Faith and Doubt in High Schoolers

Hi there. As has been shown by me in the past, I am a high school teacher who deals with students struggling with their faith.

Does anyone know of any resources (other than standard apologetic texts) that address this issue? I am considering doing some research on this topic, but need to do some additional reading.

Specifically, I am looking for resources that not only address how to challenge the doubts, but also resources that examine the origins of the doubt, prevalence, recovery rate, and so on.

I wonder how many are doubting the faith for doctrinal reason and how many have doubts because the faith conflicts with their sinfulness?

IMHO, only the ones who have been confronted by non-Catholics are doubting doctrines. I think the majority want to deny the faith so they won’t have a guilty conscience. That was true in my case. Eventually, the Lord’s two-by-four smacked some sense into me and I came back. I wish my high school teachers had taught me proofs for the existence of God and for Jesus’ divinity. I got a lot of “because the church says so” explanations, when I wish I had been told the reasons why faith is logical and not in conflict with reason.

I found a web site today that would have some helpful stuff.
I think it has a bit of a Protestant slant (ie, in one place it says, “baptism must be delayed until an age of reason” and I don’t agree with the page on Papal infallibility.) But otherwise, it has some good stuff. I wouldn’t give out the web site address to teens for this reason.

The best books I’ve read for doubters are:
The Case for Christ
The Case for Faith
The Case for a Creator.
All are by Lee Strobel. He is Protestant, but pretty not too anti-Catholic.
They are all enjoyable to read. I wish Catholic schools would ditch Lord of the Flies and make teens read these books instead. It would be like a vaccination for the college years ahead.

You can be confronted by non-Catholic thought in a Catholic school so I wouldn’t necessarily assume the later is the usual case. I had doubts in junior high, but it wasn’t until we studied “Comparitive Religion” in Junior year of high school that the lid really blew off and I lost my faith. I wish I could offer a suggestion on how to deal with this, but I really don’t have one that I think would have worked on me as a teen. I was given books to read, I was given arguments for the existence of God, etc. etc. but it just made it worse. It wasn’t until I encountered 12-Step groups and the whole premise of “Acting as If” and “Choosing to Believe”, but that didn’t happen until my late 20s and I was in my 30s before it sunk in. What can I say? I’m a slow learner. But it all clicked into place for me with Aquinas:

“Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through Grace” - St. Thomas Aquinas

Helpful? Probably not, but if I knew how to cross-stitch, I’d so have this quote framed already.

Maybe it would be helpful though to ask them if they are willing to pray through the doubt, to act “as if” they believe even though they ensure. Ultimately, prayer itself is the best doorway to and guardian of faith.

Maybe finding a way to show them how faith in God can benefit them. Especially how it will benefit them now - most teens don’t really grasp the concept of themselves dying, so the rewards in the afterlife aren’t very real to them.

I don’t really have any suggestions right this moment on how to do that, so I’m not sure how helpful the suggestion is though. :stuck_out_tongue:

but it wasn’t until we studied “Comparitive Religion” in Junior year of high school that the lid really blew off and I lost my faith.

Yeah. I have some control over curriculum in this school, and I use that control to (so far) keep comparative religions out of the course of study, for that very reason. Too perilous a challenge to adolescent minds.

You are not alone in that struggle. I went through the same thing from about age 16 to roughly 21. . .and I am coming to view this period of doubt in high schoolers as common. . .perhaps even healthy in a way, but that requires more thought and reflection on my part before I will come right out and insist that it is healthy.

Hence my question about its prevalence.

My suggestion would be things like Case for Christ, it was a very good book, and perhaps mentions/explinations of the apparitions, stigmatisms (sp) and other various miracles, since most are unexplainable outside of faith. I went through a similar thing too-in my history we studied the major world religions, and for the most part I couldn’t see what distinguished my faith from the others. Miracles, on the other hand, are pretty solid truth that helped bring me back.

…do you work in a public school?

One of my “theories” about why teenagers have doubts about their faith is that they haven’t been properly taught the faith. I think that is one of the main reasons The Church in the US and Western Europe is struggling…there’s a lack of proper education.

No. I work in a Catholic school.

