Why Young People Don’t Need God (Or Whoever’s Out There)

Today, 68 per cent of Generation Y-ers can firmly state that they have never doubted the existence of God. This figure seems high, until you compare it to the same study done five years ago, at 83 per cent. And there is nothing to indicate that this percentage isn’t still on the decline.

Michele Boorstein of the Washington Post reported that ‘the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels.’ Nor is this a lifecycle effect, meaning that as people age, they take recourse to religious belief: studies on generational patterns show that ‘the Millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.’

Pew Research Center, American Values Survey

Source: Pew Research Center

What I want to know is this: how hard is it be religious, or irreligious in our world today? In a free society bombarded with competing claims on our political, economic, cultural, social attitudes, how much space do we have for religious freedom? These statistics seem to tell us that the answer is none to little. If this is true, then what is the alternative, and is it enough?

As a young girl I often accompanied my friends to church; I attended a Baptist primary school and later, an Anglican high school, both where learning R.E. and going to Mass was compulsory. Later on, when my father embraced Buddhism in his forties, I was exposed to another widely different set of religious customs and values. To this day, I identify somewhat as an atheist, meaning I reject the existence of god/s – but I draw from the teachings of both religions openly – I do, for example, believe in being a good Samaritan, karma, and I’m still very undecided about reincarnation. We had medieval crusades and the purging of Catholics and Protestants. Is this crisis of atheism now a common theme amongst young people?

As fiercely independent Gen Y-ers who thrive on technology and media, we are the first generation born with freedom of information at our fingertips. Our umbilical cords may as well have been internet modems connecting us to the wise, wide world. Modern media forces are the tip of the iceberg of information revolution, which does precisely that: it informs us of the multitudes of views and facts out there. Some of these might even be opposing views to those taught to us by our teachers, parents or religious practitioners. This might explain why young people can increasingly take control of their beliefs, and seek the vast amount of diverse information available out there. In secular Australia, where church and state function independently, everyone enjoys freedom of religion without fear of discrimination or hatred, and this includes the freedom of religious conversion also. This is a different story in non-secular societies like Saudi Arabia or Iraq where freedom of religion, though constitutionally protected, still faces massive cultural hurdles. So political liberty to choose or leave your own religion might contribute to the decline of religious affiliation in Western countries compared to in the Middle East.

But here, religion is no longer a dominant part of the lives of most Gen Y-ers. Instead of religion and morality, our everyday existence has slowly been taken over by the modern logic of capitalism and global consumerism. Education, intellectual self-development and professional achievement is held as the highest standard of man; religion is viewed as backward and irrational. More than this; science is commonly referred to as the primary authority on humankind’s biological evolution. In a world where the scientific method is the guiding light to enlightenment, where can a young person find the personal and social freedom to uphold his or her own religious beliefs?

Wherever you look, the most common answer is in the family and community. The conditions for religious faith are deeply entrenched in our cultural systems, and an ever-important structure of the family unit. Strong community bonds forged through years of churchgoing and participation are lifelong, and give a young person the opportunity to deepen his or her faith. The hereditary nature of religious belief is also understated: How many Christians do you know were born into Christian families?

On the other side of the argument, atheism is not a religion; it has no church or ceremony. It is the denial of God, the absolute inverse of religion. To get to the depth of atheism, you have to evaluate the appeal of irreligion, or No Faith as it is sometimes known. According to Reuters, the no-religion group is the fastest growing religious affiliation category. Each year 1.3 million more adults claim identification with ‘no religious affiliation’. American economist and atheist Bryan Caplan gives a blunt and uncompromising statement on why he considers religious believers to be irrational.

They:

  • accept their religious beliefs with little or no evidence
  • accept religious beliefs that are contrary to the evidence
  • accept religious beliefs without studying competing views
  • are certain about religious beliefs that are dubious at best, and
  • accept their religious beliefs not because they are intellectually compelling, but because they are emotionally comforting.

Once we examine these points though, an important question arises: does atheism relieve the anxiety, isolation and disappointment that many seek to soothe through God, community and prayer? Most of us already live as if there are no gods. Atheists may have the upper hand on ideological justification – not satisfied with the rationale of believing anything, they opt to believe in nothing – but this lonely superiority could leave them feeling more bereft than their religious counterparts.

