The ‘Nones’ and Their Parents
By Tom Gilson
Yusuf thinks some of God’s commands must be crazy. Kyle says the facts of science and evolution prove there’s no God. Melissa can’t understand what’s wrong with homosexuality. Rigoberto was raised in a religious home, but his father drank a lot, and his family was wracked with painful tragedies. Lizz thinks the most important thing is to make sure she gives meaning to this life, not the next. Miriam finds it enough to be alone with her thoughts.
They are all young Americans, 23 to 30 years old, who shared their stories in a recent NPR report on why young people are moving away from religion.
It’s enough to bring a parent to tears.
A recent Pew Center survey reveals that more Americans are disconnecting themselves from religion than ever before. The increase in these so-called spiritual “nones” has been especially dramatic among young people. NPR quotes Greg Smith of the Pew Center on the subject:
Young people today are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders; they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been as far back as we can tell. This really is something new.
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Explanations for the “rise of the nones” can be found everywhere. Some say it’s not so much a deep spiritual shift as it is the end of nominal Christianity—that, whereas in an earlier generation the religiously uninterested would have claimed connection to some body of worship for cultural reasons, today’s young people find no compelling reason to do so. Others (as in the NPR report where we met these six) associate the trend with distaste for the “culture wars.”
Macro-level explanations of that sort are helpful in their way, but as I read these stories, I wasn’t thinking about culture-wide social movements. Rather I was haunted by images of these men and women’s parents. Not all of their families were Christian, yet I could easily see stories just like theirs being repeated in Christian contexts. And in my mind’s eye, I can see parents everywhere wondering, “With so many young people turning away, what can I do to help keep my child in the faith?”
I have two college-age children, so I’m asking that very question myself. And it seems to me we can learn a lot from the reasons these six have rejected their parents’ beliefs.
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