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Most transitions in religious development are also facilitated by a dissonance that exists between belief and disbelief or between their religious attitudes and behavior. Some would state that this cognitive discomfort represents the perceived contradictions between religious authorities (e.g., church, parents) and disconfirming experiences (e.g., identity confusion) that force the adolescent to introspectively reflect on certain unavoidable tensions. One of the ways of resolving such dissonance is via overt (e.g., at-risk behavior) or covert (e.g., intellectual exploration) rejection of authoritative religious values; this is commonly known as rebellion within most religious communities. The debate continues as to whether such rebellion contributes to religious development or is more characteristic of disengagement from religion. What is known is that the cognitive dissonance involving the tension between the offering of unconstrained spiritual opportunities and those more traditional attempts at religious development (e.g., church, parochial schooling) becomes palatable for the adolescent.
One factor contributing to the resolution of this dissonance (and the concomitant rebellion) may be the response from those within the adolescent's social and interpersonal milieu. Whether such dissonance is viewed as "backsliding" or as potentially growth producing is significantly informed by the perceived support (or lack thereof) of the adolescent's social environment (e.g., church, family, peers). In many cases, if significant others approach such questioning with overtures of support and encouragement, the adolescent is more likely to complete this reconsolidation and internalization of his or her religiosity or spirituality. This resonates well with the notion that one's capacity for mature relationships with others is a predictor of one's capacity for a mature relationship with God, which is a core component of spiritual development. Alternatively, for young theologians who are forced to comply with a faith that is not their own, the result is likely to be either a foreclosed and defensive faith or outright rejection of religious faith or spirituality.
SEEKING SELF, SEEKING GOD
The dissonance, doubt, and decision making that permeate many an adolescent theologian's experience take place within the larger domain of identity formation. Developmental psychology has taught us that if we gain nothing else from adolescence, we must obtain a coherent sense of self-identity that will assist us in successfully navigating future life stages. Although most would endorse the importance of identity formation, and despite the presence of religion as one of the stated ideological components of identity development, there are relatively few published empirical studies on the religious correlates of identity. Those that do explore such terrain find predictable results; adolescents who find themselves in psychological spaces where identity exploration is either discouraged or undervalued are often also uncommitted or extrinsic in their religious orientation, while those who are actively exploring or have achieved a reliable identity status (e.g., have both explored and committed to an identity) are also associated with intrinsic, personally invested religious orientations.
Although the directionality of the identity- religiosity association is not elucidated by research to date, it is clear that those adolescents who have intentionally sought answers to two important questions, "Who am I?" and "Who is God?" seem to come to favorable conclusions in both regards. It may be that the doubt and dissonance associated with the search for self and God culminates in an experience of fidelity (a resolving virtue of identity development) and intimacy that can only be found when the young theologian devotes him or herself fully to both inquiries. Indeed, research indicates that adolescents who actively engage in activities (e.g., youth service programs) sponsored by faith-based institutions are likely to increase their integrated moral and civic identities in addition to that of transcendent or spiritual sensibility. Thus, it matters little whether the adolescent theologian seeks God and finds self or seeks self and finds God. More importantly, adolescents are capable of extraordinary commitment to the complementary processes of testing the consistency and meaningfulness of their beliefs about self and about God, criteria that designate them most appropriately as adolescent theologians.