I recently came upon a Fox News article by Alex McFarland titled Ten reasons millennials are backing away from God and Christianity. I was curious. Would they get it right? No. No, they would not.
1. Mindset of “digital natives” is very much separate from other generations. Millennials are eclectic on all fronts—economically, spiritually, artistically. There is little or no “brand loyalty” in most areas of life.
Um what? Try telling my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook that I have no brand loyalty. In all seriousness, is McFarland suggesting that Christianity’s success relies on “brand loyalty”? Because if so, that’s an awfully strange statement, and not one, I think, that he found anywhere in the Bible.
2. Breakdown of the family. It has long been recognized that experience with an earthly father deeply informs the perspective about the heavenly father. In “How the West Really Lost God,” sociologist Mary Eberstadt correctly asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”
By most measures, the first millennials were born in 1980. The family had already “broken down” before we hit the scene. And yet, most millennials I know have a very strong sense of family.
The federal government held a conference on the family in 1980; the conference quickly fractured and was in disarray over how the family should be defined. Conservatives argued that a family consisted of a father and a mother and their biological or adopted children. Liberals argued that the family consisted of individuals who loved each other and came together for mutual support. Most millennials today embrace that latter definition, forming families and support networks that are no less meaningful for being unconventional.
Besides, isn’t Jesus the one who said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple”? And didn’t Paul say it was best not to get married if you could help it?
3. Militant secularism: Embraced by media and enforced in schools, secular education approaches learning through the lens of “methodological naturalism.” It is presupposed that all faith claims are merely expressions of subjective preference. The only “true” truths are claims that are divorced from any supernatural context and impose no moral obligations on human behavior. People today are subjected to an enforced secularism.
This, again, is not new. But also, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get any of this methodological naturalism, and I still left the church. And finally, my kids are in public school, and this really isn’t how it works.
4. Lack of spiritual authenticity among adults. Many youth have had no — or very limited — exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.
Once again, this was certainly not true in my case.
5. The church’s cultural influence has diminished. The little neighborhood church is often assumed to be irrelevant, and there is no cultural guilt anymore for those who abandon involvement.
Oh how sad that people don’t get shamed for going to church anymore. If getting shamed for not going to church is the only thing that will make people actually go to church, it might be time to rethink church. Which, by the way, many Christian leaders have done. I grew up in a megachurch that was very good at building community. We went not because we were afraid of being judged for not going, but because our friends were there, and the atmosphere was warm, friendly, and positive.
And I still left the church.
6. Pervasive cultural abandonment of morality. The idea of objective moral truth—ethical norms that really are binding on all people—is unknown to most and is rejected by the rest.
These are the same people who will claim that support for gay rights is some sort of oppressive new cultural dogma, yes? I sense some irony.
More to the point, when I look at my millennial friends, I see a fierce support for moral and ethical good. We just happen to define it differently from those who still want to put people in jail for having gay sex. We tend to think that, say, it is immoral to deprive people of healthcare. And if you disagree, fine, argue with us. But don’t say we have no objective morals or ethical norms, because we definitely do, you’re just not listening.
7. Intellectual skepticism. College students are encouraged to accept platitudes like “life is about asking questions, not about dogmatic answers.” Is that the answer? That there are no answers? Claiming to have answers is viewed as “impolite.” On life’s ultimate questions, it is much more socially acceptable to “suspend judgment.”
Um what. The whole point of education is to ask questions—and, yes, look for answers! No, there aren’t always objective open-and-shut answers, and the search itself is often the most interesting part. But anyone who says the academy does not believe in answers once again hasn’t been listening.
And for the record, it was being told not to ask questions that made me leave the church, thank you very much. If I’d been allowed to ask questions, I might well have stayed.
8. The rise of a fad called “atheism.” Full of self-congratulatory swagger and blasphemous bravado, pop-level atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens (whom I interviewed twice) made it cool to be a non-believer. Many millennials, though mostly 20-something Caucasian males, are enamored by books and blogs run by God-hating “thinkers.”
This is not a new thing. Hip atheism existed before Christopher Hitchens.
9. Our new God: Tolerance be Thy name. “Tolerance” today essentially means, “Because my truth is, well, my truth, no one may ever question any behavior or belief I hold.” This “standard” has become so ingrained that it is now impossible to rationally critique any belief or behavior without a backlash of criticism.
Holy strawman batman! I don’t know literally anyone who believes that!
McFarland strikes me as the kind of person who would turn around and condemn the “gay marriage dogma” that has taken over society. How does he reconcile this? How can we both believe in tolerance such that literally no behavior should every be questioned, and also be oppose bigotry, abuse, sexism, and so forth?
10. The commonly defiant posture of young adulthood. As we leave adolescence and morph into adulthood, we all can be susceptible to an inflated sense of our own intelligence and giftedness. During the late teens and early 20s, many young people feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I did. The cultural trend toward rejection of God—and other loci of authority—resonates strongly with the desire for autonomy felt in young adulthood.
Um okay. Very patronizing, thanks.
Did you notice what is not on this list? Remember, this is supposed to be a list of reasons Millennials are backing away from God and Christianity. Guess what appears nowhere on that list? Bigotry against LGBTQ individuals. Or how about this one: An obsessive focus on premarital sex and modesty. Even Millennials who are still Christians and still go to church have problems with the church, and no, they’re not on the above list.
This is not to say that none of the reasons listed above have any merit to them. Some of them contain a (mangled, mashed) grain of truth. After all, mainline churches that have embraced gay rights and do real good in the community are also experiencing membership decline. The reality is that church attendance has become less important in our society today. Many young people are building community in other ways.
It is worth exploring the reasons for the decline in church attendance beyond evangelicalism. But that would be best explored by sociologists who have training in studying social change, and not by conservatives with an axe to grind. Meanwhile, I have a message for evangelicals like McFarland—stop blaming Millennials for not wanting to come to your church and fix your damn church. Maybe then we’d want to come.
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