What Happened to the Kids Today?

Time for a change of speed, huh? As stupid as Buzzfeed-brand left wing social politics can be, Fox News-brand right wing social politics can be equally–if not more–ridiculous. I critique the lefties more on this blog because I still somewhat associate myself with them and thereby have to constantly point out the wrong things they do to save myself the second-hand shame and embarrassment. That doesn’t mean I don’t have just as much snark reserved for the folks on the other side of the horseshoe. I make fun of everybody equally.

So, random Fox News opinions columnist, why do you think the younger generations are less religious?

* * *

First things first, the author of this column is Dr. Alex McFarland, the Director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University. I didn’t know you could be the director for a religious worldview. What does that mean? Is he like a college chaplain? Does he pray over stressed out engineering majors in their first week of finals, reminding them that suicide is a sin? What do you do, Dr. McFarland? Seeing as how NGU is heavily associated with apologetic Southern Baptists and its mascot is The Crusader, I can only assume that it’s one of those Christian colleges you send your daughter to when you don’t want those evil yank liberals turning her into a slut. All I’m saying is that I’m not banking on this being an unbiased assessment of social trends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this opinions piece came with a poorly filmed, hip Christian rap to appeal to the kids. But, hey, who said you had to be unbiased? I’m clearly not.

College-aged millennials today are far more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated. This is true when they are compared to previous generations as well.

In fact, the Pew Research Center documents that millennials are the least outwardly religious American generation, where “one in four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29.”

Here’s a link to the Pew Poll in question, with the most recent stats being from 2014. The overtly Christian sects are dropping in popularity (though they are, by far, still the most prevalent). Non-Christian faiths are getting a bit more popular, but they’re so minuscule in representation that it doesn’t have much of an impact. And “unaffiliated” is on a significant rise, with the most popular iteration of religious affiliation being “nothing in particular.”

How very millennial of us. Our religious beliefs can be summed up as eeeeeeeeeehhhhhh *exaggerated shoulder shrug*

To be fair, Pew researchers have also found that millennials are just as “spiritual” as other generations even though they’re not as religious. I take that with a grain of salt, though, because Pew–like the rest of the world–doesn’t clearly define what “spiritual” means, and the things it does count as “spiritual” seem really questionable to me personally. I think the universe is interesting, I don’t count myself as being spiritual at all. But Pew counts it, so whatever. The point that I’m trying to make is that being “unaffiliated” can mean lots of things, especially since atheist/agnostic are separate sub-categories, meaning that “nothing in particular” says, well, nothing in particular, about what their spiritual beliefs are.

Just over 60 percent of millennials say that Christianity is “judgmental,” and 64 percent say that “anti-gay” best describes most churches today.

I’m not going to be an angry internet atheist and claim that every single church and every single facet of Christianity is judgmental and weirdly concerned with people’s sex lives. But it’s definitely out there. Hey, not every church in America is going to be a wishy-washy Unitarian Univeralist one, what can I say.

In ministry circles, it has long been reported that of youth raised in homes that were to some degree “Christian,” roughly three-quarters will jettison that faith after high school. Just under half of this number will return to some level of church involvement in their late 20s or early 30s.

It’s almost like forcing a religion on a teenager makes them not like it or something. Did the “ministry circles” really have to tell you that? Now I’m getting the image of some overly elaborate, James Bond-esque meeting room where holograms of ministers from around the world sit around a table and talk about how they don’t know what’s happened to the kids today.

Why is this? Our most recent research, which includes dozens of interviews with teens, twentysomethings, professed ex-Christians, and religion and culture experts, points to factors like these:

Gonna be honest, Dr. McFarland, I’d be far more interested in reading/watching those actual interviews than I would be with reading your second-hand account of what the crux of those interviews was.

1.Mindset of “digital natives” is very much separate from other generations. Millennials are eclectic on all fronts—economically, spiritually, artistically. There is little or no “brand loyalty” in most areas of life.

