Recently an article was brought to my attention: “Millennials Invent New Religion: No Hell, No Priests, No Punishment” by Candace Chellew-Hodge. The author begins by recounting a class assignment in which she asks her class to “create a religion.”
Key features of organized religion are missing from these new Millennial religions:
Not one of them had career clergy who were in charge of services, rituals, or care of the congregation. There were, for the most part, no regular meetings of the faithful. Some had monthly or annual gatherings, like conferences, but most were very individualized religions, centering on personal growth and enrichment away from a physical community.
Gone are community and communal accountability. All that remains is a religion of individual human progress, undoubtedly understood in the eyes of the beholder.
According to the author, established religion is too judgmental and too hypocritical for a significant portion of Millennials. The author’s poll is a bit dated (2007) and narrow (it only surveyed Protestants), but the trend against established religion among the youth seems universal.
The author concludes that:
The problem, as I see it, is not with the lack of imagination of this new generation, but with religious institutions themselves—many of which have allowed their leaders to become rock stars, their communities to become clubs of like-minded believers, and their doctrines to become rigid, with an over-emphasis on discipline and damnation for things (like homosexuality) that millennials see as simply judgmental and unfair.
If organized religion can’t renew itself from the inside, this new generation will switch to a new platform—even if they have to invent it for themselves.
Born in 1990, I am among the Millennial generation. I offer a different perspective from the author: the Millennial “problem” is not as simple as we think.
Yes many people are falling away from established religion, but the ones who stay seem more fervent. A me-and-God mentality permeates religious or spiritual thought, but a significant number of people are also concerned about community. Many are self-absorbed, but many also work for social transformation.
The Millennials are not a cohesive group, and here lies the problem.
Regardless of what exactly is going on, we – members of an established religion – have work to do. How can our churches, liturgies and catechetical programs respond to the confused chaos which is the Millennial generation?