There are many polarizing issues that divide the American public today. There are those who wear white after Labor Day and those who view it as a major faux pas; those who want to “Make America Great Again” and those who chant “I’m with Her;” likewise come Sunday morning, some can be found sitting pew-side in their Sunday best while others sleep in. While some of these sleepers may simply prefer to practice their faith in the later hours, many others represent a numerable portion of the American population that feels unsatisfied with the offerings and askings of organized religion. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, it is increasingly evident that the values of major religions are not compatible with the personal values of many Millennials.
Of the hundreds of thousands that flocked to the Vatican last week to witness the canonization of Mother Teresa, how many were between the ages of 19 and 35? Very few, suggests a recent Pew Research study. The study found that “only about half of millennials (adults who were born between 1981 and 1996) say they believe in God with absolute certainty.” The report went on to say, “only about four-in-ten millennials say religion is very important in their lives,” a figure significantly lower than that found for Baby Boomers or Gen Xers.
In an article for the Huffington Post, Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University’s Psychology Department attributes the generational shift toward secularization to a growing emphasis on individualism in American culture. She defined individualism as "a cultural system that places more emphasis on the self and less on social rules,” and found that religious involvement tended to be low when individualism was high. Twenge explains the relationship saying, "Individualism can conflict with religion, especially as religion usually involves following certain rules and being part of a group."
Do such studies suggest that millennials are more selfish? Possibly. Does this mean that religion is the answer to the issues of selfishness in today’s society? Not necessarily.
Some religions have proven to be great adversaries to popular Millennial causes such as feminism, one of Millennials’ most impassioned fights. In 2014, when asked what the biggest problem with feminism is today, major feminist leader Gloria Steinem answered that after anti-feminism and income disparity, it was religion.
Many churches, synagogues, and mosques have been the among the biggest critics of feminist organizations like Planned Parenthood and The National Organization for Women, mostly regarding women's reproductive rights. Where many see a fight that ended in 1973 with Roe vs. Wade, others, claiming a straighter moral compass, see a grave error in judgment.
Boston College sophomore and theology minor Mary Pat Ross weighed in on the religious debate: “I think Millennials are marked by a new wave of individualism,” she said. “Our generation is more inclined to think about things in their [sic] own way and enjoy the freedom of coming to our own conclusions, which is why we’re seeing a decline in religious participation," she explained. Mary also noted that she believed the degree of religiosity seen among BC student is "not reflective of the Millennial attitude toward religion.”
For thousands of years, religion has been a source of light. It has provided purpose to the hopeless, inspiration to the poor of spirit, and a home for those who are lost. But that light appears to be dwindling in the face of iPhone glows and laptop glares. The Millennial generation, my generation, has found alternative ways to gain hope, lift spirits, and feel at home, ways which are perhaps more compatible with today's culture than traditional organized religion.