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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shadwrayvn 19th-Jan-2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
I've had this conversation with quite a few family members as to why I was pulling away from the Catholic church & I just cant be a part of a religion who covers up for priest who abuse children. Who refuse to accept gay people & gay marriage. I just cant with a religion who placed a former Nazi as their Pope! Not to mention my views on abortion & birth control which has given me horrible looks form the older family members & being called some nasty names for using birth control & admitting I had sex before marriage. I am really not surprised by how many people my age & younger have left their church. My brother feels the same & no longer considers himself a Catholic either.
emofordino 19th-Jan-2013 04:04 pm (UTC)
IA! My dad and I kind of came to this conclusion around the same time. My immediate family is not very religious. (My mom is pagan, my dad, sister and I describe ourselves as lapsed-Catholic agnostics) but my extended family is very devoutly Catholic and we get a lot of comments about our lack of faith pretty often. Between our social beliefs regarding reproductive and LGBT rights, and being very much into science, and then all the problems with the church itself, it's been difficult to subscribe to their belief system. I can definitely empathize for a lot of these young adults who were interviewed.
bestdaywelived 19th-Jan-2013 02:45 pm (UTC)
I'm an ex-evangelical who first went to school in 1988, during the self-esteem movement. Because of self-esteem, I felt strongly that I was just as good, if not better, than any boy. I was hurt by and felt rejected by my family's religion because I noticed that all the important people in the bible were men. God was a man, Jesus was a man, the disciples were all men - you get the idea. For a child who wanted to know exactly why women weren't presidents, this was not okay.

I had doubts from the time that I was able to think critically, around age 8. A lesson on prayer requests is what taught me that there was no God. If I prayed, the answer would be like a stoplight, yes, no, or maybe. A light went off in my little brain that the same things would happen whether I prayed or not.
redstar826 19th-Jan-2013 02:59 pm (UTC)
In many places, it's no longer all that odd to not be very religious. I think that as that social pressure is removed, you will see more people leaving.

I live in an area that is pretty 'average' (suburban area that tends to elect people from both parties and is neither extremely liberal nor extremely conservative) and I know a crapload of people who are fairly unobservant in their religion. I don't know that many people who are upfront about being atheists or agnostics, but I know a lot of people who go to a church or a synagogue either never or very rarely and who don't really talk much about religion.

I'm 32 and I grew up in a pretty small church. The church has since closed but most of us still keep in touch. From my generation, of around 25 people, only about 3-4 still attend church on a regular basis.
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.
tabaqui 19th-Jan-2013 04:09 pm (UTC)
Wth, LJ, why did you eat my post? Grrr.

To sum up - atheist and perfectly content to be. Even as a kid, i never thought 'god' was 'really real', and adults and their dumb-ass half answers and stupid behavior never helped to make me feel any differently.
thevelvetsun 19th-Jan-2013 04:39 pm (UTC)
Proud agnostic/atheist here. It was a long path away from Christianity (5+ years). It was a combination of 1, being disgusted by the state of modern religion, 2, realizing that if a god does exist, how am I supposed to figure out which one is real out of 1000s of gods, and 3, realizing I really didn't give a shit whether or not god exists.
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a_leprechaun 19th-Jan-2013 04:58 pm (UTC)
Looks like your comment got shunted over to the Sandy Hook Truthers post, no idea why. Might want to check with the mods before you delete, if you want to (it looks like deleting doubleposts is covered by the rules?).
ahzuri 19th-Jan-2013 05:19 pm (UTC)
I just got tired of all the bullshit organized religion seemed to bring so I left it and now I'm agnostic. I don't care what your books say and I don't care what you think is right and wrong because most of it is all just so fucked up. My family doesn't know this about me and they are highly religious. My grandfather was a pastor but he was never like they are, its a damn shame they didn't follow his example. Its so ridiculous that I just have to space my self from them before I fly off the handle on them because they have a right to believe whatever crazy mess they want and nothing I say will EVER change their minds.
roseofjuly 22nd-Jan-2013 06:29 am (UTC)
My family doesn't know either. They just assume that I don't want to do their religion in particular, but they don't know that I'm not even sure I believe in God and that I definitely don't believe in the Christian conception of him.
justspaz 19th-Jan-2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
I was raised Catholic (my mom's side is, my dad's side is Methodist but he's calls himself a deist). Starting in high school, coming to terms with my non-straightness and my liberal politics, I began to move away from identifying as Catholic. I still made my confirmation, because my grandfather is very religious (although very accepting as well, and someone I am incredibly close to and love very much) and I didn't want to disappoint him. I still go to church at Christmas with him for that reason, although I don't take communion.

