Apparently, although not visibly, Americans are moving away from religion. The new, new silent majority (well, growing minority) are the irreligious millennials. This seems contrary to everything one can possibly consume through media channels. The common experience of America is that America is driven by religiosity, and that religious freedom is the most important Constitutional Right, next to the Second Amendment—the one about a well regulated militia . In fact, for many religious Americans, the first two amendments to the Constitution are the Constitution, and therefore, America.
But back to religiosity. Religion, as defined as “a particular system of faith and worship”, is on the decline among millennials. The Pew Research Center’s survey focused on Americans’ religious beliefs and practices. Essentially, the numbers suggest polarization along religious lines may be increasing in the United States. Although the percentage of Americans who responded that they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition is growing, those who identify with a religion are becoming more devout. The political implications are apparent.
The disaffection with formal religious institutions among millennials is not the same as lack of spirituality or morality. The survey explored traditional religious practices in association with traditional religious institutions.
I suspect that for those for whom faith in a deity and in an organized religion, the religious institution is a source of community and structure, rules and regulations, charity and ideals. For those for whom faith is not found in religious structures or descriptions, they may still seek a spiritual life (or not), and still seek community and morality, humanitarian causes and social justice, rules and regulations, charity and ideals. But it’s hard to have faith in institutions these days.
That’s what unites these two seemingly disparate (and desperate) states of America: The lack of faith in institutions seems to be pervasive. For some, there is faith in religious institutions and not in government; for others, there is faith (although perhaps dissatisfaction) in governmental and social institutions, and not in religious ones.
Faith is elusive when seeing evidence of the contrary. It’s hard to have faith in a person or institution when one’s belief is seemingly contradicted. Cops killing unarmed suspects, makes it hard to have faith in police. Daily shootings, often seemingly random, makes it hard to have faith in our gun laws. Schools dictated by tests, and colleges bankrupting young adults and families make it hard to have faith in education. People who are so anti-government they are willing to do anything to gain power to obstruct the government, make it hard to have faith in our institutions or in people. Knowing how much it takes to live a middle class life, much less leave a legacy, makes it very difficult to have faith in our economic system, or in our future.
Faith is future oriented, based on our feelings in the present. Ironically, it is history that can provide us the comfort necessary for faith. It is an accurate understanding of the unfolding of history, not as an ideological story, but more of a scientific and evolutionary approach to understanding circumstances and their impacts. It is not a predictor, and differences between historical moments are important to acknowledge. But we have seen religious eras, and progressive eras; chaotic times when violence was rampant and government was flailing. We’ve seen threatening times, and war too many times. And what seems unique now, has parallels.
I have faith in evolution. Sometimes I forget that we can evolve personally, because the evidence is often so contrary to my belief. Likewise, it’s easy to lose faith in our institutions, because we seem so stuck, and we confuse images and stories with knowledge,and we are often unwise. It’s difficult to see evolution, especially when we are overwhelmed by replays of old conflicts with current unenlightened players. I don’t know the significance of the study on Americans and religion. It’s always evolving. We will continue to evolve. On that, I guess you can count me among the faithful.