. . . What? I honestly don’t know what this means. Since when did being eclectic mean that no one latches onto individual, specific things? Millennials are perfectly capable of finding one thing they like and sticking to it. Hell, my generation has been very heavily criticized for having too much “brand loyalty” to certain groups or ideas even after latching onto them stops making sense. It’s not the Baby Boomers keeping Apple and pseudo-religious mindfulness seminars in business.

2.Breakdown of the family. It has long been recognized that experience with an earthly father deeply informs the perspective about the heavenly father. In “How the West Really Lost God, sociologist Mary Eberstadt correctly asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”

This kind of just doesn’t make sense. In the same Pew Poll you quoted before, you can click on over a few pages and find out that the people most likely to be overtly religious (in regards to Christianity, anyway) are the same groups that are plagued by poverty, “broken family” being a subsection of “poverty.”

Yeah, I don’t have a father, and I’m an atheist. But I have six younger brothers with a burnout dad who might as well be as nonexistent as mine is, and three of them are extremely religious. One of them wants to be a preacher when he gets older. My mom overtly sends to them church every Sunday and Wednesday for the express purpose of getting them around other father-figures to help guide them through life. The idea that broken homes don’t invite religious sentiments is rather laughable.

That sociologist is contributing to the increasingly more apparent notion that sociology is a hack field. Yeah, I know, it’s not just the social justice warriors ruining it–how odd. She’s making a causative statement when, at best, there is only a correlation. First day of Intro Stat: “Correlation =/= Causation.” Nothing you’ve said has made it clear what the relationship between religion and traditional family ties is and what impact they have on each other; you’ve just asserted that non-traditional family structures are rising at the same time that rates of religion are going down. That is true, but that’s not enough information to make any “X caused Y” claims. Like with most social changes, there’s likely an unmentioned third element (like education or income) that is the actual causal factor behind those other statistics, but I guess we’re just not going to get into that here.

3.Militant secularism: Embraced by media and enforced in schools, secular education approaches learning through the lens of “methodological naturalism.” It is presupposed that all faith claims are merely expressions of subjective preference. The only “true” truths are claims that are divorced from any supernatural context and impose no moral obligations on human behavior. People today are subjected to an enforced secularism.

You mean separation of church and state? I bet you’re just balling your fists up and cursing the heavens because sophomore biology isn’t teaching kids about the theories of reincarnation, karma, and Nirvana and how they relate to the human life cycle. Or were you just referring to Christianity in your little freak out about how public schools don’t teach the “truths” espoused by religion? Pssssst. Psssst. This is why people are getting a bit sick of you.

Also, ethics are taught in secular science courses, so the idea that schools are raising our kids to be amoral because we can’t teach them about God is just inaccurate.

4. Lack of spiritual authenticity among adults. Many youth have had no — or very limited — exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.

I knew I should have been sent to a nunnery when I was younger. That would’ve straightened me out for sure. Also, I was exposed to very fervently religious people as a child–both of the “churchy” type and the “personally devoted to God” type. I talked to my grandmother about God a lot as a kid. The two of us would stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking about God. Didn’t stop the whole “me being an atheist” thing.

5. The church’s cultural influence has diminished. The little neighborhood church is often assumed to be irrelevant, and there is no cultural guilt anymore for those who abandon involvement.

This one’s pretty accurate. Sunday is my sleep-in-and-watch-anime day, bro. It’s also rather amazing how you manage to sound disappointed through text that people aren’t guilted into going to church anymore. I tutor kids on Wednesdays. Can that replace being bored in church for two hours as my obligatory moral do-gooding of the week?

6. Pervasive cultural abandonment of morality. The idea of objective moral truth—ethical norms that really are binding on all people—is unknown to most and is rejected by the rest.

I’m more lenient on the idea of objective morality. I don’t think there are any universally agreed-upon things that are considered objectively good or bad. But if you want to argue that some objectively good or bad things exist independent of human perception, it’s still an argument to be had about where you draw the line between individuals’ subjective opinions and their objective impact on the world and try to establish an objective morality that way.

That being said, you worded this as “pervasive cultural abandonment of morality,” as though not believing in objective morality just means you are a sociopath who has abandoned morals. So excuse me for assuming that the above conversation would not be one you’d be willing to have. This knee-jerk moral condemnation of people who don’t subscribe to your belief system is, once again, why people are starting to get sick of you.

