It’s the last three weeks of December and Christmas, at least in America, is unavoidable. Everywhere you look there are lights, parties, gifts, shopping, music and wishes for a Merry Christmas. For Millennials, it appears, Christmas is a time of introspection, as there have been several articles and blog posts lately about the difficulty of making religious choices.
The concept of religion as a personal choice is a generational shift. My generation did not think of religious belief as a choice. You were Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian or Baptist, just like your parents. But young people today take a more conscious approach to faith. As my 15-year old son put it, “If I were born in a Hindu family, I’d be Hindu”. The implication being that religion should be a considered choice, not something that happens by ‘luck of the draw’. Adam DiSefano writes today, in The Next Great Generation blog, that for Millennials, it’s hard to know ‘how to choose the correct religion’:
“Nearly every major religion preaches that it is the one true religion. If there’s only one true religion, what happens to all the people who don’t subscribe to it? Do they rot in hell just because they chose the wrong religion? I was baptized Roman Catholic. I went to Church and Sunday School most weeks until I was eight. I was Roman Catholic because that was all I knew. There was no other choice. In the sixth grade, I had a class that aimed to teach us about morality and religions from around the world. One day, the teacher said something that stuck with me: “Religion is a choice. You can choose your religion….It used to be that if your parents were Catholic, you were Catholic, end of story. Religion had a captive audience. Now, we have a choice. We’re shopping around for the best religion, and you know what? We can’t pick a winner. We’re paralyzed by choice, and so, we decide that maybe we don’t need organized religion after all.”
No choice appears to be the choice of a large number of Millennials. According to research by Lifeway.com, “70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.” Paul Eulette wrote in October for his blog, “QuarterLifeMagazine” that when young adults reach college, “the support of the “family atmosphere” is gone and now young adults of Generation Y are having to realize the need to make these decisions for themselves for the very first time.”
Young adulthood today seems to be a time of auditioning different beliefs. Adam reports that he is still in the process of deciding what he believes:
“Today, I don’t consider myself a Catholic. I meditate and have dabbled in Yoga, but hesitate to call myself a Buddhist. After all, I don’t believe in reincarnation. I have issues with organized religion in general, but still consider myself a spiritual person. I do good in a way that’s consistent with my own values, as they’ve been defined by my parents, my friends, social norms and my personal experiences. But as for a label, I haven’t chosen one yet.”
In this respect, as in so many others, Millennnials appear to be on the vanguard of a trend.
New research released today by Pew shows most Americans are embracing ‘multiple faiths’, with beliefs that do not ‘ fit conventional categories’. Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) say they attend religious services at least a few times a year, including 38% who say they attend at least once a week. Among those who attend religious services at least once a week, nearly four-in-ten (39%) say they attend at multiple places and nearly three-in-ten (28%) go to services outside their own faith. In other words, most church going americans are a lot like Adam DiStefano — they like to mix it up and avoid a ‘label.’ A surprisingly high number of Americans, say they believe in reincarnation, ghosts and fortune tellers. Three fourths say they communicate with the dead.
“Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology.
Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.
Twenty-three percent (23%) believe in yoga not just as exercise but as a spiritual practice. Similar numbers profess belief in elements of New Age spirituality, with 26% saying they believe in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees or crystals, and 25% professing belief in astrology (that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives).
Fewer people (16%) believe in the “evil eye” or that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.”
The desire to avoid a label and celebrate diversity is characteristic of Gen Y. What I find especially fascinating is how this characteristic appears to be migrating into other age groups. The trend toward embracing broader spiritual views appears to be well underway. Half of Americans (49%) say they have had “a religious or mystical experience – that is, a moment of religious or spiritual awakening.” According to Pew, this represents a sharp increase over the past four decades. In 1962, only 22% of Americans reported having had such an experience, which grew to about a third in 1976 (31%) and 1994 (33%). This seems to at least partly explain the current fascination in angels, demons, vampires, and other supernatural beings.
Will Millennials continue to forge a more individualistic spiritual path? Or return to a more conventional approach as they age? What do you think?