Perhaps we do reject brick and mortar religious institutions but we can’t deny that spirituality is something we all feel strongly. A friend of mine, a staunch atheist who was recently forced to sleep at the airport due to unforeseen circumstances, chose the Airport Prayer Room as his refuge that night. He jokingly insisted that philosophy was his religion, and as we were in the midst of phone conversation that night, he considered ‘all philosophical discussions a form of prayer’. Another friend has on occasions cited kindness as her religion.

Can these simple moral philosophies really take the place of entire belief systems? Why or why not?

Finally, I want to point out that alternatives to religion do exist if you’re after existential validation. Humanist and agnostic theories are not mere negations of religion, but pose sound arguments of their own. You may like to read about some of them here.

To end this off, religion is fast waning in a world of…well, trivial pursuit. This is unrelated to the intensity of faith of those who do declare themselves to be devoutly religious. But those numbers are steadily decreasing. Maybe it’s a matter of political liberty and choice, maybe it’s the media opening up more corners of the world to us. But at the end of the day no matter what you believe in, it should matter what kind of person you strive to be. And this is true for all of us regardless of religion or irreligion.

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6 thoughts on “Why Young People Don’t Need God (Or Whoever’s Out There)

  1. Hi, nice to meet you. I thought your post was interesting, but I have a tip for you, make your posts much shorter. I confess right away that I did not read the entire thing, I just skipped to a few paragraphs, and most people won’t even do that, they just won’t read your post at all. In blogging, less is more. Comments are another story, they are where the conversation takes place, and can get quite lengthy.

    You said, “Instead of religion and morality, the bedrock of our everyday existence has slowly been taken over by the modern logic of capitalism and global consumerism. Education, intellectual self-development and professional achievement is now declared the highest standard of the modern human. More than this; science is commonly referred to as the primary authority on humankind’s biological evolution.”

    I don’t believe in evolution, there’s a great website with articles and videos on the subject of Biblical creation if your interested, here’s the link: http://www.answersingenesis.org/

    Later you seem to mention a need in humans for religion, I would say this is because God created us this way. The things people have replaced Christianity with are indeed trivial pursuits. You speculated as to why this is happening, saying, “Maybe it’s a matter of political liberty and choice, maybe it’s the media opening up more corners of the world to us.”

    What you are talking about is the spread of Secular Humanism/Atheism, and it is happening for one reason only. Evolution is taught in the public education system as a fact. And faced with this “fact” people are deceived into believing there is no God.

    I have been very fortunate not only to study the Bible itself, but also to learn about Christian apologetics, which is the defense of the Christian faith. There are arguments from science, philosophy, and history that strongly support the truth of Christianity. I bet you’ve never heard of them. I bet you’ve never heard of Christian apologetics. Sadly, if so, you are at a great disadvantage.

    I’d like to talk more to you in the future. Maybe we can discuss some Christian apologetics. For now I’ll leave you with the link to Answers in Genesis, I hope you decide to have a look around the site, the articles and videos there are very professional and educational.

    Take good care. 🙂

    • Hello! Thank you very much for your comment – I agree that it would be quite a struggle to get through, I was a little over-ambitious when I started 😛 the topic is simply too broad and begs too many points of discussion. I was very interested in your rejection of scientific evolution on the basis of Biblical creation – however, do you think that there could still be compatibility between religion and science?

      As we know, public education is often taken for truth. For example in hindsight we recognise that public education during Cult of Personality in Maoist China was ‘brainwashing’ and a mess of misinformation: that was politics, but is this a similar view that we can apply to science though?
      To reject evolution and the way it is taught in schools carries a deeper implication that you believe science masquerades as truth. Although religion is still taught in the place of science in some schools, scientific evolution is different from religion in that it is thoroughly based on archeological evidence. It is widely accepted and so it is taught in schools. In the end though, the theory of evolution IS still just a theory, which is why we can agree to disagree based on differences of belief. People want to be shown proof, and taking in the Christian apologetics (or apologetics of any other religion) still requires a degree of faith. Finally if we are to agree that education needs a system of checks and balances, is the church a capable check on public education?

      I’ll definitely be reading up on more information from the Christian perspective. Again, thanks for the feedback.

      • You asked if I thought there could be compatibility between religion and science. I would say that the idea of evolution is not science, but Biblical creation is science. So from my perspective there is no conflict between true science and religion.