The obvious implication here is that Christianity is the source of the One True Morality. I’m sorry, but that’s not a very good leg to stand on when you’re trying to convince people that your belief system is the fount of all moral truths. Your religion has done, said, and justified some fucked up things, so claiming that you have the monopoly on morality and that you know the true way to being a good person doesn’t sell very well. That, and lots of the “moral rules” the Bible lays out are pretty stupid. “Murder is bad” is a good moral lesson, but then there’s lots of stuff about dietary constrictions and what fabric you should wear and oddly specific rules about what sexual interests are “good” or “bad.” Excuse me for thinking that Objective Morality doesn’t seem all that connected to whether or not a dude finishes when he jerks off.

This is the problem that all religions that claim to be the bringer of objective morality have. What if someone believes in objective morality through the teachings of Hinduism? Are they okay in your book, or is their religiously determined objective morality wrong because it’s not your religiously determined objective morality?

7. Intellectual skepticism. College students are encouraged to accept platitudes like “life is about asking questions, not about dogmatic answers.” Is that the answer? That there are no answers? Claiming to have answers is viewed as “impolite.” On life’s ultimate questions, it is much more socially acceptable to “suspend judgment.”

. . . What? I was nonreligious a decade before I went to college, so there’s that. I don’t doubt that plenty of people decide that they’re an atheist after freshmen year at university, but it depends on the individual as to how “legitimate” that label change is. College is typically the place where you try to figure out what you think about things. Ping-ponging between different worldviews before finding one that’s actually accurate to yourself and not just one you’re fleetingly interested in because you read a chapter of a book in Intro Philosophy is pretty par for the course. I see nothing wrong with that as long as people can articulate their mental experience well.

I went on that tangent because WTF, dude? “Being curious and skeptical of people who say they have all the answers in life is bad!” What? Claiming to have answers for life’s ultimate questions isn’t “impolite,” it’s just inaccurate. 100% of the time. Claiming to know the answers to all the complexities and intricacies of life and all of it’s confusing, difficult parts is inaccurate when a hack motivational speaker does it. It’s inaccurate when a cult does it. It’s inaccurate when pharmaceutical companies do it. It’s inaccurate when social justice warriors do it. And it’s inaccurate when you do it. Feeling put upon because people aren’t accepting your dogmatic answers without question makes you look like an idiot, not them. I even agree with you that “life’s about asking questions” is just a platitude, but it’s sure as hell a better platitude than “life’s about not questioning what people tell you as long as they claim it comes from God first.”

8. The rise of a fad called “atheism.” Full of self-congratulatory swagger and blasphemous bravado, pop-level atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens (whom I interviewed twice) made it cool to be a non-believer. Many millennials, though mostly 20-something Caucasian males, are enamored by books and blogs run by God-hating “thinkers.”

Bitter much? Chris Hitchens was awesome, but he was and still is a very divisive figure. There are plenty of people who think he was an asshole. I like the guy, and I can give them that point. To say he “made atheism cool” seems to be oversimplifying the impact he had. I will even concede to you, as I did above, that there are plenty of real-world people giving themselves the “atheism” label the same way Marvel making popular blockbuster movies magically made everybody “a comic book nerd.”

That being said, I don’t think the rise in areligiosity can just be boiled down to a fad. You pointed out yourself that this steady decline in religious sentiments has been happening generation-by-generation. Atheism isn’t like 80s hair. It didn’t just pop up one day because the social and consumer conditions were good and then fade away. We’ve been building up to this 1/4 nonreligious statistic for quite a while.

Also, “angry YouTube atheism” has really died down as a topic. It was popular in the early-mid 2000s, but now the “internet atheists” have largely moved on to other topics, the remaining Four Horseman don’t talk about atheism specifically anymore, there are no modern popular irreverent atheist stand-up routines like there were back in the day, and things like Atheism+ have been declining in popularity since their conception. If this was 2005, I’d buy into this more, but I’m having a very difficult time believing that atheism is “the new hip thing” in 2017.

