ONTD Political

More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?

7:57 pm - 01/18/2013

One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent U.S. history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of young Americans say they don't belong to any religion.

NPR's David Greene wanted to understand why, so he gathered a roundtable of young people at a synagogue in Washington, D.C. The 6th & I Historic Synagogue seemed like the right venue: It's both a holy and secular place that has everything from religious services to rock concerts. Greene speaks with six people — three young women and three young men — all struggling with the role of faith and religion in their lives.

Miriam Nissly, 29, was raised Jewish and considers herself Jewish with an "agnostic bent." She loves going to synagogue.

"I realize maybe there's a disconnect there — why are you doing it if you don't necessarily have a belief in God? But I think there's a cultural aspect, there's a spiritual aspect, I suppose. I find the practice of sitting and being quiet and being alone with your thoughts to be helpful, but I don't think I need to answer that question [about God] in order to participate in the traditions I was brought up with."

Yusuf Ahmad, 33, raised Muslim, is now an atheist. His doubts set in as a child with sacred stories he just didn't believe.


"Today if some guy told you that 'I need to sacrifice my son because God told me to do it,' he'd be locked up in a crazy institution.""Like the story of Abraham — his God tells him to sacrifice his son. Then he takes his son to sacrifice him, and he turns into a goat. I remember growing up, in like fifth [or] sixth grade I'd hear these stories and be like, 'That's crazy! Why would this guy do this? Just because he heard a voice in his head, he went to sacrifice his son and it turned into a goat?' There's no way that this happened. I wasn't buying it.

Kyle Simpson, 27, raised Christian. He has a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that says "Salvation from the cross" in Latin.

"It's a little troublesome now when people ask me. I tell them and they go, 'Oh, you're a Christian,' and I try to skirt the issue now. They go, 'What does that mean?' and it's like, "It's Latin for 'I made a mistake when I was 18.'

"When I first got the tattoo I remember thinking, 'Oh, this will be great because when I'm having troubles in my faith I will be able to look at it, and I can't run away from it.' And that is exactly what is happening.

"I don't [believe in God] but I really want to. That's the problem with questions like these is you don't have anything that clearly states, 'Yes, this is fact,' so I'm constantly struggling. But looking right at the facts — evolution and science — they're saying, no there is none. But what about love? What about the ideas of forgiveness? I like to believe they are true and they are meaningful.

"I think having a God would create a meaning for our lives, like we're working toward a purpose — and it's all worthwhile because at the end of the day we will maybe move on to another life where everything is beautiful. I love that idea."


"Starting in middle school we got the lessons about why premarital sex was not OK, why active homosexuality was not OK, and growing up in American culture, kids automatically pushed back on those things, and so we had some of those conversations in school with our theology teachers. The thing for me — a large part of the reason I moved away from Catholicism was because without accepting a lot of these core beliefs, I just didn't think that I could still be part of that community.Melissa Adelman, 30, raised Catholic

"I remember a theology test in eighth grade where there was a question about homosexuality, and the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that's how God made you, but acting upon it would be a sin. That's what I put down as the answer, but I vividly remember thinking to myself that that was not the right answer."

Rigoberto Perez, 30, raised as Seventh-day Adventist

"It was a fairly important part of our lives. It was something we did every Saturday morning. We celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday. It was pretty hard growing up in a lot of ways. We didn't have a lot of money, the household wasn't very stable a lot of the time, so when something bad would happen, say a prayer, go to church. When my mom got cancer the first time, it was something that was useful at the time for me as a coping mechanism.

"While I was younger, my father drank a lot. There was abuse in the home. My brother committed suicide in 2001. So at some point you start to say, 'Why does all this stuff happen to people?' And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be I'm being tried? I find that almost kind of cruel in some ways. It's like burning ants with a magnifying glass. Eventually that gets just too hard to believe anymore."

Lizz Reeves, 23, raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father. She lost a brother to cancer.

"I wanted so badly to believe in God and in heaven, and that's where he was going. I wanted to have some sort of purpose and meaning associated with his passing. And ultimately the more time I spent thinking about it, I realized the purpose and meaning of his life had nothing to do with heaven, but it had to do with how I could make choices in my life that give his life meaning. And that had a lot more weight with me than any kind of faith in anything else."

