“… and a little child shall lead them” straight out of the church, that is.
Old people might be looking at their grandkids and the new “jerking” generation of teens and saying, “Oh, those kids are losing their religion, they need Jesus.” It could be true.
“Religion Among the Millennials,” a study released by Pew Research Forum earlier this year reveals that the latest generation, also known as the millennial generation (those born in 1981 and after), are less religious than their parents and their parents’ parents.
“By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fewer young adults belong to any particular faith than older people do today,” the study says. “They also are less likely to be affiliated than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were when they were young. Fully one-in-four members of the Millennial generation–so called because they were born after 1980 and began to come of age around the year 2000–are unaffiliated with any particular faith.”
Further, one in four adults under 30 describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” One-fifth of adults in their 30s and 15 percent of adults in their 40s also place themselves in one of the categories. But, fewer young people are going to church (or their religious place of choice) as often as older generations, and are not praying as often.
However, according to the research, while they might not pray as often or go to religious services, young people rarely waver from their familial religious beliefs and practices such as the belief in heaven and hell or miracles and karma.
Richard Flory of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC says the modern age and American tradition may contribute to this phenomenon.
“American culture is driven by a culture of individualism and choice, (consequently) to the extent that when they are growing up they are given choice within their home; they are brought up to believe or not to believe or to attend or not attend, that is typically how they are going to do things. I think in conjunction (with) that, there is a lot of competition for religion.
Cecil Murray, Christian Ethics and Professor of Religion at USC says the socioeconomic conditions of Black America plays a significant role in the religious choices of African American youth.
“There are so many other options these days other than church. You have the streets, gangs, a drop-out rate of 50 percent who don’t finish high school; you have 500 channels close to 1000 channels you can get on television; you have computers, and the cell phones,” he shared. “All of these things compete with the church.
“The church has to pay particular attention to their young people, or they will lose their young people,” Murray added.
However, he says while the information is useful and insightful, race and cultures were not considered in the study. According to Flory’s research, in conjunction with a religious study at the University of Notre Dame, Flory found that Black youth tend to stay aligned with their parents’ and household religion more than any other race.
“For African American kids in particular, the respect for authority that’s given to them in the home carries over in religious settings,” he said. “We would ask them, ‘Can you pick and choose from your religion or do you have to take the whole thing?’ They (respond), ‘Oh, you can’t pick and choose. You either believe it or you don’t.’ So there’s a respect for the traditions as well as elders, pastors, and people with authority. I think the root of it is the homes (which) are structured so there’s an emphasis on proper authority.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Flory’s research indicates that White youth are more individualistic and more likely to pick and choose the religious ideas of the parents or not be religious at all. He says that most youth choose parts of beliefs and mold them to their liking probably because that is typical American culture.
“The biggest comparison is with White kids … religion is just a big smorgasbord they choose from, customize their own religious view points. You don’t find Black kids saying that,” the researcher concluded.
African American youth seem to also have more extreme and definite religious views. For example, African Americans typically believe without a doubt that sinners will burn in hell. Other groups’ religious views, in general, are a bit more relaxed.