Thursday, June 7, 2012

Younger Generation Moving Away From God

The religious view of afterlife
Last night, I went to a nearby supermarket and ended up overhearing a sermon by an older, heavy-set woman who was counseling a thin, gray-bearded man in the area reserved for smokers. 

The woman was seated while the man stood near her, and she was repeatedly telling him that God cared about him and would take care of him.  I’m not sure why evangelicals feel the need to repeat themselves, but they invariably do.  I think they are convinced that a statement will somehow become true with enough repetition.

One look at the man would have assured anyone that, to date, God hadn’t taken been doing a good job of maintenance. The man was dressed in ill-fitting clothes and obviously had some health problems.  He coughed repeatedly, and his back was bent.  Once or twice, he seemed ready to collapse.  His knees buckled, but then he straightened.  I don’t think he was planning to pray.

God loves you.  God wants to hear from you, the woman kept telling him.

It’s a message that didn’t seem to be getting through, and not just in front of a supermarket.  A recent survey of young people -- born after 1981 and labeled Millennials by pundits -- found that belief in God has fallen 15 percent since 2007.

The study by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs also found that more than half of all Millennials have walked away from their childhood faith. 

At the same time, these same young people have turned away from censoring books with “dangerous” ideas.  Some five years ago, 46 percent of them called for such books to be removed from school libraries.  In this study, only 18 percent felt that way.

Religious teachings are obviously dissolving, like Dorothy’s hydrophobic witch.

What’s happening?

Actual images captured by a space telescope
For the most part, the answer is knowledge. Young people today have access to more information than any other generation.  It’s easily accessible and unlimited in scope.  A student interested in space, for example, can visit a NASA site for the latest pictures of outer space. Reports by leading astronomers are on the web; so are essays by Nobel Prize-winning scientists who help put the newest findings in context.

The same is true for any topic.

As a result, young people are finding their beliefs, encrusted with age and tradition, completely out of step with the blossoming view of reality. They are shedding those ideas as quickly as they can.

The older generation hasn’t joined them.  Overall belief in God has declined.  So has religious affiliation.  However, the figures are skewed.  Young people are driving the statistics; older people are continuing with their faith.  The Pew report found that “the number of older Americans with a firm belief in God remains stable.”

The Generational Gap much touted in the 1960s hasn’t gone anywhere.  Ironically, the former flower children of the 1960s are the ones now being challenged by their offspring.

Those parents are fighting a losing cause, just as they were 50 years ago.

So was the woman at the grocery store.  She was definitely sincere.  She really wanted to help the man, but he wasn’t interested.  I suspect he only wanted a handout.  He wanted something tangible he could eat or spend.

That’s true for young people.  Faced with the overwhelming facts, they, too, want something real they can hold onto.  God isn’t the answer, simply because He obviously does not affect their lives in anyway.  He doesn’t help feed the starving or help the poor.  A simple investigation will show that He has no effect on Global Warming, pollution, overpopulation, flyby meteorites and the other realities that threaten human life.

Millennials scoff at claims that such calamities are God’s plan.  The many failed predictions of the coming end of the world make a mockery of such ideas.

I left the woman still vainly trying to convince her solo congregation, continually calling him to let God handle the problems.  He was not listening.  Old beliefs about God are charming, but as even the old man at the grocery store knows as Millennials increasingly realize, they are nothing more than words floating upward to an empty sky.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

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