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Monday, June 8, 2015
Religion ... Society ... Spirituality ...

There’s a new study of the Millenial generation on the PLOS web site which says that Millenials are significantly less religious (much less likely to participate in religious services or identify themselves with a major religious tradition) than Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers did when they were the same young age. Well, I guess that’s not a big surprise. Millenials were mostly raised by Baby Boomers, whose parenting style avoided confrontation and directives and tried to emphasize reasoning in the young mind (i.e., the mind that’s not yet fully set up for reasoning). My parents basically told me at some point (maybe around age 7) that I was going to church on Sunday and that was that, no further discussion. I really didn’t want to go to church, there were plenty of other fun things to do with a Sunday morning.

If my parents had tried to reason with me at age 8 about how going to church would make me a better person, I would have reasoned right back at them that the weekend was short, and come Monday morning I’d be back spending the week doing things that I don’t want to do (namely, going to school). Eating up even more of one’s precious play time just to watch a bunch of adults pray and sing would not seem reasonable to a 7 or 9 year old. I suspect that many Baby Boomer parents just accepted this and moved on to other more immediate issues (such as putting clothes away or taking out the garbage or putting away the smartphone at the dinner table).

So now we have a young generation for which church and its moral teachings are unfamiliar. Of course, many Baby Boomers and Generation X people gave up on regular church attendance in their adult years, but they still largely retained an interest in prayer and “spirituality”. The new study indicates that the Millenials aren’t latching onto “do it yourself” spirituality either. They also have significantly lower levels of belief in God compared with past generations, although 68% of them still hold such a belief.

Some people speculate that technology has filled the gaps left by the absence of spiritual and religious participation. First off, social networking web sites (yes, of course Facebook, but several others including Twitter) provide the community feeling that church-attendance once conveyed to old fogies like myself. Second, there seem to be more hero-against-tragedy fantasy movies out these days, especially the “superhero” films (e.g. Spiderman, Iron Man, Batman, X Men, etc.). They are indeed popular with Millenials.

Given how easy it is now to watch a movie where ever you are and whenever you want, Millenials can participate in the hero/savior mythology whenever they like. Unlike the old days when you had an infinite God out there who was way beyond whatever you amounted to, the movie superheros aren’t really all that different from any young person. So it’s not hard to picture yourself as the super-hero getting all the attention and accolades. And perhaps that contributes to the elevated levels of narcissism that Millennials seem to exhibit.

Well, I suppose that every distinctive generation of youth are criticized by their elders. I’m old enough to remember when Boomers were the “Hippy Generation”, and almost everyone over 40 thought the world would go to hell in a handbasket once they [we] took over. (And actually, that’s not entirely inaccurate, although not in the dramatic way that Baby Boomer parents had predicted.) Maybe the Millenials will be all right once they get older and take the controls (and start bringing up the post-Millenial generation, whatever that will be like!). But to the degree that Millenials are a mess, let’s not forget who brought them up . . . yes indeed, talking ’bout my [wonderful Baby Boomer] generation.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:21 am      

  1. Jim, At one time I think I likely would have easily agreed with you. However. . .

    First of all, I find myself confused regarding which generation is who. For instance: I can very, very *generally* figure out which age group is the “Boomers”, which group the Gen X’ers, and who are the Millennials. But when I put ages to these 3 names, I find myself running into trouble. If I plot the generations from myself (I’m soon to be 81 – astonishing even to me) I come up with this – and here I allow either 25 or 30 years for each generation; I’ve found either way it works out about the same. So, this is how it seems to me – give or take a few years on each end:
    1) The group that raised me (seemingly unnamed in this listing by anybody). In fact, I’ve found that anybody over 80, and this may be because I’m female, is “invisible” – simply not noticed as existing. However, while my group may be small and getting smaller by the day (dying off), it does exist and was raised by people who, if they were still living would be over 100 years old; some few of this group still are alive; but mostly the only thing they seem to be noticed for is the fact that they have lived so long and nothing else. In addition, I might add, that it seems that it is the profound wish of the young people of today to live to be 150 years old; thus, far surpassing this “unnamed” group. I wonder if the Boomers will be content to be “invisible” or if they will want to continue to make serious contributions to society, even at their “old” age.
    2) The group that I am in, also “unnamed” but some of them probably considered in the group that raised the Baby Boomers. So the age group comprising these people would end about 70 or a few years younger.
    3) The Baby Boomers themselves. My sister who recently died always considered herself in the first year that included the “Boomers”; she was born in 1946. So this group would likely be considered anywhere from about age 65 to 50 (maybe 40) depending on how many years a generation is considered to comprise.
    4) The group called Gen X’ers would then be the group from age 50 to 20 (or 55 to 30); again, depending on how generations might be counted.
    5) That leaves the Millennials for those aged 30 to 20 (or younger?)
    6) Thus the group either in their teens and younger or just being born would comprise an (again – as in “1” and “2” above) unnamed group.

