Divine Butler, Cosmic Therapist, Distant Uncle

I’m in Clearwater Beach attending the Catholic Campus Ministry Association National Convention, where I will give a workshop tomorrow on Ministering to the Graduate Professional Student. Last night was the opening keynote speech and it was given by Carolyn Woo, CEO and President of Catholic Relief Services.

She began her talk by talking about her own story: her immigration to the US from Hong Kong in order to attend college at Purdue. What she found at the St. Thomas Aquinas Center at Purdue was hospitality, grace, and welcome. A community of people who cared for and supported her. She observed that because she was so well cared for, it was natural for her to want to give back, to step up and work on behalf of others.

With respect to ministering to young people, she noted that before we can encourage young people to live their lives for God, we need to understand who is the God they understand. She discussed some statistics from studies of teenagers today. From them, she concluded that many young people see God as something akin to a combination of a divine butler, a cosmic therapist, and a good distant uncle. God is there for them but doesn’t really demand anything from them. God is not particularly involved in their lives unless they have a problem. God wants them to be happy and the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about themselves. She also talked about how many college students today lack basic catechesis.

I don’t know enough about the underlying statistics to know if Woo’s description is an accurate one. But one cannot give one’s life to God without having a meaningful sense of who God is.

Woo’s comments have implications for those involved in faith formation of college studnets (and the young adults they grow into). We need to understand where they are in order to help them grow.

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One thought on “Divine Butler, Cosmic Therapist, Distant Uncle

  1. If you haven’t read it, check out Christian Smith’s excellent book, “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” (2005). It coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” (i.e. butler, therapist, distant uncle) and offers a book-length exploration of the phenomenon.

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