9.  Our new God: Tolerance be Thy name. “Tolerance” today essentially means, “Because my truth is, well, my truth, no one may ever question any behavior or belief I hold.” This “standard” has become so ingrained that it is now impossible to rationally critique any belief or behavior without a backlash of criticism.

I’d be inclined to agree that millennials use “tolerance” as a crutch in far too many situations and that the obsession when “being tolerant” of different people has been brought to ridiculous extremes. That being said, I’m not sure how this has led to a decline in religion, by your own logic. I guess you’re implying that they tolerate too much anti-religious things, that you’re then not allowed to question?

While I agree with the general sentiment that there are some groups you’re generally not allowed to criticize in the name of “being tolerant,” I don’t agree with your conclusion that this is bad thing for religious beliefs. Religion, like all beliefs and belief systems, can and should be criticized. The issue with the Tolerance Police popping up over the last handful of years is that they seek to shield only certain people and ideas from the criticism justifiably levied at them. But a religion being subject to criticism isn’t bad, and having to defend your religion and explain why it’s a legitimate belief to hold should not be seen as a “threat.”

You rightfully call out this “no one can question my opinions” notion when you see it in millennials, but you’ve complained about people having the gall to question you and what you think is the Truth in this very article. Hi, Pot! This is my friend, Kettle!

10. The commonly defiant posture of young adulthood. As we leave adolescence and morph into adulthood, we all can be susceptible to an inflated sense of our own intelligence and giftedness. During the late teens and early 20s, many young people feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I did. The cultural trend toward rejection of God—and other loci of authority—resonates strongly with the desire for autonomy felt in young adulthood.

That’s why atheism has always been consistently popular among young adults in America, right? Wait a minute . . . Also, there’s nothing like believing that your planet is the center of the universe and that you specifically are cared about by the Creator of all things to give someone an inflated sense of bulletproof giftedness. Just saying.

Finally, is it really any wonder that kids raised in the churches of 21st century America aren’t often stirred to lifelong commitment? Most churches are so occupied with “marketing” themselves to prospective attendees that they wouldn’t dream of risking their “brand” by speaking tough-as-nails truth.

I’m sorry, I just burst out laughing for a few minutes because I remembered this one fire-and-brimstone sermon I had to read in English class once. Yeah, nothing appeals to young people more than impassioned, fifteen minute long rants about how God’s going to bitchslap them into Hell where they’ll be brutally tortured forever if they don’t submit to His almighty authority and weep in the power of his presence until their eyes bleed. People will just line up around the block to be a part of that religion! Screw the church that has bake sales and potluck dinners and an in-church band playing rock as hardcore as the Christian faith allows. Protestant preaching about Hell is what’s really metal.

For evangelical youth mentored by many a hip and zany “Minister to Students,” commitment to Jesus lasts about as long as the time it takes to wash the stains out of T-shirts worn at the senior-year paintball retreat.

I don’t know what’s sadder: student ministers apparently trying so hard to be “hip and zany,” or Dr. McFarland actually seeming to think that those guys are too edgy.

“Hey there, kids! Who wants to play some lazer tag and listen to Flyleaf before the sermon!” *insert Bill and Ted-appropriated air guitar*

“Get out of here! You’re corrupting the youth!”

It is true that our culture has grown visibly antithetical to God and Christian commitment. But in addressing the spiritual attrition rate of young America, it must be admitted that a prayerless, powerless church peddling versions of “Christianity Lite” share in the blame. God only knows the degree of our complicity, and also the time when we’ll be concerned enough to change direction.

How dare they try to make the church-going experience actually enjoyable, am I right? But I guess that does entail admitting that church and strict religious teachings aren’t very appealing, which must be a difficult thing to do if you’re a Christian apologist. I’m sure the Muslim imam decrying the fact that so many young Muslims are trying to *gasp* go on dates agrees with your sentiment that Religion Lite and hip, wishy-washy young practitioners are ruining the whole thing. How dare they? It’s almost like lording over people and telling them that casually believing in God is bad and that they’re not being religious “the right way” is one of the very many things making them a bit sick of you.

Well, that was fun! I’m going to go listen to some awesome Swedish, Satanist, goth metal now.


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