Why millennials are leaving religion but embracing spirituality

December 15, 2015 by Caroline Newman

"Spiritual but not religious."

This tagline has become increasingly popular with the – aged 18 to 34 – and University of Virginia Associate Religious Studies Professor Matthew Hedstrom has spent a lot of time asking why. He's finding answers in today's consumer capitalist culture.

A Pew Research Center survey, published in November, revealed that millennials are less attached to organized religion than their parents or grandparents were at the same age, with only about 40 percent saying religion is very important in their lives. However, the same survey revealed that about 80 percent of millennials believe in God and increasing numbers identify with statements like "I feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being" or "I experience a deep sense of wonder about the universe."

Hedstrom, the son of a pastor, said he "cares deeply about the church," but also recognizes the validity of many critiques. In his class, "Spirituality in America," and in a recent flash seminar on millennial spirituality, Hedstrom has examined why millennials are letting go of traditional religion, where they are going instead and what consumer capitalism has to do with it.

UVA Today sat down with Hedstrom to find out more.

Q. What are some factors driving millennials away from organized religion?

A. I think that a lot of it has to do with the perceived political entanglement of religion, especially Christianity. Really, when we are talking about people leaving religion, we are talking about people leaving Christianity. When you look at the numbers, the growth of the religiously unaffiliated is almost entirely related to people leaving Catholic and Protestant churches.

There has been a particularly steep drop-off since the 2000s, which I believe can be attributed, at least in part, to the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church and the debate about gay marriage.

This does not mean that millennials don't believe in God. There are a growing number of religiously unaffiliated millennials who still report believing in God, and even praying regularly, and many of these call themselves "spiritual but not religious."

Q. What is the relationship between millennial spirituality and consumer capitalism?

A. Spirituality is what consumer capitalism does to religion. Consumer capitalism is driven by choice. You choose the things that you consume – the bands you like, the books you read, the clothes you wear – and these become part of your identity construction. Huge parts of our social interactions center on these things and advertising has told millennials, from birth, that these are things that matter, that will give you fulfillment and satisfaction. This is quite different from agricultural or industrial capitalism, where someone's primary identity was as a producer.

The millennial approach to spirituality seems to be about choosing and consuming different "religious products" – meditation, or prayer, or yoga, or a belief in heaven – rather than belonging to an organized congregation. I believe this decline in religious affiliation is directly related to the influence of consumer capitalism.

Q. The abundance of choice available to many Americans today has led to what psychologists call "analysis paralysis" – being afraid to make a choice because there are so many options. How has this impacted millennial spirituality?

A. Millennials, especially middle- and upper-class millennials, have so many options, as it has become easier to move around and interact with the rest of the world. A peasant living in 14th-century France would not have faced the same conundrum about whether or how to be a Catholic. A millennial today can access information about Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and various pagan beliefs with just a few clicks, or just by talking to people they encounter.

This is both liberating and paralyzing. Having so many options creates a lot of anxiety about which religious beliefs, careers or relationships millennials should choose. Spirituality allows millennials to avoid choosing one religion and instead combine elements from many.

Q. There are many criticisms of the millennial generation – that they're entitled, lazy or materialistic. You've studied them – and taught them – for years. How would you characterize millennials?

A. In many ways, I see this turn toward spirituality as a rebellion against the materialism they have been surrounded by. The I see have a lot of economic anxiety, which is very understandable after the recession. They wonder if they will be able to have the same lifestyle their parents had. They are worried about student loan debt and about getting a job in the current economy. They want to be financially comfortable, but I think most of them only see this as a means to an end.

They also want to be a part of something larger – a spiritual belief, perhaps, or a movement to improve the environment, or social justice. I don't see millennial college students today as shallow or selfish. I see a deep amount of understandable anxiety and a lot of care for the larger world and life's big questions.

Q. Do you see the move away from organized religion continuing?

A. It is hard to say for certain, but I do think that many of the things driving this shift – such as consumerism or scientific critiques of traditional – are not going away anytime soon.

Explore further: Researchers find millennials are by far the least religious generation

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krundoloss
2.8 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
In my opinion, being a "millennial" and friends with them as well, the popular opinion held by most is that we want to believe what we believe, not be told what to believe. For instance, I believe in God, of some type, but I believe that God cannot be defined in human terms and to do so is like a form of delusion. I have attended Church while growing up, but even at the age of 5 or 6, I believe what I wanted to believe, not what I was told. Church is mostly a Social institution, with a religious theme. Why can't I take the parts of Christianity that I like and agree with, but leave the dogma behind. Being human is not a sin, I will not feel guilty for being a human animal. I don't think a God would create something with a certain nature and then say that the nature is wrong. If it feels good, do it. Whether its masturbating or giving to the poor. Just my 2 cents.
chordsaplenty
1 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2015
Agreed. An orthodox agnostic here. The major world religions and many smaller religions, are at base, sexual regulation societies and they are slow to adapt to the quickening pace of information and the requisite ever greater need for wisdom. But there is more than "feeling good" in the moment as a barometer for our actions. There are longer satisfactions and fulfillments that can be achieved and these are largely the result of making choices of awareness that are harmonic with God's grace. God's grace (which you all have) is that deep down beneath all the bullshit in silent moments, you know- that you love people. If we can act from there, then we will do ok. N.B. it's really hard sometimes and some spiritual teachings provide some good starting points. Thanks for the article!
kochevnik
3.5 / 5 (8) Dec 15, 2015
Beliefs are simply canonized ignorance, where direct knowledge and understanding are lacking
TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2015
@chaordsaplenty:

Here are several verses in the Christian Bible that deal with sex:
Exodus 22:19 (ESV): "Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death."
Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (NIV): 11: If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12: you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.
Leviticus 20:13 (ESV): If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

When I get to Heaven I am going to have me a beachfront home with nice waves and with hot humanoid babes to help me with my every need. After all, it is Heaven where good dreams are to come true.
SuperThunder
3.9 / 5 (7) Dec 15, 2015
Religion is also incredibly expensive. In the USA, Christianity makes it well known that you are damned if you have no money to give to God. Spirituality, by comparison, is free so long as you can't be put to death for it. My neighborhood Christian church, by comparison, wont let you be a member unless your credit score is high enough and no I am not joking. I wish I could find that video of the megachurch telling their congregation to fill out bank forms to give them access to their accounts for tithing, and that God would damn them if they prayed about it. Expand this ideology to a political party and you have the USA's foreign policy. Also not a favorite aspect of the country for millennials, or anyone sane.
krundoloss
4 / 5 (4) Dec 15, 2015
When I get to Heaven I am going to have me a beachfront home with nice waves and with hot humanoid babes to help me with my every need. After all, it is Heaven where good dreams are to come true.


That's what gets me, right there. So you go to "heaven", presumably you have ascended your physical form and are now in the spiritual realm. Yet you think this will be the same existence you live in now, with a body, and sexual organs, and that you can have sex with women out of wedlock. You don't see the irony there? Its contradictory. It's how you make a dumb person do what you want. THINK, don't believe, don't agree with others just to fit in, THINK.
TabulaMentis
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 15, 2015
@krundoloss:

When I die I plan on going to Heaven. I do know where you plan on going in your afterlife?
Maybe you are not aware of it, but you are a spirit being right now, except with an atomic covering.
When I get to Heaven I will have a new covering and a new improved body.
As far as having sex with those hot Heavenly humanoid babes, maybe I will just look at them for kicks.
Maybe I will not be allowed to have sex with the angel without getting married first.
I have not thought about where I would go in Heaven for my honeymoon?
TabulaMentis
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 15, 2015
Why are some people spiritual?

13 Doctrines of Islam Found Inside the Quran (Koran):

1: You can rape, marry and divorce pre-pubescent girls; (Qur'an 65:4).
2: You can enslave for sex and work (Qur'an 4:3, 4:24, 33:50, see also 70:29-30).
3: You can beat women. (Qur'an 4:34).
4: You will need 4 Muslim male witnesses to prove a rape (Qur'an 24:4).
5: Kill Jews and Christians if they do not convert or pay Jizya tax (Qur'an 9:29).
6: Crucify and amputate non-Muslims (Qur'an 8:12, 47:4).
7: You will kill non-Muslims to receive 72 virgins in heaven (Qur'an 9:111).
8: You will kill anyone who leaves Islam (Qur'an 2:217, 4:89).
9: You will behead non-Muslims (Qur'an 8:12, 47:4).
10: You will kill and be killed for Allah (verse of the sword - Qur'an 9:5).
11: You will terrorize non-Muslims (Qur'an 8:12, 8:60).
12: Steal from non-Muslims; (Qur'an chapter 8 - booty/spoils of war).
13: Lie to strengthen Islam (Taqiyya deception - Qur'an 3:54, 9:3, 16:106, 40:28, see also 2:22).
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
2 / 5 (4) Dec 16, 2015
TL; DR: An opinion piece with no science but a lot of theology ("Religious Studies"), osculating the rump of religion as an atheist would say.

And the little science there was, in the form of Pew statistics, is theologically interpreted. "I experience a deep sense of wonder about the universe" is something any scientist could - often will - say regardless of religiosity.

This article is not fitting a science site.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
2 / 5 (4) Dec 16, 2015
The religuious magic comment thread is hardly worth commenting on. This takes the centerpiece of pretentious buffoonery though:

[TabulaMentis] (Meaningless religious blather, followed by)

An erroneous claim: "you are a spirit".

This is claimed 2 years [!] after the LHC closed the Standard Model of particles, famously closing off all possibility of magical dualities regarding biochemistry. (To add to earlier closures of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, evolution, ...)

All we are, is particles of quantum fields interacting in the quantum vacuum. The energy limit for parallel 'spirit' magic interacting with our bodies is too high with a factor 1000 to have passed unobserved.

"Let It Be Hereafter Be Known To All, There Is No Magic, There Is No 'Afterlife'. Religion Is False Magic Crap."

- Large Hadron Collider, 2013.
TabulaMentis
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2015
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson:

The spiritual body begins long before biochemistry.
When you mention "spiritual dualities" the first thing I think of is Schrödinger's cat.
What you said "To add to earlier closures of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, evolution, ..." makes absolutely no sense at all.
You need to loosen up and think small, not big.
Hang in there dummy, in less than thirty-five years from now you will be singing a different tune!
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2015
@TM: "'body' before biochemistry [body] ".

Obvious to everyone else, this is a hypothesis that rejects itself. As I already noted, the LHC showed 2 years ago that there isn't any magic. You will have to show how the Standard Model is false to remove that result.

But I see you realize that you have run out of argument, since you moved on to ad hominem. An old advice: if you have nothing else but a foul mouth, don't open it for everyone to see,
chordsaplenty
not rated yet Dec 20, 2015
"We are particles of quantum fields interacting in the quantum vacuum."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I find this to be one of those most magical statements I've read.

TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2015
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson

You are dumb for calling people a buffoon. You are the one guilty of hominem.

The LHC has undergone new upgrades and has just recently found something new.

December 18, 2015: LHC Experiment Hints at Possibility of New Particle.

Link: http://www.nbcnew...-n482716

Like I said, hang in there!
TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (2) Dec 21, 2015
@torbjorn_b_g_larsson

I should have mentioned years ago here on Physorg I blogged about dark matter particles I call WEIRDOs (Weak Elementary Interacting Rotational Dynamic Objects) which will make it easier for people to understand how our bodies are spiritual and how we humans before year 2050 will be able to be immortal here on planet Earth, as well as in our afterlife.

Semi-related link: http://phys.org/n...ime.html
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2015
Heaven is directly above your head, assuming your are not standing on your head
TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2015
@kochevnik

Heaven is directly above your head, assuming your are not standing on your head

I hope you do not plan on becoming a god anytime soon. Anyone that has a big bang implosion-explosion inside their home to create our universe would not have a very high IQ.

Semi-related link: https://www.bible...sion=KJV

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