        You said, “scientific evolution is different from religion in that it is thoroughly based on archeological evidence.” I would say there is no such thing as “scientific” evolution. I want to offer you this article titled Hasn’t Evolution Been Proven True?:

        http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/hasnt-evolution-been-proven

        I strongly encourage you to make an investigation into the truth claims of Christianity, scientific and otherwise (for example the philosophical and historical arguments for Christianity). Here is a line of thought regarding and inquiry into Christianity you might consider:

        (1) If a claim X is plausible and accepted by a large number of intelligent people, and if accepting X would result in enormous benefits if X is true, then we should spend some time investigating X to see whether or not it is true.

        (2) Christianity is plausible and accepted by a large number of intelligent people.

        (3) Accepting Christianity would result in enormous benefits if Christianity is true.

        (4) Therefore, we should spend some time investigating Christianity to see whether or not it is true.

  2. Fellow state tutor. says:

    Wow, that was a great expository article. I must say this is probably one of the first articles i’ve read that even though supports the idea of atheism, doesn’t blatantly attack the idea of religion (to be more specific, Christianity, which most articles appear to be against). But here’s my two cents on religion.

    From a scientific standstill, the creation of the Universe did not, as many believe start from the Big Bang. In fact, the Big Bang itself has its own beginning. As discussed by Lawrence Krauss (whom i’ve had the utmost privilege to meet and discuss with), Canadian-American theoretical physicist, “nothing” was a mélange of anti-matter and matter which erupted to form the Big Bang. Anti-matter (a parallel to matter) plus matter is the scientific addition for zero, or in other words – “nothing” to the layman’s interpretation. Thus nothing had an origin. Because from nothing birthed the origin of matter and anti-matter. Logic pervades our minds to think that the idea of nothing cannot have an origin. However, the scientific nothing, contrary to the beliefs of multitudes, is not nothing at all. It is simply a mathematical equation of matter and anti-matter.

    You see, if we take matter as +1 (a number that exists practically) , and anti matter as -1(a number that does not actually exist!), and we added them, we get 0. What Krauss is saying, is not that +1 – 1 = 0. He is saying the opposite: 0 = +1 AND -1. But 0 had to come from somewhere! And that’s where the current standstill is.

    So really, in the beginning, there were +1s and -1s together, which added to 0, like vectors. But something happened, and they dispersed, (the big bang), and now, +1s (matter) and -1s (anti matter) are scattered. So still, this begs the idea of some sort of creation.

    But how does ANY God come into the picture? You see, there has to be a mathematician behind this ingenious concept, some call it an artist, others call it the potter. Either way, we haven’t, even in the 21st century’s physical understanding, come up with a theory that disproves the idea of a creator. Every idealogical theory, no matter how strong per se, does quite the opposite. It points to the concept of a creator so awesome in it’s artwork that we haven’t figured out even a fraction of the colours in his palette.

    Now let’s discuss my reasons as to why it’s a Christian God, and not any other Gods/Deities, or the “flying spaghetti monster” so disrespectfully used by Richard Dawkins. See Christianity itself is a fairly new religion. 2000 years old only really. So we have to search for the same God but with an earlier origin. And by this, we arrive at Judaism (the Jewish people), or Islam (Muslims). Why do these two stand out from every other religion? For one simple reason. The religions don’t work. Yes, put simply, the religion works because it doesn’t. It’s quite the paradox. But you see, back then, there were multitudes of religions, but what every single one of them had in common was the fact that they followed the idea of of polytheistic views.They had many Gods for many purposes. They had Gods that ruled over everything. That was what helped them revolve their lives and religion around.

    But Judaism and Islam had one thing in common. One God. A monotheistic view. This religion back then could not work. It wasn’t something that appealed to the masses. But it survived. Why? Well the views were different. They weren’t of worldly things, they spread around different preachings and gospels, and this differentiated them from the others. Now Christianity, is just a birth from Judaism. (remember, they are all still the same God). Why is Christianity so real in today’s world? It’s not because it’s so young. It’s because it’s so true.

    Historian John Dickson discusses that all historians accept for a fact, much like how the theory about gravity is accepted in the scientific community, that Jesus was a real person. There is just too much historical evidence to disprove the existence of Jesus Christ. Now, not all the historical evidence will tell you good things about Jesus. The romans hated him. The Greeks hated him even more. But what did it all still point to? The existence of a man who claimed to be the messiah, performed miracles, was outcasted by his own religious brothers, and crucified on the cross. Now, to me, that sounds like any other mad man.

