Raised in the perfect storm of 9/11, economic collapse and record-setting unemployment, Millennials are a generation that deserves to have a little faith, a small hint of conviction that assures us better days are ahead. So why don’t we want it?
It appears that Millennials are turning their backs on organized religion in record numbers. During a recent conversation, my grandmother said, “People who are younger in this country aren’t being raised the right way anymore and I know that’s why so many young people today don’t identify with a particular religion.” I love my liberal Christian grandmother but I’m not sure she’s right. Millennials aren’t refusing religion because they haven’t been raised properly. We just don’t want it—or really even need it.
Although atheists and non-believers remain the minority with 78.4 percent of U.S. adults identifying as Christian, Millennials continue to be much less likely to affiliate with any religious denomination. For Americans under 30, 25 percent consider themselves “atheists,” “agnostics” or “nothing in particular” according to the Pew Research Center. That number is larger than any other age group with only 15 percent not affiliated in their 40s and 10 percent among those 60 and plus.
Part of the problem faith has marketing to the young is Millennials grew up during a time when global conflict appeared to deeply intertwine with religion. When President George W. Bush told America in 2004, “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job,” we Millennials got the message. Separation of Church and State seemed to be a dated idea for Washington politicians, and my generation had somehow missed the boat.
Meanwhile, the headlines we read screamed about Islamic extremists, LGBT rights, issues with contraception and fanatical Christian groups like the Westboro Baptist Church protesting military funerals. These news reports affiliated religion with negative stereotypes, and brought religious extremism to our front door. Organized faith was used as a tool to beat-up on others and rational young Americans voluntarily chose to stay away. These are the kinds of issues that continue to turn my generation off.
Simply put, when it comes to Millennials, religion has a major marketing problem. Organized faith started losing ground when Bill Gates, Robert Kahn and Steve Jobs came along. Young Americans have dropped their interest in religion partly because of how easy it is to access a different point of view with a mouse click. Millions have the ability to read this article, then share it with a million others, instantaneously. The Internet has created a network of shared ideas, a place where young adults around the world are exposed to opinions that are vastly different from their own and a forum where their beliefs—and prejudices—are challenged.
Not that the Internet hasn’t completely deterred religious extremism. Terror group ISIS is possibly the first terror organization to successfully market religious extremism to Millennials via social media. They’ve discovered what young adults want—a sense of belonging, “likes” and other social media currency—and use those tools to spread an ideology of hate and violence. The group’s constant Twitter and YouTube posts are their most successful recruitment tools.
They are also part of the reason why I felt compelled to write this piece. For every Millennial that finds purpose in religious extremism, there is a growing number of likeminded Millennials that are walking in the opposite direction. I’m a young American who chooses not to affiliate with organized religion, but am in no way anti-faith. This country was founded on religious freedom, but as long as organized faiths continue to preach division based on gender and sexual orientation, continue to fight against the teaching of science in schools and continue to further divide people across the globe, Millennials won’t look to organized religion for support, for guidance or for help. I won’t either.