Religion is in serious trouble.
No, it’s not going to disappear completely. There will still be Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews. Just not very many of them. One science fiction story, arguably one of the best, titled The Stars My Destination, called the few hard-core believers in the future “closet Christians.” They skulked about the back alleys of cities, not discriminated against, just ignored.
That time is definitely getting closer, at least based on recent studies of Millennials, which is the nickname given to people born between 1982 and 2000. There are more of them than Baby Boomers, who once bubbled their way through the American economy. In their day, they said don’t trust anyone over 30. That saying can be revived with the Millennials.
They are different, too. Only 60 percent are white, making them the most ethnically diverse group in this country’s history. In fact, in a few years, based on birth rates, whites will be a minority in this country. Millennials are progressive, supporting more liberal candidates. Conservatives are barking at a narrowing constituency.
Millennials also back gay marriage and gender equality. The old glass ceiling has been shattered. So has a bunch of other stereotypes. Millennials aren’t into marriage and family, marrying later and not caring as much about the race of their mate. They are better educated, far more aware of technology and politically active. In some ways, they represent the strident 1960s without the confrontational approach.
Mostly, though, they are turning away from religion.
|Bible under a microscope
Some of that has to do with knowledge. Anyone interested in in-depth scholarly criticism of the Bible can find all the information on line. When I was younger, I read endless books in an effort to become a religious scholar. These days, the data is available on line with the tap on a mouse. Archaeology, linguistics, anthropology and comparative studies have clearly demonstrated that the Bible contains loads of borrowed material from multiple cultures, has been clumsily edited and undoubtedly represents only the beliefs of the authors, not some divine imprint.
At the same time, various scandals – from priests molesting children to admitted charlatans pushing religion -- have undermined credibility. Millennials do not remember Marjoe Gortner, who in 1944 became the youngest ordained minister at age 4, but he went on to expose the crass Pentecostal ministers more interested in mammon than belief. What a near-Baby Boomer started, today’s Millennials have continued.
Then, too, religious services have become increasingly old fashioned, contrasting badly with the vast array of entertainment available to younger members of society. A sermon simply doesn’t hold anyone’s attention these days. A minister is literally preaching only to the choir. Back in the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church introduced folk masses to try to draw parishioners back to the pews. They were successful, but those approaches now are dated.
In addition, Millennials reject Christian teachings as hypocritical, judgmental and anti-gay. More than a third of self-identified born-again Christians reject bans against gay marriage.
Of course, many teens in their rebellious states spurn religion, only to return later in life. So far, however, Millennials have spurned that trend. Surveys show that as Millennials age, they move even further away from religion.
As a final spike in the heart of religion, Climate Change, which will affect us all and is definitely not driven by any deity, almost guarantees that the claims of the faithful will increasingly take a backseat. It’s hard to argue that God watches out for everyone when humans are provably causing the destruction of the world.
The implications of the Millennial lack of faith remains to be seen. Definitely, believers will respond with more hysterical claims and demands, just as already seen in lawsuits and, on occasion, in violence.
If anything, that response will only drive Millennials further away.
All religions have a lifespan. Dionysus, Marduk, Baal, Moloch and Osiris, among other bygone deities, have fallen away. Jesus, Allah, Yahweh and Zoroaster, among others, are into their golden years. In the past, new god arose to replace those fading into history. Based on the current, trend, that may not happen now. For many Millennials, the new god seems to be -- nothing.
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 www.williamplazarus.net. 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 Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1