According to new research, 43% of Millennials (aged 18-36), “don’t know, don’t care, or don’t believe that God exists.”
That’s one of many interesting findings of the 2021 American Worldview Inventory, an annual study conducted by Arizona Christian University and Barna Research.
That statistic lumps together agnostics (“don’t know”), atheists (don’t believe), and the spiritually indifferent (“don’t care”). Atheists usually do care about the issue of God’s existence. I suspect that “don’t care” is the largest category.
This indifference or opposition to religion is accompanied by distinct moral differences between Millennials and other generations. Of Millennials (born 1984-2002), 38% say that they “try to get even with people who have wronged you.” That compares to 33 % of Generation X (born 1965-1983), 12% of Boomers (born 1946-1964), and 10% of Builders (1927-1945).
Similarly, only 48% of Millennials–less than half–hold to the Golden Rule: “treat others as you want them to treat you.” That compares with 53% of Generation X, 81% of Baby Boomers, and 90% of Builders.
Interestingly, despite their reputation as the rebellious children of the “generation gap,” we Baby Boomers retained much of the moral capital of our parents’ Christianity, which has steadily dwindled with the next two generations. (And yet, 57% of Millennials consider themselves to be Christians, as do 70% of Generation X, 79% of Boomers, and 83% of Builders.)
But combined with other findings, the portrait emerges of a relatively mean and hard-bitten group of young adults. This, in spite of what they think about themselves. For example, the report notes,
Millennials champion the concept of tolerating different points of view. Yet we see in the research that their behaviors—such as promoting getting even, situational treatment of other people, or censoring specific viewpoints or policies—conflicts with their alleged embrace of tolerance and diversity. In fact, Millennials are twice as likely as older adults to specify that the people they respect are those who hold the same religious and political views as they do. The attitudinal and behavioral evidence related to a variety of beliefs and related behaviors suggests that they are not a tolerant generation despite their self-image and public promotion as such.
The report also notes other factors:
Interpersonal relationships will be more difficult to sustain due to declining levels of trust, diminished willingness to compromise, heightened reliance of technology for communication, and disappointments produced by the lack of moral consensus.
Reshaped family units given fewer formal marriages, increased levels of divorce and separation, liberalized sexual morality, and the reduced appeal of raising children.
Does this growing spiritual apathy refute my contention that secularism is crumbling? Not at all. The indifference to religion is manifesting itself in a distinct moral decline, not just in contentious areas such as sex and abortion, but in kindness and benevolence. That is a worldview failure that seems to be getting worse.
Also notable is that the worldviews this study chronicles may be secular, but they are far from being scientific and rationalistic. Over half of Millennials–51%–believe in the possibility of reincarnation, compared to 39% of Generation X, 29% of Boomers, and 20% of Builders. And a larger percentage of Millennials–35%–get personal guidance from horoscopes than the earlier generations, with 32% of Generation X, 10% of Boomers, and only 3% of Builders.
Their worldviews are also incoherent, but this is true of most Americans from all generations. The report says that most Americans–88%–are “syncretistic,” picking and choosing from a variety of belief systems without trying to reconcile them with each other (89% of Millennials, 86% of Gen Xers, 83% of Boomers, and 86% of Builders). The study did find that Biblical Theism, while inconsistently held, was still an influential worldview for 47% of Builders, 42% of Boomers, 22% of Generation Xers, and only 9% of Millennials.
So a secularism that sought to replace religion with science, faith with reason, moral absolutes with universal beneficence, narrow mindedness with tolerance has to a large degree succeeded in replacing religion, faith, morality, and narrow mindedness. But secularism has failed to bring about a culture of science, reason, beneficence, and tolerance. In fact, anti-intellectualism, judgmentalism, and inhumane attitudes seem to be worse than in previous generations. All this in a climate of cultural and psychological malaise.
The growing lack of interest in reproducing themselves–in having children–is also a sign of an overall hopelessness.
But what about our progress in overcoming racism, sexism, and poverty? What about our increased economic prosperity, scientific knowledge, and technological innovations? Those are, indeed, objectively notable achievements. Notice, though that many activists are denying that we have made progress in these areas, insisting that ours is still a racist, sexist, and economically oppressive society, and that our economy, science, and technology are destroying the earth. So there is zeal for social justice ideals, but it is paralyzed by pessimism and cynicism.
So, yes, the project of doing without religion is not going well.
Photo, “Confused Woman Saying ‘Don’t Know! Whatever” by Akshay Gupta via Pixahive, CC0