Having been raised in the South in a fairly conservative area, and having been raised in a fairly conservative church and, for a time, a conservative Christian school, one would think that most of the people I grew up with are fairly active church-goers. Not the case. In fact, it’s been sort of interesting to see, particularly starting with my generation [I'm an X-er, but barely], how few of them actually have remained active in any sort of “faith” community. The Evangelical Barna Group recently did a study to find out why all the young folks are leaving, many never to return. I’ll excerpt the broad headlines and let you jump over to read their explanations:
1. Churches seem over-protective.
2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Okay, so those are the broad categories. Wingnuts will ignore most of them and focus on number two, arguing that tradishnul Christianity just isn’t wingnutty enough anymore to keep the flock under lock and key [they will phrase that differently, I guess], but a couple of them merit closer examination. Here is Barna’s explanation of number three:
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.
Shorter version of that: younger people are better educated in science these days, simply because there is far more information out there than there used to be, and it’s becoming harder and harder for them to stick their heads in the sand and deny the reality that science presents when it comes in conflict with the creation myths of ye olde time religion. Or even simpler, it’s hard to look at a young cancer researcher and say, “evolution is a myth,” when they can look back and you and say, “dear sweet moron, I’ve observed it in a lab.”
That’s also related to number four, and Barna’s explanation of their own research leaves something out that’s kind of key, as the Public Religion Research Institute points out:
But buried within Barna’s category of “sex and sexuality” is something quite specific: churches’ stances on gay and lesbian issues. Research from earlier this summer reveals that nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about these issues. Only 37% of seniors agree.
This is also part of the reality-denial thing. It is simply a bridge too far to ask a sentient, educated human being to adhere to the sorts of belief systems advocated by the Matt Barbers and the Bryan Fischers of the world. Kids these days just aren’t that stupid. They have Google at their disposals, as well as their own experiences with gay and lesbian friends and family members to be able to look at the teachings of wingnuts on these issues and say, unequivocally, “what crazy, unhinged liars.” And if their churches are pushing that crap, they’re not likely to stay around.
Granted, there are many religious people who are involved in churches and faith communities which don’t strenuously seek to deny reality at every turn, and I know many of them. If that’s your path, go for it. But I find it encouraging that, at least among the generations who will be handed the torch when it comes to determining public policy and whatnot, we’ve finally reached the point where the insanity of anti-gay, anti-science teachings just don’t resonate. Update your résumés, professional Religious Right hacks.