Faith “Unbundled”

Shortly after Easter, I was driving and listening to a Chicago news radio station. The program “Report on Religion” came on and, as usual, my ears perked up.

The report was focused on increasing religious disaffiliation in the U.S. and the ongoing decrease in regular attendance at worship services and/or other forms of religious observance. This particular report revolved around Generation Z, and in particular how a portion of their disconnect from religious practice was related to their perception of churches by and large not caring about and/or being involved in social issues.

“ ‘The State of Religion and Young People 2021,’ found young people believe they care more about things like LGBTQ rights, immigration rights, reproductive rights, income inequality, and environmental causes than religious or faith communities do.” (It should be noted that the report surveyed young people across diverse faith traditions.)

Overall, members of Generation Z (those born in or after 1997), still largely self-identify as “religious” and/or “spiritual,” even as the markers of what has long been considered religious practice—attendance at worship services and personal/domestic prayer—continues to dwindle.

“Faith unbundled” is how the religious/spiritual habits of younger people are beginning to be described. According to the report, faith unbundled “describes the way young people increasingly form their faith by combining elements of religious and non-religious sources rather than forming it from a single institution or tradition.” Practices such as engaging with art or regular yoga sessions are considered religious/spiritual practices by Generation Z.

(The report I listened to was single-focus, on Gen Z and religious behavior; it drew upon a larger study, covering more diverse areas, including some specifically Roman Catholic items.)

Listening to the report got me to wondering how those of us who work in liturgy—perhaps the most tightly-bundled of all Christian activities—can be informed helpfully by this, so that we can respond in practical and enriching ways. As laudable as an interest in social activism may be, can we automatically assume that making a deep ritual connection to the Christ event will work in the long run? How does the overlap between a practice like centering prayer and one such as yoga get integrated into our rites? For all the effort (and money) being expended in the U.S. on the upcoming Eucharistic year, will it really bear fruit both inside and outside of sanctuary walls once it is over?

Whenever I encounter these kinds of reports, I confess that I grow in my understanding of that fearful group huddled together in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost. My hunch is that I (a “boomer”) am not alone in this feeling.

Perhaps this Pentecost is a time to really be open to a future-facing Spirit, one who might unbundle and then re-bundle our faith in new and different ways. It might be time for a real bundling of the word “Creator” with Veni and Spiritus.

One comment

  1. I believe that the problem is precisely that young people – in my experience as a parish priest – do not see any meaningful connection at all between religious ritual and social or economic, ecological or political issues.

    Maybe one reason for this is that English speaking culture at least has been deeply formed by the puritan tradition which minimises the role of ritual in favour of the interior life. The Churches themselves have largely bought into this model since the Reformation period. Interiority has replaced ritual act. Ritual act is marginal, is seen as empty, irrelevant and in the worst case, hypocritical.

    For RC’s, the complete failure of effective catechetical formation in both school and parish conditions over the last 50 years or so has played its part too.

    Also, it is commonly reported that ‘Generation Z’ is accustomed to pick and choose between things, whether this is religious practice or ‘spiritual’ practice or no practice at all. ‘Spiritual’ can mean, with respect to Humpty Dumpty, ‘what I want it to mean, no more and no less.’

    Dilettantism is much more attractive than commitment. This is seen in the stats of Marriage breakdown, unwillingness to commit longterm, and so on.

    And the ‘spiritual’ supermarket is lavishly stocked for the pick-and-choose clientele.

    As far as I can see, the one group that seems to buck this trend is young Muslim men, on whom the Islamic practice still seems to exercise a considerable hold, at least in the UK. Mosques are about the only religious places where you see males of the 16-30 generation in large numbers. Maybe one reason is that Islam is, at least to an outward observer, a religion whose practice is – compared to Catholic Christianity – simple. Is that its appeal? I don’t know.


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