also defied the "cynical slacker" stereotype of Generation X. Many had an
almost visceral attraction to God, the Church, and self-sacrifice.
Later, as a young newspaper journalist, I continued to
see a disparity between media portrayals of my generation and the young
adults that I saw all around me. Not all young adults are attracted to
orthodoxy, but a growing number are seeking truth and embracing a demanding
practice of their faith.
Their stories were not being told in the mainstream
media, and many religion experts seemed to be tone deaf to their voices. So,
with the help of a grant from the Phillips Foundation and a book contract
from Loyola Press, I set out to explore this trend and tell their stories.
Q: Is this "new faithful" phenomenon a part of the new
springtime in the Church?
Carroll: Yes, I believe the new faithful are at the
heart of the Church's new springtime and are a driving force behind the new
evangelization. I interviewed a mix of young Catholics, Protestants and
Orthodox Christians for "The New Faithful."
The Catholics I interviewed certainly stand at the
forefront of renewal in the Catholic Church. They are committed to spreading
the Gospel -- a commitment instilled in many of them by their hero, Pope
John Paul II.
Q: Who are the new faithful? Did they have any
previous religious background?
Carroll: As I mentioned earlier, the New faithful come
from denominations across the Christian spectrum, though most are Catholics
or evangelicals. They range in age from about 18 to 35. They are united by
firm, personal, life-changing commitments to Jesus Christ.
Their religious backgrounds vary. Many grew up in
secular homes or fallen-away Catholic homes. Many others were raised in
evangelical or mainline Protestant churches or Catholic parishes. Nearly all
of them faced a reckoning in young adulthood that forced them to decide if
they would make following Christ the central concern of their lives or not.
These young adults have chosen to take Christianity
seriously, and have decided that embracing Christian orthodoxy is the way to
do that. Their faith commitments have led them to make countercultural
decisions about everything from who and how they date to which careers they
pursue and which political causes they embrace.
Q: Your title suggests that the new faithful are
embracing Christian orthodoxy. Does that mean Catholicism?
Carroll: The orthodoxy embraced by "The New Faithful"
is a small "o" orthodoxy that encompasses more than one denomination. Many,
many Catholics have embraced an orthodox practice of their faith, and my
book focuses a great deal of attention on them. But this trend crosses
To draw boundaries for this book, I borrowed a
definition from G.K. Chesterton, who said orthodoxy means "the Apostles'
Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very
short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a
creed." Or, as one young man told me, "orthodoxy means you can say the
Apostles' Creed without crossing your fingers behind your back."
Q: Are the new faithful receiving good catechesis?
From where are they receiving such teaching?
Carroll: Yes and no. Most of the New faithful,
particularly the Catholics in this group, did not receive good catechesis as
children. Many were raised by parents who did not know or teach the faith.
Many others attended Catholic schools and parishes where they learned "God
is love" -- and little else.
These twenty- and thirty-something Catholics grew up
in the years after Vatican II, when the American Church was still struggling
to make sense of the changes. They suffered the effects of a religious
education crisis, and many never learned even the most elementary Christian
The good news: Many young adults have taken it upon
themselves to learn the faith and study Church teaching, by forming parish
groups to study Scripture, the Catechism, or the teachings of the Holy
Father. And many have benefited from the new boom in Catholic apologetics
materials and the rise of such popular apologists as Scott Hahn.
The Catholic apologetics craze -- driven in large part
by the catechetical demands of this generation -- reflects the deep and
widespread hunger for truth among today's young Catholics.
Q: What aspects of Catholicism did the new faithful
feel drawn to? Why have they chosen the Church or Christian orthodoxy rather
than the New Age spiritualities the Church recently addressed?
Carroll: The New faithful Catholics are drawn to
precisely those aspects of Catholicism that repelled many of their baby
boomer elders. They love Church tradition and history. They relish devotions
like the rosary, and they line up for confession in droves. They are
committed to eucharistic adoration and evangelization. And they love the
Pope -- not simply because they admire his personality, but because they
admire his commitment to defending the truth in season and out of season.
These young Catholics grew up in a society saturated
with moral relativism and dominated by the idea that they should "do
whatever feels good." They see orthodoxy as a fresh alternative to those
values, an oasis of truth and stability in a world gone mad.
While many of their elders criticize Church teaching
as rigid or retrograde, these young adults love the Church's time-honored
teachings and countercultural stands. To them, it is New Age spirituality --
not orthodox Catholicism -- that's empty, boring, and yesterday's news.
Q: What factors within the culture and the larger
society do you think gave rise to the new faithful?
Carroll: The rise of the new faithful is partly the
result of a pendulum swing. Many of these young adults are the sons and
daughters of the hippies, children of the flower children. These young
adults think that authority and tradition make more sense than free love and
Many suffered ill consequences from baby boomer
experimentation in morality and religion, and they want their own children
to experience a more stable life. They crave stability for themselves, as
well. But sociology only gets us so far in this analysis. In the end, each
of these young adults tells a story far richer, and far more complex, than
the story of the pendulum swing.
I met doctors, lawyers, Hollywood writers, and
cloistered nuns who told me amazing conversion stories, stories of faith and
hope and a love that reached out and grabbed them when they least expected
to find God.
For a Christian, the only way to understand those
stories is to take these young adults at their word, and judge God by his
works, and see this as the amazing grace of the Holy Spirit being poured out
on a generation once considered lost.
Q: Do you have any sociological data to back up your
findings? How widespread is this phenomenon of the new faithful and why is
it largely found among young, educated, professional people?
Carroll: The book overflows with statistics -- from
the Gallup poll that shows a growing number of teen-agers identifying
themselves as "religious" instead of "spiritual but not religious," to the
UCLA freshmen poll that shows approval for abortion and casual sex dropping
year after year. This trend has not swept over the entire generation, of
The new faithful still constitute a fairly modest
segment of the population. But their influence extends well beyond their
numbers because so many of these new faithful are educated professionals
with a disproportionate amount of cultural influence.
They are rising stars in politics, the arts, the
entertainment industry, in medicine and law and journalism. They are the
sort of bright, culturally engaged young adults that their peers tend to
follow. And they are uniting -- across denominational lines, in many cases
-- to bring the Gospel to every realm of American life that they touch.
Q: Do you see this phenomenon continuing for the
Carroll: This phenomenon is on the rise, and for the
reasons mentioned above, it has considerable room to grow and serious
As this movement grows, the new faithful will be
tempted to fall into extremes of either isolation from the culture or
capitulation to it. Both extremes could undermine this movement and hamper
the spread of the Gospel by these believers. Those who want to be "salt and
light" in the world will have to keep those dangers in mind, and strive to
be "in the world, but not of the world."
Q: How has the secular media responded to your
findings? Has your book received much attention outside of Christian media?
Carroll: The secular media has given this book a good
deal of attention, which has been gratifying. "The New Faithful" has been
featured in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Washington Post,
National Review, PBS, Canada's National Post, and dozens of other regional
newspapers and secular radio outlets.
Many secular journalists still struggle to understand
this trend: It's counterintuitive for those who assume religion is on the
wane and orthodoxy is on life support.
But to their credit, a fair number of baby boomer
journalists in the secular media have been willing to consider that the
excesses of their generation may have made today's young adults reluctant to
follow in their footsteps, and attracted those young adults to orthodoxy.
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