I'm not an atheist, and sometimes even have those old embers of Catholicism brew in me and get angry when people criticize religion. I don't really have a connection to any organized religion; like my dad, I'm more inclined to deism, or at least the idea that 'God' (which I believe to be an incorporeal, powerful force) created the universe but stays out of its affairs. Basically, science explains everything--the Big Bang, evolution, natural disasters, human nature, etc, but there's another element to it we haven't discovered yet. I don't pray, say Goddammit and Jesus Christmas Christ on a Cracker, but I can't pull away completely from faith.

Then again, I'm a history major who wants to be an archivist; I don't really think much about philosophical and religious questions; I don't care about the afterlife or what happens before we're born, just how people live their lives. I guess that's pretty humanist of me, but even that's something I don't tend to dwell on.
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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. :/
idemandjustice 19th-Jan-2013 05:57 pm (UTC)
Wow. I relate so strongly to these people. I was raised Catholic myself, and I just don't know what I believe anymore. I want to believe in something, but it's become clear that Christianity isn't for me. I've participated in pagan groups, but these days I don't participate in much of anything. I'm thinking when my kids are a little older I'll try getting involved in the Unitarian church. I just really want them to learn about different beliefs, and more importantly tolerance for different beliefs, so when the Jesus Camp people come along (and they will, I have no doubt), my kids will not be swayed by what they're offering.
nesmith 19th-Jan-2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
I went to church when I was younger (Episcopal) and though the friends I found in youth group saved my life at a time when I was most vulnerable, I never really believed. So much of what I heard was contradictory, hypocritical, and jarred with what I feel in my innermost heart is good and right. The people at my church were outward very nice people, but there was a much more insidious intolerance behind their nice middle-class smiles, and when our pastor left and we got an interim pastorette who was virulent homophobic, I knew it was my time to leave. I've never looked back.

There's more truth and beauty in the universe than the overly simplistic, narrow, dogmatic crap that religion often provides. I still consider myself a practicing Zen Buddhist (learned basic zazen when I took karate and never stopped doing it) if I absolutely had to put down a religious/spiritual preference, but I don't actively practice anything anymore. Don't really see the reason to.
estella7 19th-Jan-2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
So happy to no longer be LDS/Mormon. It was a hamster wheel of never ending bullshit. Sorry I can't be more eloquent but leaving the church was like stepping off the damn hamster wheel.
witherwings 19th-Jan-2013 09:50 pm (UTC)
^5
eversofar 19th-Jan-2013 06:23 pm (UTC)
i stopped attending church regularly because of ugly church politics. (some people are called to the priesthood not by god but by their own ego.) and even though i grew up in an accepting church, i have frustrations with the episcopal church, the wider anglican communion, and its members. also, while i'm used to constantly assessing how open i can be as a lesbian, it cuts deeper that i still have to do that in church. i've been disappointed by the church in a lot of ways, but i still feel at home during service. i've never been able to fully let go.
thesunflwr 19th-Jan-2013 06:25 pm (UTC)
Another factor is that it's so expensive to be a member of some religious organizations. I was raised Jewish in an interfaith family and then drifted from the religion for a while before wanting re-explore it. Showed up at High Holy Day services at my old synagogue and was told tickets were $500. For two holidays.

A few years later, I looked into several synagogues in my area and was not surprised to see how completely out of reach membership costs were. Oh, and there was no one my age at the services I went to. (So much for Grandma's desperate hope that I'd meet the man of my dreams there!) Mostly seniors and families, and everything felt very unwelcoming and exclusive.
primeling 20th-Jan-2013 08:40 am (UTC)
I grew up in a protestant atmosphere. So, please excuse my ignorance.

Can you please explain membership costs? Is this common?
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