“I don’t find any comfort in religion,” said Christian Guzman, an Associate of Arts major at Lorain County Community College. “It doesn’t provide me with any kind of meaning in my life.” Aaron Patton, also an Associate of Arts major, echoed Guzman’s statement. “Religion just doesn’t appeal to me,” Patton said.
These student’s feelings about religion reflect a national trend among younger Americans. The number of “nones”, people who have no religious affiliation, has been continually increasing in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2007, about 16.1 percent of Americans were not affiliated with any religion; that number rose to 22.8 percent in 2014.
The decrease in religious affiliation throughout the population is largely due to the millennial generation; people born from 1981 to 1996.Millennials are less likely to attend church services, pray regularly, and have a belief in God when compared to previous generations, according to the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, conducted by the Pew Research Center. Roughly 34 percent of older millennials (born 1981-1989) and 36 percent of younger millennials (born 1990-1996) claimed to be religiously unaffiliated. Furthermore, 75 percent of high school seniors say that religion is “not important at all” to them, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.
What it means to be religious, however, does not necessarily mean joining an organized religion or a church, according to Dr. Young Woon Ko, associate professor of religious studies at Lorain County Community College.
“Religion means, originally, rejoining your life to the spiritual or the sacred, so I would say the paradigm of faith has been changing,” Ko said. “It does not mean being involved in organized religion.”
As it may be true that one does not have to be involved in any organized religion to be religious, there is little doubt that religious institutions have played a major role in shaping and defining what it means to be religious for many people in the United States.
Thus, the declining interest in religion could partly be attributed to the teachings of religious institutions. Many places of worship have ancient texts that serve as the basis for their religious beliefs, writings that would seem to not have much relevance in a modern, secular world living in an age of technology.
“The stories, the religious scriptures, reflect their time period,” said Ko. “I don’t think it’s effective for religions to emphasize literal interpretation of the scriptures because times are changing. But it doesn’t mean that we need to deny all of the scriptures, we just need to re-interpret them,” he continued. “I think that’s one of the reasons why people are less religious.”
Regarding the fact of a changing world, the acceptance of homosexuality is perhaps one of the most notable changes in present times. Homosexuality and gay marriage are widely accepted by millennials; with 73 percent strongly supporting marriage equality, according to the Boston Globe. Although there are many religious institutions becoming more tolerant and acceptable of homosexuals, the “religious right” (right-wing Christian political factions) still has persistent clout in U.S. politics that is firmly opposed to gay rights; potentially pushing people away due to their staunch opposition.
Pastor Cal Searles of Abbe Road Baptist Church in Elyria, believes that the fact we live in an age of technology must play a role in millennials lack of interest in religion.
“Many times in the Bible, warnings are given about worshipping stuff, loving stuff, being preoccupied with stuff. With a growing number of very captivating things to do or entertain ourselves, many young people have lost a desire for a relationship with their Creator,” “ Their hearts have been ‘won over’ by gadgets, events, toys and stuff,” said Searles. “The older generation often does not present a very attractive role-model of true Christianity. Thus, younger folks are turned off.”
While there may be no definite answer as to why millennials are not as religious as previous generations, troubling events in recent history could provide some insight. Millennials have witnessed some disturbing experiences with organized religion. This generation grew up during a time in the United States where religion was involved in horrifying events. Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 killing nearly 3,000 people; the most catastrophic terrorist attack ever in American history. Just a year later, the revelation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of its priests sexually abusing children was exposed; a scandal that has greatly diminished the integrity of the church. These events may have left a bad taste in the collective mouths of many millennials, leaving them with a sour view of religion.