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Losing our religion: Study suggests growing agnostic demographic among young adults

By Elizabeth ClementeSpecial To the Chronicle

If you type the phrase “self-involved millenials” into Google, you will come up with 574,000 results in half a second. The numerous links lead to articles that question whether our generation is full of open-minded, culturally aware go-getters, or entitled, attention-seeking narcissists.

According to a 2013 study published by the Pew Research Center, nearly one-third of American adults ages 18-29 identify as having no religion. While our generation has been widely portrayed as haughty and defiant, I don’t believe our supposed arrogance to be a factor in this statistic.

First of all, it’s important to consider the fact that a large number of Americans today – even those older than we are – would consider themselves non-practicing when it comes to their faith. Growing up in a home where religion is vague and has little influence on everyday life can be confusing, and it doesn’t exactly make kids passionate about becoming more involved.

Instead of jumping to the conclusion that millenials are too stubborn and conceited to adhere to one religion’s practices, maybe we should look at it from a different perspective. Perhaps part of the reason such a large portion of our generation classifies themselves this way is because they would rather be passionate about their beliefs than hold a lukewarm position.

Another factor to consider is the age of the people in question. A different study also conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 28 percent of U.S. adults today have left the faith in which they were raised. Chances are, these people needed some time to reconsider their stance. If the same young adults who classified themselves as having no religion were to be surveyed again ten years from now, maybe some of their responses would be different.

Ultimately, regardless of the reason for these numbers, the effect that this growing religious ambiguity will have on our country’s future political climate will be dramatic. According to John P. Teehan, Ph.D., Hofstra University professor of religion and chair of the religion department, the idea of not being openly religious is “more of an option than it ever was before.”

For many young people, religion “helps provide a moral framework and context for [their] community,” said Teehan, explaining that religion is, “part of their understanding of how to be in the world.” But while a sense of belonging and tradition can have benefits, it can also be exclusive, and the rigidity of organized religion can be a turn off for our generation. Therefore, Teehan said he believes it is very possible that as the open-minded millennials grow older and begin families of their own, the U.S. could become more secular.

If the agnostic demographic continues to grow, the amount of opposition to certain legislation on religious grounds will inevitably decrease. While it may take several decades for this change to become prominent, the shift toward a more secular America will be interesting to witness.

As for now, instead of critics labeling this generation as self-engrossed, maybe they should instead be taking a closer look at its integrity.


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