Millenials, now between the ages of 18 and 33, are far more likely to say they are not religious, 39%, than their grandparents in the Silent Generation, age 68 or older, only nine percent of whom say they are not religious, according to a new survey.
This may be a function of age. As young people settle down, get married, and have children, they are more likely to want religious values passed on to their children, so they may return to religious services and desire for their children to learn at least basic religious traditions. Even so, it's unlikely Millenials when they reach 70 will be as uniformally religious as their grandparents were.
Whether Millenials "return to the fold" as they age or maintain their distance from organized religion is already a subject of fascination for sociologists. Google Millenials and Religious Belief.
Americans are still, currently at least, one of the most overtly religious nationalities in the world. Only 15% of Americans overall describe themselves as not religious, according to the survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution.
And surprisingly, a lot of the growth in religious belief is on the left. In an article titled, "The Rise of the Religious Left," Katie McDonough of Salon reports that "the proportion of religious conservatives in the United States is shrinking with each successive generation, and close to 20 percent of Americans today are religious progressives." In coming decades, religious progressives may outnumber religious conservatives, according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.
Forty percent of Baby Boomers describe themselves as "religious conservatives," while only 16 percent of their children and grandchildren in the Millenial generation describe themselves that way. In the nation as a whole, 28% say they are "religious conservatives." Thirty-eight percent of Americans describe themselves as "religious moderates."
According to the executive summary of the survey:
Religious progressives and religious conservatives also hold different views about what being a religious person means. Nearly 8 in 10 religious progressives say it is mostly about doing the right thing, compared to 16% who say it is about holding the right
beliefs. By contrast, a majority (54%) of religious conservatives say being a religious person is primarily about holding the right beliefs, while less than 4 in 10 (38%) say it is mostly about doing the right thing.
Religious conservatives and religious progressives disagree about the degree to which social problems stem from individual actions and decisions. More than 8 in 10 religious conservatives (82%) agree that if enough people had a personal relationship with God, social problems would take care of themselves. By contrast, nearly seven in 10 (68%) religious progressives disagree that if enough people had a personal relationship with God, social problems would take care of themselves, compared to 31% who agree.
About 15% of the U.S. population describe themselves as religious but non-Christian (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindus, or other).
Rachel Held Evans, an author and blogger in the millenial generation, wrote a piece for CNN's Belief Blog explaining why her generation is turned off by evangelical churches. "Young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people....(They) often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness."
Evangelicals' "obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt," she writes. Read her essay at CNN . And the comments among readers on her personal website are insightful as well.
As a teacher, I've encountered young people enthalled with "the scientic method" and therefore initially skeptical of religious belief and leaps of faith. I've tried to encourage them to make room in their lives for spirituality, to regularly engage their questions, to choose a path of spiritual growth and find ways to routinely help others and feel part of a community, rather than to close their minds to a beautiful part of life. Their understanding of the meaning of life is sure to evolve as they age. See my "Letter to a Young Skeptic of Religion."