    But i haven’t heard of mad men who claim to be the Son of God, not for his own name’s sake, but for the sake of his God. I’ve never heard of mad men who would die a most torturous manner, all for performing miracles, healing people (this fact was also accounted by historians for/against him), etc. Thousands of Christians have died in history trying to proclaim the gospel. And by proclaiming the gospel (good news), they do so without looking for fame, having left the life they know, to “chase a religion that is in no way remotely true” just to be stoned to death, have their flesh torn from their bone by persecutors? For me, i think the very idea that lead to believing those men were mad, is a mad idea in itself.

    And now to quote Bono (question was “isn’t Jesus being the son of God a bit farfetched?”) : No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.

    Look i know i’ve written a lot, and you might not have read anything. And that’s fine, but that’s my take on Christianity. I believe in a God, not just any God, but the Holy Trinity Godhead three in one God – father, spirit, son. Jesus Christ the Lord.

    God Bless and take care 🙂

    • Hehehe, Hi fellow state tutor 🙂 I really liked your thoughts! Thanks for taking the time to write it all out. You really could write your own article on this!

      The Big Bang theory ‘nothing has an origin’ take is the first I’ve heard it, and I found that really interesting. I also like this sentence: ‘But how does ANY God come into the picture? You see, there has to be a mathematician behind this ingenious concept, some call it an artist, others call it the potter.’ My question is what is there is no mathematician? No artist, no potter? What if, as science suggests, everything that happens on a macrocosmic level is the earth going through its natural processes? Can’t nature function as beautifully and harmoniously as it does without the hand of God?

      Also, do we necessarily have to conclude that Jesus was either the Messiah or a madman? I don’t think ‘Thousands of Christians died in history trying to proclaim the gospel’ necessarily says anything about Christianity. Yes, they had conviction in their belief of the highest order, but we can’t take that to mean the gospel is undeniably true. After all religious believers of every stripe and colour have always acted on their faith even to the level of transcending their own life. Same as when you talk about Jesus as ‘This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go’ when he was dying for his God and people. The words bomb and martyrdom jump out at me – because this argument could equally as easily be used to validate the actions of Islamic suicide-terrorists. Because a mad man wouldn’t have done such unthinkably painful deeds in the name of sacrifice – ‘to save us all’, as martyrs do – would you jump to the natural conclusion that the bomber must therefore not be a madman, but the Islamic Messiah/Prophet?

      I feel that the only thing that bothers me about choosing and sticking to one particular religion is how you have to disprove and reject all other religions. Increasingly I have begun to feel that perhaps all religions are different parts of the same puzzle of spirituality/divinity, and this is an aspect of us that is innately human (going off topic do you think animals have a need for religion also? I’d like to think that spirituality, in the sense that we need to feel a deep connection to the universe, resides in everything IN the universe: humans, other animals, even plants and flowers maybe, who knows.)

      Anyway, a massive thank you for sharing your views. We should totally have pretentious conversations in real life some time maybe hahaha! See ya around 🙂

      • Fellow state tutor. says:

        Making this a short reply. I’ll happily answer that first question you posed:

        “What if, as science suggests, everything that happens on a macrocosmic level is the earth going through its natural processes? Can’t nature function as beautifully and harmoniously as it does without the hand of God?”

        Well, having brought on the point that science hasn’t concretely supported the idea of nothing yet (in this case, nothing meaning NOTHING), or even introduced the very concept of nothing, it places all of humanity on the same podium with one word etched out – faith.

        Faith to believe there is something out there (a more agnostic view, but this envelopes those with a concrete view), or faith to believe there is nothing out there.

        Faith meaning the complete belief in something. Or as most point to faith as the complete confidence without, or with little evidence, but with the utmost conviction.

        So to believe there is no potter that sculpted the universe into existence, would take on the very same faith of those, who do believe there is a mind at work behind all the perfect intricate details.

        Just as it takes great faith to believe in Christ, i think personally, it takes greater faith to believe in nothing.

        p.s. you might also question the origin of God. A quick (but definitely not satisfying) answer to that is that God has been omnipresent since the beginning. And cannot be moulded into our idea of the fourth dimension (time) nor the physics that we engineered. Put simply, you can’t define and bind the creator on what he created.

        🙂 see you soon

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