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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peace_piper 19th-Jan-2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
I was raised non-religious. Growing up, I was never made to attend a service or never asked about it in anyway. It was a non-issue to me. I remember first hearing about religion in grade school, when I was about 9 or 10 and my classmates were horrified to hear me say, "What's god?" I remember being in ... maybe 3rd or 4th grade when I had to write a paper and one of the words was 'god' that I had to use to describe something or other, and I spelled it just the way I found it: god. When my teacher was reading my homework, she told me that was misspelled and that I had to capitalise it or "the big guy gets mad." I was confused and asked, "Who is the big guy?" she took looked horrified that I had no concept of God.

Sometime later, when I was about 12, I had my first brush with religion. I don't remember the circumstances, but somehow I ended up attending a tent revival (I didn't know it was called that at the time) and all I remember from that event was this angry man in a gray suit standing on a stage with a microphone raving and ranting until he was red in the face about Hell and how Saddam Hussein was going there for killing all our soldiers. He then went on to describe hell and all I felt was FEAR. Was this what religion was? I remember asking myself. Was it all fear to make you conform and behave. I was scared of that man for years.

Later, in my teen years, talking to my mom about religion and if she believed anything, she said she didn't. She also told me that she had been raised mormon, and my dad had been raised southern baptist. They both left their respective churches in their 20s before they met. When they married, they agreed to not raise their children in any religion or talk about it at all and let me and my brother make up our own minds.

I didn't start to identify as a atheist until a few years ago, when I was listening to some atheist podcasts and "What is an atheist?" and one of the hosts described how I felt about religion to a T. Then she said, "Then you're an atheist!!" and it hit me. Wow, that's me. It had made sense, and it was okay to feel that way and question things and talk about the history of religion.

One thing I hate about identifying as atheist, especially on the internet is using the dread A-WORD somehow makes people think you're open to debate on religion. I'm not, and I don't care to have long discussions about it. I know a lot of atheists know more about the bible and some other holy books that the worshippers do, but that's not me. I don't want to waste my time reading a story I have no interest in to debate people I have no interest in debating.
romp 20th-Jan-2013 12:04 am (UTC)
Well, there's "I don't care about organized religion" atheist and then there's "much of my identity is involved in being an oppressed minority" atheist. And a range between, many of whom have good reason to feel hassled.

I was raised without religion, was scared by the stories told by evangelical friends, and hooked up without someone who was also pretty much raised outside a faith. I thought that was almost the default in many place but this thread has me doubting that.
mycenaes 20th-Jan-2013 12:10 am (UTC)
Well, there's "I don't care about organized religion" atheist and then there's "much of my identity is involved in being an oppressed minority" atheist. And a range between, many of whom have good reason to feel hassled.

yes, this. Also, I know a dudebro who's obsessed with being an ~oppressed atheist~ and who thinks rape jokes are funny (he is srsly gross, ugh), and then I know religious people who are genuinely progressive and chill.

So I guess it all depends on the person.
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