I have often found myself in debates where I raise the point that belief in God is significantly lower in younger generations than older generations. (We’re also more liberal, too). This often gets waved off as nothing more than a phase. “Why,” evidence deniers will say, “everyone flirts with these ideas in their youth, but everyone always becomes more religious as they age.” Of course, that’s an inappropriate response. Maybe it could be argued that people become more settled in their religious and political views into their 40’s and beyond, but that still doesn’t really cut it. And now it has to end all together because the wiggle room is gone:
The percentage of Americans 30 and younger who harbor some doubts about God’s existence appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While most young Americans, 68%, told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years.
In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence.
More young people are expressing doubts about God now than at any time since Pew started asking the question a decade ago. Thirty-one percent disagreed with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God,” double the number who disagreed with it in 2007…
“Notably, people younger than 30 are substantially less likely than older people to say prayer is an important part of their lives,” the report said.
“Research on generational patterns shows that this is not merely a lifecycle effect,” it continued. “The Millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.”
There are a number of factors at work here, I think. In no particular order,
- the Internet
- higher education
- Gnu Atheism
- the Catholic Church
Surely there are far more aspects to this increase in doubt, but I think I’ve listed some of the major factors here.
Not too long ago the Internet was still considered a place for nerds. You blog? Ha! and You’re wasting your time! The latter may still hold some truth, but few people can utter it sans a load of hypocrisy. Facebook isn’t too far off a billion users right now. We’re all on the Internet and that exposes us all to a lot of different ideas. That has to breed doubt.
Next there’s education. This generation is the most highly educated age group in history. We’ve been given some worthwhile tools and access to a lot of different information. Moreover, just like the Internet, college is bringing together more and more diverse ideas. The days of black and white, Christian thinking is coming to an end; there’s nowhere left for religious arguments to hide now that everyone is talking. (It’s worth noting that cities tend to be more liberal than rural areas.)
Then we have Gnu Atheism. It would have been seen as absurd 10 years ago to be as openly critical of religion as so many people are today. Now we have books and bus ads and we’re even getting shout-outs from the President. That, of course, isn’t to say it wasn’t seen as absurd in 2006 when The God Delusion was released. It was. But in just the short time since then things have been changed. Gnu Atheism has worked in reverse to religion: Religious ‘moderates’ have always made space for fundamentalists (regardless of their intention), but now the aggressiveness of Gnu Atheism has made space for those who simply disbelieve but don’t necessarily see religion as a negative force.
Finally (at least insofar as my list goes) the Catholic Church messed things up. They associated religion with child molesters and rapists (all the while using the euphemism of “abusers”). Instead of facing up to their sins, they covered up as much as they could, as fast as they could. They became a meme, inviting mockery to no end. Priest jokes evolved from entering bars with rabbis to entering backrooms and more with choir boys. The idea of mocking a religious institution became more mainstream than ever. That helped, along with the Gnu Atheists, to open all religious institutions to mockery.
So this isn’t merely a phase. People really are doubting religion more and more. And that’s a great thing. I don’t say that simply as an anti-theist, but rather as someone who values science and a scientific way of thinking. