This is not exactly breaking news to those of us in religious vocations: Charles Blow at Hot Air reports that "Young voters want spirituality, but not necessarily religion."
A report entitled “Religion Among the Millennials” produced by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life and released this week found that one in four people 18 to 29 years old are unaffiliated with a religion. But that by no means makes them all atheists or agnostics. While there are always religious people among the unaffiliated, the numbers are significantly higher among the younger unaffiliated crowd. While they are less likely than those unaffiliated and older than them to believe in God, they are more likely to believe in life after death, heaven and hell, and miracles…The Pew reports is here: summary page, full report. Glenn Reynolds commented on the goal of "spirituality" rather than religion, "Well, that’s because religion often tells you to do things you don’t want to do, or to refrain from doing things you want to do, while spirituality is usually more . . . flexible."
In fact, on some measures, the data suggest that these so-called millennials may be more spiritually thirsty than older generations. According to a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll also released this month, being “spiritual or close to God” was the most selected of any other “primary long-term life goal” among those 18 to 29 years old (other choices included “to get married and have a family” and “to get rich”). The rate at which they selected it was significantly higher than other generational groups, and nearly twice that of Generation X.
Well, yeah. "Spirituality" is religious Calvinball, a game featured in comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes." The rules of Calvinball are simple: there are no rules. Players make them up as they go along and any player may change any rule for any reason. That's what "spirituality" is.
Now, before you think that I'm digging in my heels like Governor LePetomane ("We've got to protect our phony-baloney jobs!"), I'm not. It's an interesting statistic that the highest rate of young adults who are least likely to attend a church are pastors' children. (Think of a church corollary to what Bismarck said about sausage and laws and you'll see why.)
Nor is the move away from established churches a new development. Consider this critique and guess when it was written:
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.That was written in 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he languished in Birmingham jail. Have we learned anything in the last 47 years? Consider this present-day critique by United Methodist pastor Michael Slaughter on the establishment church's preoccupation with growth for growth's sake:
We had achieved getting behinds in the seats, but I realized that all we had really done was accumulate crowds of spectators who were not moving toward deeper faith and service.So I am not exactly criticizing the young adults who retreat from establishmentarian religion, but they are mistaken if they think that self-made "spirituality" is any better. Professsor David Bentley Hart explains why:
Many people in our churches today profess faith in God, but they emobody the values of the dominant culture. They possess a soft-secular worldview rather that the worldview of Jesus. These folks believe in God and profess Jesus, but they trust the materialistic values of secular culture. (From Change the World - Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus, which I emphatically recommend, temporarily a free Kindle download)
Even when we have shed the moral and religious precepts of our ancestors, most of us try to be ethical and even, in many cases, "spiritual." It is rare, however, that we are able to impose anything like a coherent pattern upon the the somewhat haphazard collection of principles and practices by which we do this. ... we assemble fragments of traditions we half remember, gather ethical maxims almost at random from the surrounding culture, attempt to find inner equilibrium between tolerance and conviction, and so on, until we have knit together something like a code, suited to our needs, temperaments, capacities, and imaginations. We select the standards or values we find appealing from a larger market of moral options and then try to arrange them into some sort of tasteful harmony.That the establishment Protestant church is failing to carry out its charter (with occasional exceptions) is, I think, empirically provable. My prescription for reversing this deadly trend in my denomination (the UMC) alone would occupy too many pages to post here. (Walter Russell Mead's essay about the Episcopal church is worth reading, but the leftist preoccupation he describes of that church is not the primary problem of the UMC today.) The point of this post is that for all the just criticisms that may be made of the American Church, private "spirituality" is not a solution. The hodgepodge of religious sensitivity without religious attachment results in religious-spritual confusion among the Millennials, says the Pew report.
... Here one may cultivate a private atmosphere of "spirituality" as undemanding and therapeutically comforting as one likes simply by purchasing a dream catcher, a few pretty crystals, some books on the goddess, a Tibetan prayer wheel ... and so forth [making spirituality] indistinguishable from interior decorating
Young adults also attend religious services less often than older Americans today. And compared with their elders today, fewer young people say that religion is very important in their lives.Exactly how a self-created spirituality that has no norms but ones agreeable to oneself is supposed to lead to eternal life in heaven is a deep mystery to me. It rather reverses the places of God and mortals, making, I suppose, God obligated to let one in to eternal life with him because ... well, because why? Just because I'm "spiritual?" Sorry, but except for one's own imagination and woolly wishfulness, what is the basis for staking one's eternity on that, if indeed one believes in eternity at all?
Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults' beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago.
Update: My last paragraph might not be very clear on the point I am trying to make. Let me expand. The Pew report released this month, and another one released in 2006, both said that young adults (up to mid-twenties was their cutoff) are becoming evermore strongly inclined toward personal spirituality, apart from organized religious bodies but at the same time tend to affirm very orthodox Christian concepts such as heaven, hell and judgment by God.
So my question is, can reliance on a self-created "spirituality" be reconciled coherently with orthodox concepts? I don't see how. For if God is going to judge us, it will surely be by God's standards, not ours.
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