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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elobelia 19th-Jan-2013 05:52 pm (UTC)
I believe in God, but both me and my brother are very disillusioned with religion and particularly religious people in this country. My brother found a group of Christians in his town that actually do good in the community, believe in equality for all and fight for it, but I have no such luck here. Despite everything, I still believe in God, but I've learned too much about anthropology and evolution and the way the world works to truly believe that somehow Christianity is 100% right and the only way. It just doesn't seem likely. Luckily the majority of my family is not religious in any way, so there is no conflict with them. It's the entire country I feel like I'm in conflict with. The people in power, the religious right who is always fighting to take away our rights. They do more harm than my family could.
mycenaes 19th-Jan-2013 09:25 pm (UTC)
I feel this. I'm like...vaguely religious (still figuring out which path is right for me, tbh), but all the ridiculously right-wing Christians in the United States just make me angry and a little disillusioned. :/
dark_puck 19th-Jan-2013 11:26 pm (UTC)
That's why I don't do church anymore.

I figure my beliefs are between me and God, and anyone who thinks I need religion just because I don't go to church can get fucked. </p>

I refuse to be part of a tradition that thinks anything that contradicts their worldview is Satan's work.

mycenaes 20th-Jan-2013 12:07 am (UTC)
yeah. I've always been a spiritual person (and I'm drawn to both pagan and monotheistic beliefs, actually), but I like to keep my spiritual practices private.

Although if I ever got the chance, I'd consider attending a Unitarian Universalist church, perhaps.
roseofjuly 22nd-Jan-2013 06:32 am (UTC)
I want to find a group of religious/spiritual folk who believe service to God is service outward to the less fortunate in our community. One of my hugest problems with Christianity and most churches is that they are so insular - they will help you only if you agree to belong, or if you already belong, and they focus their ministry inward. Or if they do service, it's tied up in missionary work or evangelizing - they have to pray and preach at you before they give you the food or clothes.

Like your brother I want to find a group of people who's spiritual values lead them to want to serve in their community and do good and fight for equality. To me, that's part of my real spiritual living and values.
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