I believe the “comparative religion” curriculums in schools are specifically designed to destroy faith.

In the UKs secular schools at least, they are taught on the basis of giving each religion equal value and of comparing and parallelling customs and practice in each religion. You often get materials saying things like Jesus healing is very similar to Krishna or Vishnu, and endless stuff like that. Children can start getting confused and saying Buddha walked on the water and stuff like that!

The whole system is designed by atheists to make belief seem primitive and ridiculous - since all these different religions believe diametrically opposed things.

Maybe it would be helpful though to ask them if they are willing to pray through the doubt, to act “as if” they believe even though they ensure. Ultimately, prayer itself is the best doorway to and guardian of faith.

I also think it would be helpful to counter another arm of the atheist attack on Christianity, which is that it is backward and irrelevant.

For years people have been taught by the media that Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular has been a brake on human advancement. This is totally untrue.

We should show how Catholicism led to:

The spread of learning and the first European Universities
The growth of Art and culture.
The provision of medical care and the first hospitals
The idea there should be care for the sick, poor and dying
The ideals of Human Rights - as in Magna Carta
Development of Architecture and technology, in things like Cathedrals, clockwork, musical notation, musical instruments.
Advances in agriculture.
Many great scientists (Copernicus, Bacon, Mendel) were priests.

We need to make people proud of their catholic heritage again.

I have worked on learning Faith with both young people and adults for about 40 years. I think it is rather common for some young people to rationalize away the Faith because as was mentioned above, it gets in the way of some stuff they want to do. I have also noticed that cradle Catholics between about 25 and 40 often come back as strong as recent converts because of some Religous experience such as a retreat or cursillo. The ones who shy away from such things seem to more or less give lip service to their Catholicism, but show little enthusiasm into old age beyond meeting the minimum requirements. A retreat in High School happens too soon to net many fish. Most of them seem to blow it off unless it is very voluntary to attend. Of course their are exceptions but it is beyond me to understand what drives them. Backgrounds and parents cover the spectrum from very devout to totally indifferent to religion. There is no doubt that good early knowledge of the Faith is a plus when anyone decides to turn around.


I actually am a high school student who is and has doubted my faith constantly. For my entire freshmen year, I completely lost my faith, totally rejected it, and, here’s the best part, hid it so darn well that not a single person ever found out about it. And that right there was what killed me…I was too ashamed that I was doubting that I pretended I wasn’t and never sought help. I was very much, “this is something I’ll figure out on my own…” But because I hid it so no one knew, and if they did they never tried to help, I only got deeper and deeper in doubt…and for about six months, I completely rejected my faith…it wasn’t until the moment that I finally asked for help that things started to get better. And then suddenly I had all these resources and books and prayers to help me along the way…funny thing was that the only thing that EVER helped me was simply having someone to talk to about it.

So here’s my advice…there are books upon books and tapes and prayers and websites and all that stuff…but the best thing, sometimes the only thing, that can help is just for someone to make them sit and and talk with you…for you to be concerned, for you to want to help, for you to be there…that’s all I was lacking. Goodness knows I had the resources, but I never had the support. Kids often think they have to go through these things alone, and that only make it worse…make sure that you drill into them that you are there to listen. God tends to put words into your mouth for Him:)

and i don’t think it matters as much whether you go to a public school or a Catholic school, or whether your friends are or aren’t Catholic…I go to a public high school and all my friends are strong Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic…none of that stuff was what got to me…it’s just the age. It’s the age when you start questioning everything, and suddenly things you never even thought about before need answers…answers you’ve never looked for but answers that you’re desperate to find. All of my friends are or have gone through a serious struggle with their faith since we entered high school…it’s just the age we’re all at. There are definately contributing factors, but this sort of phase is not something that can be avoided regardless of what environment you’re in.

But yeah, just be there…talk to them…that’s all I ever wanted:)

In Him,

I agree. I go to a Catholic high school and one of the best things about it are the religion classes. This year I’m in a scripture class taught by the principal. Whenever anyone in the class has any questions about the Faith, we know that we can ask and receive a good answer. We know that nothing is too stupid to ask. I think our questions are good, it shows that we’re thinking about our faith instead of just accepting things blindly. It’s important to understand, not just know.

