Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

How to Get Catholic Teens to Read the Bible, Step One: Make It Worth Reading


I’ve blogged before on the new sociological research about teen spirituality, the main crux of it being that many Protestant and Catholic teens have very little idea what they believe. According to research by Kenda Creasy Dean and Christian Smith, Catholic teens consistently rank the lowest in their knowledge of the Bible and core doctrines of their faith. According to Donna Freitas‘s study Sex and the Soul, they also rank lowest in their ability to integrate their religion’s teaching with their behavior, especially in terms of sexual ethics.


I’m not ragging on Catholics here; as you may already know I have major Catholic Envy. (I need Saint Jude in my life, stat.) But it’s pretty clear that Catholics need to do a better job at imparting the faith to the rising generation–a value that has fallen by the wayside since Vatican II.

This is why catechism teachers and parents should check out HarperOne’s new Bible for Catholic teens, LIVE. There’s a lot to praise about this new BIble. It’s creative, with just about every two-page spread featuring some helpful graphic: a text box, a photograph (often taken by a teen), a relevant quotation, a blank space for doodling or journaling, or a “profile of faith” about a saint or person from history. Sometimes these whiz-bang extras don’t always relate to the Bible’s content very well (such as an anti-war quote from Albert Schweitzer on the same page as 1 Maccabees’ description of the invasion of Syria), but they’re good for getting teens to think.


What was refreshing about this teen Bible is that it doesn’t have that feel of trying too hard, of aching to squeeze neat little morals for teens about the great how-to advice they’ll glean from the Bible. Yes, there are awkward places–like when the Book of Revelation is described as being about “The Ultimate Party!”–but in general, the LIVE Bible allows for honest reactions from teens about what they’re reading. “All things work together for good? Really?” is the text box about Romans 8:28. Good question. I’ve argued before that some Bibles for teens are condescending–or even morally suspect in their commercialism and celebrity worship–but the LIVE Bible is a cut above, with substance and honesty.   

The type is small enough that the paperback Bible is a bargain at $26, though no one over 40 will be able to read it. Which is precisely the point. This is not a Bible for geezers. This means that I’m happy to give away my copy of this Bible to the first Catholic teen who posts a comment here about his or her favorite part of the Bible.   

  • Allie

    I’m 23 and Catholic on the off chance you don’t get any teens. 😛 But I wanted to say that I think the link to the new Bible is broken.
    Anyway, thanks for posting about this. I’m a recent convert, and have been working through the Bible (second time, but first time with the Catholic books included). I’m using the Douay-Rheims, with all its old language and whatnot. There are times that I appreciate it, but what I really like are all the footnotes that the Douay-Rheims version has to explain it when I don’t. Parts of it can definitely seem like a chore though, and if I had tried to do this when I was teen, I don’t think it would’ve fared well. So, great find!

  • justamom

    I have to say that this is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. I was a youth group leader for years and believe me the kids who wanted to learn more did. They see all this latest crap just for that – crap! You can’t wrap up everything in a shiny slick package just to get the youth interested in stuff let alone religion or the Bible. They think it is completely demeaning to have all these gimmicks for teens and I completely agree with them.

  • kenneth

    As a former Catholic, I can tell you that part of the reason behind the relative ignorance of scripture and their own religion lies in the fact that Catholicism is more of a cultural identity than a faith. You’re indoctrinated and confirmed at a very early age, and there is usually never any real, informed decision of whether to join or not. You’re made Catholic because your parents, and probably everyone in your ethnic extraction was. For most of its history, Biblical literacy was not only not emphasized, it was actively restricted to the priesthood and scholars. The first guy to publish an English translation got himself burned at the stake for his troubles.
    If they really wanted to get kids “down” with the Bible, they’d let Hollywood have a crack at it. Tarentino could do the Old Testament, and the Coen Brothers the New Testament!

  • Reader

    The recent Pew survey had a couple of interesting observations:
    “A majority of Protestants… couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation… Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.
    Atheists and agnostics… were more likely to answer the survey’s questions correctly. Jews and Mormons ranked just below them in the survey’s measurement of religious knowledge — so close as to be statistically tied.
    …he found it significant that Mormons, who are not considered Christians by many fundamentalists, showed greater knowledge of the Bible than evangelical Christians.”

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