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 05:04 pm (UTC)
It does seem rather counterproductive. Of course people did say to me the whole reason for the sacrifice was to get humanity's attention- to impress -us- rather than god because clearly the necessity of sacrificing your son (who is also YOU) to change rules you yourself put in place is a bit silly. And disturbing. Can't forget that.


But then why doesn't god simply say 'sup each generation or something? I never got the idea of the necessity of faith in my case because it seemed so unfair. I mean the belief in something like an event you never witnessed, isn't a good way to judge someone. It's got nothing to do with morality. It's just... belief in an event you didn't see. It more says something about your character when it comes to your reaction to what you believe is literally true then whether you believe it in the first place. I mean if someone believes in hell- a christian who is actually genuinely concerned for others hurting there is a better person than those grinning with glee at the unbelievers suffering eternal torment. They believe the same thing, but they're not the same.

You have awful and good people out there. And if all people are unworthy (since an adulterer is still an adulterer etc.), how could belief in an unwitnessed event, and accepting it absolve you? Also, when I forgive someone, they're technically forgiven whether they believe it or accept it, so why did THAT, the most important forgiveness ever given, have that extra stipulation?

Yeah, questions like that kept me up at night.

Edited at 2013-01-19 05:05 pm (UTC)
kishmet 19th-Jan-2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
I laughed at this comment because it's either laugh or cry. This sentence:

the necessity of sacrificing your son (who is also YOU) to change rules you yourself put in place is a bit silly. And disturbing.

idg how otherwise reasonable adults can believe in this because the logic is problematic throughout the Christian mythos. The deity here is omnipotent and omniscient, created everything to be just the way he wanted, but then he has to punish Eve and Adam and all other animals) for their 'sin' and has to test Abraham and Job's faith (in the cruellest possible ways) and has to wipe out humanity with a flood and to set plagues on the Egyptians... this is a dude who would've known what would happen in every single case

I mean from a secular perspective it makes sense, since some of these religious ideas sprang from pantheistic traditions that included petty, human-esque gods. But from a believer's point of view I don't get how it's at all valid.
mentalguru 20th-Jan-2013 12:29 am (UTC)

(Disclaimer, I know not all churches are like this, this is basically a huge globular mess of both my and some others experiences together).

There's sometimes a catch 22 when you believe in some cases which can make leaving difficult in those first initial stages of questioning (not all are like this mind you, for some they say questions are natural)...but like unbelievers go to hell in Christianity's case.

Those aren't small stakes, is your curiosity being sated really worth the price of your immortal soul? Way to be like Eve, the one who damned us all in the first place. Plus what if you damn someone else by causing doubt to enter the heart and damn -them-?! Wow, you really are like Eve! Also all people deserve hell technically, including believers, and believers are just lucky the truth was revealed to them.

Well that, and/or as soon as you lose religion you'll lose all sense of morality. You don't want to go into a blackout of rage and start killing people do you?! How selfish. Someone watching is all that's keeping us from all killing each other!

Compared to god we're like a kid, at best in terms of understanding. (Because actual kids are also apparently incapable of valid opinions even when it affects them and who they love to such a large degree). How could we possibly truly understand his plan without him blowing our puny minds? Kids can't understand anything. No, your eventual trial won't reflect that.

Also: the idea that the secular world may 'trick' you or whatever and then you're damned. They've got those silver tongues like the vipers they are. All those pretty words... and... temptations with their glorious asses saying ours are pretty glorious too. Also secular people and people in other religions aren't really good even if they seem to be because they're not doing it for the glory of the correct god/version of god. No-one is really good actually. Not even you oh fellow christian. Especially you actually. Trust him. How can you trust -yourself-? You shouldn't. You can't. You have bad thoughts and you know it just like everyone else. And he knows it too. You get angry, you get upset. You're not perfect. You are human. You're like a worm oh fellow christian... IF I can even call you that. We're lucky he could love us at all, given our nature. If he doesn't seem perfect to you, that's just your flawed judgement in action. Did I not say we couldn't hope to fully understand?

--

Overall, There's also more or less roadblocks when the religion you leave is the one most readily accepted by the society you're in too. It's accepted as what is normal/right really too. Before internet days, it must have been so much harder.

Though honestly I think I'm glad I'm just an atheist/non religious. Heaven forbid (?!) if I'd actually become invested in something completely different. I'm not sure how people would take it if I'd converted to say something else. (Being a christian is easy here *range of ease adjusted for denomination and area of placement*, being an atheist uncomfortable and sometimes difficult, but anything else? AANG TAKE THE WHEEL.)
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