It’s the age old complaint. The young people are rotting the fabric of society by being lazy, apathetic, and turning away from the contemporary sky dictator. We can see the complaints in the writings of ancient Roman historians, like Tacitus, and they are not less prevalent today. The difference between then and the present, is that past historians were mistaken.
Religiosity didn’t decrease in the pre-modern world. Europeans in the last fifteen centuries or so may have changed some details about their theology, but they never really stopped believing that some invisible frowning father figure was watching them masturbate. That is changing.
A Pew Research Project clearly shows that adherence to religion, all around, is declining in America with each new generation. While belief in God is decreasing fairly slowly, only now heading toward the 50% mark among millennials, only 40% say that religion is important in their lives, and 18% actually attend religious services regularly. To compensate, those who are religious have developed some stricter views.
Millennials who are religious are more likely than their parents in all denominations, to say that their faith is the only way to salvation. They will allow more varied interpretations of their faith, but are less likely to accept that a different religion may also be valid.
For centuries, older generations have looked to their offspring and bemoaned their lack of piety and warned of the steep moral decline that would lead to anarchy and the end of society. Even now, old people are venting their frustrations about the young people in established news outlets. They are now faced with something their own parents didn’t have to worry about.
Unlike in ages past, where young generations had no voice or access to the press, young people dominate the most important mass media tool, the internet, and they like to spend their time punching their detractors in the mouth, figuratively speaking, especially since they are being called by selfish and entitled by the generation that is leaving them 17 Trillion dollars of debt as an inheritance.
That doesn’t change the fact of religious decline, however. As all religious people are eager to point out, the decline of their religion means a catastrophic collapse of all moral impulses that people have. This is why every religious group, from the established mainstream to Mormons and even Scientologists, is funding programs dedicated to shoring up the deteriorating moral foundations of America. There is only one minor issue here.
The decline of religion is in no way characterized by a moral decline. Crime has been steadily declining, along with religious adherence. The murder rate has been declining steadily, and may drop to the lowest point since 1906 this year. Even property crimes are on the decline, despite the economic crisis.
Young people, especially the non-religious, are more likely to support equal rights for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals. It is the perception among younger people that religions are a source of immoral hate that is fueling religious decline. So it needs to be considered that the decline of religion in not fueling moral decline, but rather an increase in morality is driving a rift between people and religion.
Brian Schmied enjoys reading about religion, politics, and the conflicts of church and state. He studied political science, and writes social commentary and news analysis in his free time.