    Obviously, I’m guessing here; but this is about the best I can do when it comes to putting age groups in the “named” categories.

    Plotting out the generations as above, I find that I personally know (or knew) people in each group – so here’s my “take” on the various groups.

    One thing that occurs to me immediately is that the groups as they begin to “overlap” are less easily distinguished; but I also agree with you that these groups often tend to have the characteristics you mention. I might also mention that the following observations are those I have no real vested interest in; well, except for perhaps one instance noted below.

    I *do* think that at least the Baby Boomers had ideals and strove to live them in a real way. Somehow I have to admire that in the group.

    Perhaps the Gen X’ers picked up the “ideals” aspect of the Boomers but, as with most people striving to live ideals, the Gen X’ers found their parents lacking. And there we are blaming the parents for being human. Whenever something goes wrong with how a child turns out, it seems it’s always the parents’ fault. Likely, here I have a vested interest in this from a couple of standpoints. I myself did not turn out as my parents would have wished; yet I really never found any fault with my own parents, although they made it clear to me they despaired of me.

    Then I raised a child (a Baby Boomer) who did not turn out as I would have wished. One strange example might “fit” here: At one point I thought that we should continue to attend church on Sundays as it was important for the child in the family to “get some religion” (so to say). Somewhere along the line, she said she didn’t want to go to church any more, which greatly relieved me; we no longer had to traipse off to church on Sunday and push “religion”; so I readily agreed to “no church”. A while later I found she took the approach that *she* (singlehandedly) had “stopped” the family from going to church! Well, that was news to me; but will she blame herself for not attending more church now that she’s almost 60 and does find some reason to attend church on occasions that mean something to her? I don’t know; we haven’t discussed it.

    As to those putting together a “do it yourself spirituality” of the Gen X’ers: I doubt one can fault that group; again, as it seems to me, they are doing their best to find what has meaning to them. Can one fault them for that?

    Now we come to the “Millennials” who seem to “like” the hero/mythology approach – “Where’s Superman when we need him?” Somehow this has a reminiscence for me of my parents’ day, when I was a child (younger and then older), during WWII particularly. I remember there was quite a bit of the “Superman stuff” going around, quite a bit of the “hero”. My brother and I used to be sent off on Sunday afternoons to watch Westerns (with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, etc.); if that’s not looking for a “hero”, what is?

    Have we come full circle? Will children *always* rebel against their parents? (And here, we must remember that no matter how old we get, we will *always* be our parents’ children.) Will children always find fault with their parents . . . well, until they become old enough to realize that their parents are human beings and make mistakes (even with their children) too.

    I can think of some questions regarding the Millennials: How will they learn to adjust to a world of technology? I’ve noticed that unless at least 6 things are moving or flashing on a computer screen, on a TV, on an ipad, on a phone, it seems something’s not right. No wonder the young people growing up today tend to Autism, ADHD, etc. Too much stimulation leads to either people ignoring it completely or to their trying to take it all in at once and thus become overactive.

    Will technology have a deleterious effect on the Millennials and the unnamed group to follow them? I’d also ask if some of the violent games that the younger members of the Millennial group and those in the following generation are the cause of the random violence that’s becoming so prevalent these days. Does technology cause, add to a tendency to think not of individuals as humans but as either cartoon characters or computer generated images of some kind – thus “kill them all and reset to start over”.

    Will the Millennials raising children today be blamed for the results technology has on their children? Might the Millennial group be faced with problems that, up to now, have had no solutions; the Millennials (and their unnamed generation that follows them) may have to solve the technology issues that come up. Lots of room for criticism; but also lots of room for praise, depending on how these situations might be handled.

    And thus the generations pass; my group will soon be gone. The Boomers will hope to hang around longer than anybody else ever has. Again, we find problems that groups previous have not faced, much as we did not have to face the problems of the generations previous to ourselves. Somewhere in all this I see the evolution of the human race.

    I think the following Facebook post about “Humans of New York” answers everything about this post; apply it to each person and you’ve got the answer.


    Comment by Mary S. — June 9, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

  2. I think there are several reasons why millenials have lower church attendance. The teaching style in schools has changed; teaching is now more of a discussion than a lecture, but preaching is still a lecture. It is becoming obvious to millenials that “people of faith” have often been on the wrong side of morality. Even today, the Catholic Church still doesn’t allow women priests, and a large percentage of young people are passionate about marriage equality. The churches have been slow to preach on genuine moral issues such as economic justice and environmentalism.

    Comment by Zreebs — June 13, 2015 @ 10:22 am

  3. Hey Steve, good to hear from you. And good point, as always. Pope Francis is talking in the right direction, but he probably can’t fundamentally change things. Supposedly the Mill’s aren’t much interested in “alternate spirituality” either, but we have been seeing more and more of them at our zendo over the past year. We used to pretty much be an old Baby Boomers club. Hopefully there will be a spiritual awakening amongst the young, but yea, it won’t have much to do with institutional religion.

    Comment by Jim G — June 13, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

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