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Nov 22 2011

Young people becoming less religious

The evidence that religion is losing the battle of ideas keeps coming in from all sides. A new Pew survey compares the attitudes of the various generational age cohorts that it identifies by the years in which they were born and labels as the Greatest (before 1926), the Silents (1927-1944), the Baby Boomers (1945-1964), the Gen Xers (1965-1979), and the Millennials (1980-1992), and finds that:

Younger generations also are significantly less likely than older ones to affiliate with a religious tradition. This pattern began in the 1970s when 13% of Baby Boomers were unaffiliated with any particular religion, according to the General Social Survey. That compared with just 6% among the Silent generation and 3% among the Greatest generation.

In the most recent General Social Survey, 26% of Millennial generation respondents said they were unaffiliated, as did 21% of Gen Xers. Among Baby Boomers, 15% were unaffiliated – not significantly different from when they were first measured in the 1970s. And just 10% of the Silent Generation said that they were unaffiliated.

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The report goes on to say that “Fewer than half of Millennials (46%) say religious faith and values have been very important in America’s success. This compares with 64% of Xers, 69% of Boomers and 78% of Silents.”

Meanwhile the Barna group, an outfit that regularly conducts religious surveys, finds six reasons “why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

  1. Churches seem overprotective

  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

I found items #3 and #6 particularly interesting. On item #3, the report found:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

As regards item #6, the report said:

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).

It should be clear that this survey looked at disengagement from church life, not necessarily from belief in god. But once people get disengaged from the groupthink of their churches that gives them the illusion that believing in fantasies is reasonable since everyone around them believes in the same fantasies, many of them will shift to unbelief.

What this survey reinforces is what I have been saying for some time, that the forces of modernity are in opposition to those of religion. Religion is backward looking and opposed to the growth of knowledge in general, science in particular, and to increasingly liberal attitudes towards sexuality. Modernity is an unstoppable force and religion cannot hold it back.

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