Jesus take the wheel, why millennials are leaving religion

by Ashley Stevenson

According to pewforum.com, only 50 percent of Millennial ages 18-29 are certain they believe in God. The number of Millennials actively practicing religion continues to decline rapidly with the onset of new beliefs, enlightening and acceptance of other ways of life. Some are simply no longer religiously affiliated and have chosen to live life without the traditional concept of “God” and the “Church.” However, with the downward spiral of religion there has been an upswing of spirituality. We interviewed a group of Millennials, single and married, who are religious, formerly religious, spiritual, agnostic and atheist for their take on the great divide between our generation and religion.  

 

Religion Versus Spirituality

Religion is an organized set of beliefs usually associated with a community or group of people who share the same practices. Whereas Spirituality is described as an individual practice that is about a personal journey of peace, purpose and morality. Although Millennials are not claiming to follow religion, the sense of morality has remained through their spirituality. Shelby (29), advised that she was “spiritual but Christian by default.” After explaining that she was raised Christian but does not fully agree with their ideals, she noted that she believes religion divides humanity versus uniting us. This was a common theme amongst the Millennials who identify as spiritual. In solidarity, they acquiesce that religion is great for establishing some morals but in a greater scheme do not promote togetherness but a hierarchy over its followers. In contrary, John (31) and Jen (29), who are practicing Christian and Catholic, disagree that religion separates them from others but instead provides them with a sense of belonging and family.

Church Hurt Versus Healing

Naturally, with the drop in Millennial religious affiliation, there is also a drop in their attendance at religious services. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2009 religious members attended worship services regularly with a 47-52 percent rate, and in 2020 those numbers have reversed, and religious church membership is lower than that of generations past. Seventy-five percent of the interviewed Millennials who are no longer religiously affiliated admit that their decision to turn away from their religion was influenced by a disagreement or non-shared belief amongst their core religious group. Sonya, who was raised heavily religious in the Church of Christ and now calls herself a “heathen” (a humorous nod, derived from the Bible to describe those who do not follow Christian beliefs) described her qualms with her childhood church. “They say they are not a denomination but don’t believe anyone outside of the church will get into heaven… Women aren’t allowed to participate in preaching, leading songs, or leading the congregation in prayer during worship.”  Sam, who was baptized Catholic and now describes herself as agnostic and leaning toward atheism, shared her experiences with conventional Christianity in her family when her gay uncle was told to be “burning in hell” for his sexuality even though he was the “nicest person ever.” Among Millennials were tales of religious leadership and members who have left them scarred or traumatized by their affiliation to the organization. “Traditional religious beliefs (such as Christianity) teach forgiveness, its certain things that should never happen that would even require forgiveness and only stem to benefit the leaders.” Although some were deterred, each experience did not prove grave enough for some to fully denounce the religion. “Church plays a very important role in the spirituality process for me,” said Dom, in reference to his Christianity. “The Bible says where two or three are gathered togetherGod is in the midst; it is a place for us to come together for praise and worship.” Lee, who is also a Christian advised that although Church was once a tool to hold her accountable, says Church helps her better understand the word of God and emphasizes the necessity of church leaders who teach their members how to be better Christians and people overall.

Skin and the Concept of “Salvation”

While a great portion of the Millennials noted a form of disdain with traditional religious practices, others highlighted that their fall-away was simply a resolve that religion was a construct instituted to promote racism. “I can’t get with white Jesus being the savior of all mankind.”  Many Black Millennials feel as though religion is in direct opposition of their pride in their race. Often referencing how it was used to manipulate enslaved people and that it does not encourage the success of Black people, rather encourages the torment for the greater good of all.  As a result, some Millennials have turned to more ritualistic spirituality that they feel honors their heritage and ancestry.  

Love and Marriage

Today, 74 percent of unaffiliated Millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse, while only 26 percent have a partner who is religious.” (fivethirtyeight.com) Attributed to the incline of online dating and overall amount of secular romantic partners, it has become increasingly accepted to not share religious beliefs in romantic relationships and, in turn, adds to the sway in religious affiliation either way. Sonya (former member of the Church of Christ) is married to a Catholic man, who she admits will occasionally attend confessional but is not “militant” about it all. Despite differences, post baby-boomer generations have shown less tendency to divorce, with the divorce rate dropping 18 percent in the last 10 years.

Regardless of race, religious belief or the lack thereof, the group of Millennial interviewees all encouraged others to explore their desires and religious needs for themselves opposed to sticking to tradition through conditioning, trauma or through manipulation. Through this collective of experiences and research, it is not fully apparent if Millennials will return to religion, however through religion and spirituality, the goal is to seek out a higher purpose or humanity beyond what is tangible. God and faith have become synonymous with hope and positive intrinsic value as opposed to clear cut affiliations.  Some are devout and others are not quite sure what they believe, the ideology of divinity has transitioned from concrete to a concept that Millennials will not have defined for them. They have chosen either way who they will serve rather it be self or a savior, whatever best suits their soul and psyche.

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