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mentalguru 19th-Jan-2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Leaving religion is never easy- be it leaving the actual community or not but numbers rising in terms of those leaving it is pretty understandable. While discouragement still exists to do so within some religious communities, people have the ability to ask questions more than they ever could before, anonymously even, if they wish it to be so. And heck, even if you don't ask the questions, you can come and lurk on other peoples conversations and see the answers they provide. People convert but also more commonly it seems these days, deconvert on the basis of the various things they're exposed to. Belief isn't exactly a conscious choice in my opinion, but let's face it, exposure changes things.

Heck, the internet had a lot to do with my healing and dealing with the fact I was no longer a christian too. And it probably had a part to play in my actual de-conversion. Even though in the long term I think I'm happier this way in the short-term the various feelings that can come with it were overwhelming in some cases.
hey_kayla_jay 19th-Jan-2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
I haven't identified as Catholic in years but I still feel bad about leaving it sometimes. Catholic guilt, man. That shit is real.
emofordino 19th-Jan-2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
It really is!
hey_kayla_jay 19th-Jan-2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
I feel guilt about EVERYTHING. Just the dumbest shit. I thought it was part of my anxiety but now I think its just leftover from all the brainwashi- err, Sunday school I had to attend for years.
shadwrayvn 19th-Jan-2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
argg yes the guilt is just horrible even though I know it was the right choice for me the guilt still follows me!
hey_kayla_jay 19th-Jan-2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
Mt Aunt said to me one day about me not going to church anymore; "It doesn't matter, Kayla. You'll always be a Catholic girl at heart," and it was very hard for me not to say "fuck me I hope not."
silver_apples 19th-Jan-2013 04:30 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah. I only attend church on Christmas and Easter and that's just to make my mom happy. But I still sometimes feel guilty about not going, and I struggle with my liberal beliefs versus my Catholic upbringing.

The rule in my immediate family is don't discuss politics or religion with my extended family, because they are all far more religious and conservative than we are, and it just leads to arguments.
hey_kayla_jay 19th-Jan-2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
The last time I went to Chruch was for a wedding. Thank god (harhar) it wasn't a Catholic ceremony, the whole thing took fifteen minutes flat. Best wedding ever.
silver_apples 19th-Jan-2013 05:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I go for weddings and baptisms and confirmations. One of my bizarrest anxieties is how I would have my wedding ceremony--should it be religious? Who would I get to officiate since I don't have much connection to any church? This in spite of the fact that I'm single and not even looking for a relationship.

Short weddings are nice. You can focus on the fact that it is a wedding. When there's a full or partial mass, it's just boring routine, and the wedding aspect gets lost.
hey_kayla_jay 19th-Jan-2013 05:35 pm (UTC)
My boyfriend is still a bit religious and I think he wants us to tie the knot in a church. Personally I'd prefer a courthouse and I think my parents might give me hell for doing a church ceremony but, you know, I love him and all that.
mentalguru 19th-Jan-2013 04:51 pm (UTC)
Oh man, I was a presbyterian (raised in it) and occasionally I feel bad? But it's more in the case of disappointing my parents and them possibly worrying for my eternal soul. I kind of wonder how anxious they are about it. I think they might tell themselves they can put a good word in or I'll come around eventually. IDK.

lickety_split 19th-Jan-2013 09:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I still find it hard to let go sometimes. I'll start calling myself an Atheist-Catholic (even though, atheist or not, Mary is still my hero for getting away with the most legendary lie ever)..
rex_dart 20th-Jan-2013 05:13 am (UTC)
Mary is the best part of Catholicism next to the cannibalism.
amyura 20th-Jan-2013 02:46 am (UTC)
Totally real! I feel guilty even when someone screws me over!
lickety_split 19th-Jan-2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
Heck, the internet had a lot to do with my healing and dealing with the fact I was no longer a christian too.

Yeah the Internet helped me become comfortable with admitting that I'm an atheist and always have been.
mingemonster 20th-Jan-2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
The internet was such a huge help for me. I had a lot of anxiety about going to hell, and WHAT IF God really did exist. Looking for arguments against religion really calmed me down
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