Millennials’ retreat from religion bodes ill for U.S. politics

Millennials’ retreat from religion bodes ill for U.S. politics December 14, 2019

The hope among religious Americans that nonreligious millennials might one day return to church pews when they started having kids is looking increasingly unrealistic.

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Is impeachment a religious and political harbinger? (Marvin Moose, Flikr, Public Domain)

Millennials, members of a demographic also known as Generation Y, or simply Gen Y, is comprised of young adults born roughly between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

“For a long time … it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good,” noted a FiveThirtyEight website article this month titled “Millennials are leaving religion and not coming back.”

The article reported that an American Enterprise Institute survey of more than 2,500 Americans showed “little evidence of a … surge in religious interest” among millennials, even though many now are married with children and have mortgages. AEI’s survey reported that data suggested several key reasons:

  • Many millennials “never had strong ties to religious to begin with.”
  • Many in Gen Y increasingly nonreligious spouses, “which may help reinforce their secular worldview.”
  • Many millennial parents say they think religious institutions “are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.”

Although millennials are iconic of a broader shift in American society away from faith and toward more secular attitudes, they didn’t start the trend. They are more likely than previous generations to be offspring of parents without religious connections. The AEI survey reported that 17 percent of millennials were not raised in any religious tradition, compared to only 5 percent of Baby Boomers.

The reason a lack of religious indoctrination in youth is relevant is because, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, “regardless of the religion, those raised in households in which both parents shared the same religion still identified with that fate in adulthood,” FiveThirtyEight reported.

That study noted, for instance, that 84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents were still Protestant as adults, and that people raised without religion were less likely to seek it as they grew older. It also found that 63 percent of people raised by two nonreligious parents remained nonreligious as adults. Today, 74 percent of nonreligious millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse.

FiveThirtyEight interviewed Luke Olliff, 30, of Atlanta, who said he and his wife gradually moved away from religious affiliation.

“We moved to a city a talk a lot about how we came to see all of this negativity from people who were highly religious and increasingly didn’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

Pew notes that 57 percent of millennials think people of faith are generally more intolerant of others. Forty-six percent don’t think belief in God is necessary to inculcate morality.

The broad religious apathy of Gen Y is a disconcerting omen for political stability in the United States, the FiveThirtyEight article suggested. The article contends that “the strong association between between religion and the Republican Party may actually be fueling” the currently widening gap between adherents of the two main political parties.

“And if even more Democrats lose their faith, that will only exacerbate the acrimonious rift between secular liberals and religious conservatives,” wrote co-authors Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux in the article.

Citing Michele Margolis, the author of “From the Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity,” the article said the paradigm shift is in one direction.

“At that critical moment when people are getting married and having kids and their religious identity is becoming more stable, Republicans mostly do still return to religion — it’s Democrats that aren’t coming back,” Margolis told FiveThirtyEight in a September interview with the news site.

So, it’s perhaps a harbinger of the future as the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate gets ready to try two controversial impeachment articles against President Trump passed Friday by the Democratic U.S. House.

If you listened to the acrimonious arguments about the articles among House members this week, as I did, one fact was startling: the Democratics and Republics seemed not only in disagreement but on different planets.

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