Thomas Griffin 1/17/22 (For Crisis Magazine)
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Many statistics and words have been shared regarding the declining faith of young people. Alongside this decline in America today, we have seen dramatic increases in the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Both the decrease in overall faith and the increase in depression have been amplified by the pandemic, but we are dealing with issues that have their roots deeply ingrained in pre-COVID soil.
The trend of our younger generations will inevitably show us the path that we are headed on in America. Millennials are young people born between 1981 and 1996, and the Pew Research Center notes that 35 percent of them have no religion at all. Generation Z are young people born between 1997 and 2015, and they are the least religious generation ever. Roughly one third of Gen Zers also claim that they have no religion whatsoever, but Gen Z’s percentage of atheists is 21 percent while the percentage of Millennials who are self-proclaimed atheists is 15 percent.
Barna Research calls them “the first truly post-Christian generation.” In fact, “the percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.” We are a country founded on Judeo-Christian ideals, so this might explain the continuation of a rampant philosophy that rails against the Founding Fathers and hates everything to do with the history of America. From Critical Race Theory to the toppling of statues, it is all founded upon the ideology that we have entered a “post-Christian” epoch. They are attempting to erase everything of the past because, to them, the past was bigoted and incorrect.
Young people simply do not hold the same beliefs as their parents and grandparents do because faith has been steadily declining for decades. According to Spring Tide Research, they reject the normal understanding of what it means to be part of a religion. They do not believe that one must participate in that religion by affirming that church’s teachings or even worshipping amidst that community. In fact, 38 percent of young people say they are religious even though they are not affiliated with a specific religion. Roughly 60 percent of these unaffiliated claim that they are “slightly religious.”
Several interesting insights can be found among these statistics. While unaffiliated young people claim they are not like their elders, they do still agree that being “spiritual” or somewhat “religious” is something to aspire to. While that is true, they have completely overturned what that practically means for their lives. Essentially, they state that only the individual decides what it means to be “spiritual” or “religious.” These are relative terms just like morality and truth.
Since religion is relative, a person can be Christian and not believe in Jesus while another individual can be Jewish and not believe in the Ten Commandments or the Bible. A person is religious on their own terms, and that has creeped into every arena of our culture—from spirituality to morality and from politics to voting rights. The general sense among those in Gen Z is that what is true for someone else might not necessarily be “true for me.”
Even more alarming is the stance of those who still claim to be affiliated with a specific religion. Spring Tide notes that 52 percent of these young people have no trust in organized religion. They have a connection to a religion, but it is completely different from what that meant in the past. Almost one third of the same group of affiliated individuals note that they do not believe that being a part of a religion means that you have a faith community. Barna Research also notes that “more than one-third of Gen Z (37%) believes it is not possible to know for sure if God is real.”
The religious among Generation Z do not believe in organized religion and they do not even believe that you can show that God is real. No wonder they hold other invisible realities such as “truth” and “morality” as relative. The question is, how can “traditional” Americans who hold to the beliefs of the Founding Fathers and to the Judeo-Christian values that built this country respond to such tragic statistics and facts about our young people?
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There are two critical steps needed. We need to define God and we need to define truth. God is not simply another being “out there” that we can run into. He is the ground of being itself. God is not the strongest of beings—God is being itself. So, He can reveal Himself to His creatures, but we will never run into God like we will run into a lamp post. God is the being in which all other beings derive their source because all material things have a cause.
Once we come to grips with this fact, we must define truth. Truth is the correct correlation between one’s mind and reality. The principle of noncontradiction (two opposing claims cannot both be true at the same time) is the bedrock understanding for all truth. God cannot be real and not real at the same time. You cannot be Christian and not believe that Jesus is God and you cannot be Jewish and not believe in the Ten Commandments. These beliefs would violate the principle of noncontradiction.
Generation Z and many young people are lost when it comes to religion, culture, politics, and life because they have stripped these realities of their true meanings. If we want to help bring them out of their anxious and depressed slumber, we need to start with faith and show them the truth.
Thomas Griffin teaches at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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