I have a cousin who is in her 30’s and also struggling back and forth between belief and agnosticism.

As she started to talk to me what I uncovered was that there were alot of blanks about the faith. Where did the blanks come from? Very shallow catechesis: God is love and love is God. Love and Mercy.

Of course, no discussion of Justice and Sin.

I have purchased for her, Fr. John Hardon’s catechism books and she is glad to have them. She has a PhD in Sociology and spent time studying sexuality too. I suggested she read the ever popular Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II. She was glad to take that too.

If the catechesis was well grounded, then I would say that they are allowing themselves to be swayed by popular culture. Review with them the meaning of the things that Pope Benedict raised in his Pre-Conclave Homily as Cardinal Ratzinger.

Read slowly especially when you get to the “How many winds of doctrine” and succeeding paragraph. Review and define those things with the kids. (see text in next post below - couldn’t link).

I was following many winds in my own way. Cardinal Ratzinger taught me a very valuable thing: One cannot proclaim to be going North all the while bending their compass needle to another direction. This is the heart of relativism. Jesus said the path was narrow and that means that we must fix our eyes on simple Truth which is static or unmoving, rather than on ways that are dynamic and complex. We must peel away the layers of complexity or shades of gray that cloud the simplicity intended by Jesus. That means purging the excuses.

Also, todays kids and adults are accustomed to doing what feels good and is convenient. This is not the way of the cross. Imitating Christ is to share the love, the joy and the passion. It means taking the difficult path more often than the easy one. It means self-denial and self-mastery.

With this self-mastery comes a simple principle - it is in my sig below: Trust in the gift of Holy Spirit without obedience to the gift of the Papacy and the Magisterium is not just a clanging cymbal but a great big gong. Obedience out of knowledge is good, but obedience out of pure trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Papacy and Magisterium is what the Lord expects and treasures the most. We deny ourselves in deference to the Lord’s will.

As Catholics, we must

  1. Know the teaching
  2. Obey the teaching
  3. Understand the teaching

And, in that order. Notice that “understand” comes after obey. The fact that obey is 2nd is because we have to trust that over 2000 years the Holy Spirit has operated and gotten us to this point. To think otherwise is not giving the Holy Spirit due credit. If one does not understand they have an obligation to learn from books, talking to priests or even in the context of confession discuss the issue to seek understanding. “Seek and you shall find”. Also, I have found that when I struggled with a church teaching the Lord has never let me down when I approached him with a humble and obedient heart and asked for understanding. It comes on His terms and time and could be weeks or months later. In the meanwhile, we obey the doctrine.

Tell the kids to imagine a ship with 10 captains each with a different interpretation of orders on where to sail. God knew of this potential for confusion so he gave us the Papacy. If every Catholic interpreted the bible the way that suits their desires, the faithful would be headed in every direction on the compass, while some head North. He made it simple so we wouldn’t have to struggle and that is why the Papacy and Magisterium (or teaching institution) are considered gifts.

This obedience does not limit itself to that which is declared ex-cathedra. Read more here on the subject from the Opus Sanctum Angelorum - Work of the Holy Angels, an ancient order that is strictly loyal to the Vicar of Christ and Magisterium.

Hope this helps. I know this discussion seemed to have helped my cousin and she admitted that she had a real problem with the “all over the map” thing and seems to be clinging to my message to look at Truth that is fixed, not moving. She is also clinging to my message to search for simplicity ever peeling away those layers of complexity. I can give examples but babbled enough for now.

All for the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Couldn’t link the pre-conclave article without you having to hunt for it so here is the relevant text, in part from:

Code: ZE05041922

Date: 2005-04-19

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Homily in Mass Before Conclave

Jesus Christ: "The Measure of True Humanism"

*How many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? The small boat of thought of many Christians has often remained agitated by the waves, tossed from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc.

*Every day new sects are born and we see realized what St. Paul says on the deception of men, on the cunning that tends to lead into error (cf. Ephesians 4:14). To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of “doctrine,” seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims as the ultimate measure. **

And while you are at it, cover the sins against the Holy Spirit: