Why the Youth Are Falling Away from Religion

A few weeks ago, Northwestern student Jessica Murphy filmed a segment about young people and religion for one of her classes. The focus was on the rapidly-changing religious demographics and how the church’s stances on many cultural issues are facilitating that shift… and I was one of her subjects. Check it out!



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • allein

    I will never understand how one has a “personal relationship” with a being that is not in any way physically present.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Faith.

      • http://twitter.com/Quarlos Walt Root

        Blind faith is no virtue when you can see.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          Said the blind man to the deaf man with the hammer.

          • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

            HAMMER TIME!!

            • Artor

              Can’t touch that! Or see it, or hear it, or feel it…

    • http://www.facebook.com/ChristophDollis Christoph Dollis

      It’s an EXTREMELY personal relationship. So personal, in fact, that it only involves one entity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Doug-Matheson/100000308590415 Doug Matheson

      Come now, what could be more ‘personal’ than talking to yourself? :)

      • allein

        “But you can’t tell the voice of God from the voices in in your head”
        (from the previous post)

    • Stev84

      It’s like having an imaginary friend. But yeah, the whole idea is just absurd.

  • CT

    Actually they’re abandoning religion in the same sense that younger atheists are abandoning atheism, or at least increasing the number of atheists who believe in god and pray regularly. In short, because they aren’t being encouraged – sometimes by either side – to actually give things much thought. Whatever is true and will reinforce my focus on myself and the latest minecraft app, that’s about it. Again, people who want reason and rational thought should lament the growing tendency to believe in everything, nothing, and possibly some of anything as much as the religious should lament it. If, of course, the concern is for reason and rational thought. (sorry about the repeat from the previous post)

    • Baby_Raptor

      You know, if you’re going to insult the younger generation for liking video games, and other stuff you think is horrible, at least get the words right. MineCraft isn’t a piece of technology, like a phone or computer. It doesn’t have apps.

      And we’re not all self-obsessed. Nor are we all vapid, shallow idiots. Maybe you should actually get to know some people before you decide to completely disregard all of us? Asshole.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      It is a hard lesson to learn but one should never start a sentence with the word “actually.” Conjuring up that word immediately pins down the writer as someone who doesn’t know what they are writing about. You actually end up looking less intelligent than the point you are trying to make.
      I am no grammatical genius either but when you are attempting to offer your viewpoint about a topic, especially amongst skeptical readers, and if you don’t know the subject matter pertaining to the topic, then it would be advisable to either make broad generalizations or simply ask questions. With the latter being the more widely accepted method of acquiring information pertaining to the topic, at least in this forum.
      Now for the nitty-gritty. Could you clarify what your comparative analogy means? they’re abandoning religion in the same sense that younger atheists are
      abandoning atheism, or at least increasing the number of atheists who
      believe in god and pray regularly.
      Generally the term Atheist does not apply to someone who believes in theism and prays. I think your statement there should read “increasing the numbers of theists…” It is also a generally accepted notion that young Atheists become and remain Atheists from a position of believing in theism verses Atheists becoming theists after being Atheists all their lives. Becoming an Atheist takes a greater amount of [sic]soul searching than simply returning to theism. It is often a process that is not simply brushed off as easy as one would throw out the trash. For many, accepting Atheism into your life represents a total abandoment of friends, possibly family and traditions. One can not simply be told what Atheism is, they must experience it for themselves and once they have experienced the freedom, from the bondage of theism, it is an extremely rare event that the Atheist returns to theism. Next:
      Why would people who have reason and rational thought lament about what other people are or are not believing? Perhaps the theist should lament over that but Atheists generally don’t care what ideologies you hold onto as long as you keep them to your self. I think what you are referring to are the Nones, people who generally don’t put much credence into the strict rules and backward doctrines of theism. Let the Nones be as they want to be. It is my honest opinion that the Nones represent a freer ideology, than even the Atheists, because they have given up on classifying their selves to any set of ideals. To them anything is possible and for them this concept goes without question because the words Rules, Doctrines and Facts have no intrinsic value in their lives. I might even go as far as to speculate that those words, rarely if ever, are used in the Nones language. Last:
      Reason and Rationality are tools used in finding Meaning which, most apparent in the Nones, is an Absurd pursuit. My guess is that the Nones have found Meaning in their Experiences. Atheism, like theism, is an ideology that seeks to set an attribute of Meaning, to an otherwise meaningless existence.

      • dan davis

        While I agree with the gist of your post, I think the quote: “It is my honest opinion that the Nones represent a freer ideology, than
        even the Atheists, because they have given up on classifying their selves to any set of ideals. To them anything is possible and for them
        this concept goes without question because the words Rules, Doctrines
        and Facts have no intrinsic value in their lives” is misleading. There are rules to the universe about which we have some understanding, and these were obtained through the scientific method. I feel the many Nones realize this and have an understanding of some, but have been too intellectually lazy to investigate these rules to see their true significance, or haven’t gotten around to it yet (when you’re young, or course you’re gonna live forever and there’s plenty of time for wisdom later…right?) to see the big picture. A comment I read not too long ago said that shopping malls were the “cathedrals of the atheist movement”, how insulting. Natural History Museums are the cathedrals of the atheists IMHO, perhaps shopping malls are the cathedrals of the Nones, as materialism does seem the only option if reason isn’t the priority. Atheists must give meaning to their lives, as there may not be any true “meaning”, and this meaning is derived (for myself anyway) by working within the parameters of physical reality. This ideology is not analogous to faith in that I look for evidence and testability before making a leap of tentative, educated conjecture, and I am always open to new data. The word Nones is an unfortunate one, as is non-believers, because neither really describes what I “believe”, how could it when I believe a great deal of things based on evidence. I prefer skeptic or rationalist, but then we would be a country of “rationalists and non-rationalists”, and my guess is the non-rationalists won’t care for that title, as it says too much.

      • 3lemenope

        It is a hard lesson to learn but one should never start a sentence with the word “actually.” Conjuring up that word immediately pins down the writer as someone who doesn’t know what they are writing about. You actually end up looking less intelligent than the point you are trying to make.

        Beyond the missing comma, I’m not seeing the problem. It is commonly used to gently contradict a prior statement, usually by introducing a qualification:

        A: “You can’t use ‘actually’ at the beginning of a sentence.”

        B: “Actually, you can, so long as you remember the offset comma.”

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

          I’m thinking you’ve never been to a Sci-Fi convention. there the word is actually used as the first word spoken in pretty much every sentence.

          • 3lemenope

            I’ll grant readily that if it is transmogrified into an actual verbal tic, that would get annoying quickly.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

          I’m thinking you’ve never been to a Sci-Fi convention. there the word is actually used as the first word spoken in pretty much every sentence.

      • baal

        “Atheism, like theism, is an ideology that seeks to set an attribute of Meaning, to an otherwise meaningless existence”

        I was with you more or less until the last sentence.

        Actually, atheism is very small ideology – gods? no reason to believe in them. Done. Atheism doesn’t even include a-supernaturalism even though most atheists also hold that view. So much of the sturm and drang between atheists is whether or not to focus on just atheism or secular humanism, or feminism, or skepticism or etc. These are overlapping ideas but not quite the same things.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

          Pleas allow me to explain my armchair hypothesis a little more

          As a [sic]Camusian Absurdest I see any form of categorization as an attribute of meaning. Associating myself with Camus and Absurdity is a categorization in of itself. Applying these following descriptors to myself implies meaning; I am an World of Warcraft playing, Atheistic, single, Caucasian, pack-a-day smokin’, screwdriver drinkin’, overweight, forty-six year old, man who lives in a basement apartment, and who also has a proclivity for young Asian females.

          Camus’ Absurdity tells us that, when applied to human consciousness, any descriptions, categorizations, typesets, subsets, classifications (or how ever you want to call it) are simply mans attempt to signify meaning in his existence. Incidentally Dawkins points out that our purpose or meaning is procreation (hopefully with said YAF).

          (To dan davis)

          Yes there are fundamental laws that the universe uses to function, sorry but DUH! Societies have functional laws too, outside of the legal system, that define the way people can coexist together. Perhaps we can call them Social Norms or Golden Rules. The coalescence of people together, forming a society, often involves common interests and similar behavioral patterns. The Nones say, “I am not classifying myself with X or Z religion.” I don’t think it is necessary to exercise one’s intellect to disassociate your self from a classification. It might even be as simple as saying, “this is what I am not and I am moving on” never really thinking about it again.

          (continuing my hypotheses)

          The existentialist experiences life in the moment unbiased by his past and undeterred by hypothetical, future, consequences. To say, “I am an Atheist” is a bias formulated from past experience. The sum total of my past experiences leads me to the conclusion that I do not believe in theism. Thus if I were to look into my past to find some meaning of my present experience, I am then just applying an attribute or classification to my present experience. In other words I am searching for a way to define the meaning of my existence. Other than the biological imperative to procreate life is meaningless. If you want to argue with Dawkins on this point go right ahead. The Nones say, “to heck with all that, life is meaningless, why should I associate myself with some arcane societal classification system.” and then they just go out and live their lives.

          So in conclusion, my theory suggests that by classifying my self as Atheist I am trying to define meaning to my existence.

          I am going to call all this ranting “Bubba’s First Fundamental Law of Existence” which is defined as; All things that exist in the universe, exist devoid of any particular metaphysical purpose, reason or meaning, and only as electro/chemical processes of the continued evolution of the Big Bang.

          Your opinions are welcomed.

          • baal

            Ah, as you have now defined your words, I agree completely. My point is not incompatible (atheism is a tiny ideology(or as used here, label)).

          • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

            The stars and planets and solar systems and galactic systems, etc, all evolve devoid of meaning. Humans have applied attributes to this evolution but the only purpose of the universe and all of its parts is to evolve from the Big Bang. I am going to postulate that this is an all inclusive closed system of evolution that even humans cannot escape. There is so far no evidence to suggest that cosmological evolution has a purpose other than forming new stars, planets and galaxies and other phenomena i.e. black-holes, dark energy, atoms, particles, strings, etc. Without intelligent life any attribute of meaning or purpose would not exist. Thus meaning and purpose are purely hypothetical constructs of intelligent minds. Deconstructing this down even further I am going to suggest that systems of morality are also hypothetical constructs devoid of meaning but serve as tools in human evolution. Morality is a genetic adaptation of the collective social mind purposed to filter out antisocial behaviors in favor of socially acceptable behaviors. In short pedophiles don’t procreate. YES! YES! I know the laws of evolution are far more complex then the generalization I am postulating here but please humor me.
            Back to what I was suggesting about the closed system of meaninglessness. Other than being an adaptive mechanism in human evolution morality serves no significant purpose from a cosmological stand-point. Humans exist only to move atoms from one location in space-time to another. In this sense morality serves as a mechanism to perform this process more efficiently in each generation of the human animal.
            Thus if anything were to suggest that there is meaning to life then the simplest answer would be; “Life serves as a mechanism of cosmological evolution to, quite efficiently, move atoms around and to convert matter into energy or Vice-Versa.” We have been tricked by evolution in believing there is some higher purpose in life but we are simply just another mechanism of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

            • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

              On the other hand it is easy to propose how the belief in theistic systems would benefit (s)e(x)=mc2. If one were to say that societies form out of cohesive similarities, then the belief in similar supernatural phenomena would act as a catalyst for matter-energy conversion. By adding more members to a society who believe in the same things, that society becomes increasingly more efficient in the conversion of matter into energy. (I think that was redundant I blame the vodka) but never the less even Atheism serves a similar function. Non-believers a far more likely to seek out other non-believers, get drunk, play video games, eat Doritos’s and have sex. Thus completing the basic laws of (s)e(x)=mc2 but at the same time knowing full well that is what they are doing.

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      Next time, try including facts to support your claims. Given that a 2012 Pew Forum survey found that 42% of atheists and agnostics are aged 18-29, the claim that “younger atheists are abandoning atheism” is highly dubious.

    • dan davis

      So, let me get this straight. If I give up not collecting stamps, does that make me a stamp collector even if I have no stamps?

      • 3lemenope

        An aspirational stamp collector?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1658866059 Ken Detweiler

    It’s not the “viewpoints of the church” (well ok, it’s that too) … but predominantly it’s that their literal belief in ridiculous myths is absurd. That would be the case even if their viewpoints were agreeable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garret.brown.7 Garret Shane Brown

    Getting up to date in technology in order to spread your two thousand year old messages of hate aren’t going to make young people like you any more.

  • http://twitter.com/Luvagoo Tallulah Alice Mae

    If you just compare the difference between how articulate and logical those two young people are, i think you get most of your answer…

  • Rain

    The only ones I could understand were the narrator and that one atheist dude with the glasses. I couldn’t make any sense out of the other people. They were just talking a bunch of weasel-word gobbledygook salad. I couldn’t figure out what the hell they were saying.

  • Bryan

    I don’t think the “rules” are the reason why younger people are less likely to be religious. First, if someone is not religious, they do not accept any religion. They are not just exclusive to Christianity. Secondly, the loss of religious belief, for some odd reason, strongly correlates with the education and wisdom that comes to younger people in an age of information. We can now just Google a picture of a galaxy and be awe inspired, and not see a burning bush and think it is a sign from God. I am a part of this group, and I have grown up alongside the internet’s growth, where information is at my fingertips, and I do not have to simply take an authority’s word as divine truth.

  • k

    Jessica Murphy has a future in journalism, film, and more. She scratched the surface of why young people are falling away from religion and with a little more digging she could have a documentary. Good luck Jessica!


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