Twenty-somethings: Ye of Little Faith?

According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, people born since 1980 are less likely than older generations to affiliate themselves with any particular religion.

“Millennials, the generation of young adults born after 1980, are significantly more likely than older adults to say they are unaffiliated with any particular religion.  Roughly a quarter of all Millennials (26%) are unaffiliated, compared with 20% of current Gen Xers, 13% of Baby Boomers and very few older Americans.”

I am not really surprised by this, although I think I take a bit different angle than others.  It is not so much that the “Millennials” are not religious because science and technology has released them from the need for religion.  I think that most 20-somethings do not associate themselves with a religion that the research people understand.  The question asked was “What is your religious preference:  Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, some other religion, or no religion?”  Given that choice, I might select “no religion” as well!

The interpretation of the survey data went on to make this observation:

“Today’s young adults also attended religious services less often and are less likely to say religion is important to them than are older adults. Still, in other ways, such as praying daily, beliefs about life after death  and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices.”

These people who do not associate with traditional, mainline denominations are still “fairly traditional” in religious practices.  They are “less religious”yet they still pray?  They still worship God?  Seems to me that the Millennials see their relationship with God as just that, a relationship, and not an affiliation with a denomination.  Relationship with God is more important than signing a confessional statement or observing a particular religious calendar or liturgical cycle.

Is this a bad thing? Probably, but it is a natural reaction to hypocrisy in in mainline denominations.  It is the natural result of religious leaders who live their lives absolutely opposed to what they preach from the pulpit.  It is the natural result of churches and denominations not addressing contemporary culture, but rather feeling from it, or worse, ignoring it.   If you drive people out of the church for not conforming to the church, you really cannot complain that they do not associate themselves with your church!

What is remarkable is that last paragraph could describe America, 2010, or Europe 1500, or Rome, 1000.  I wonder how the generation just prior to the Reformation would have answered the Survey’s questions?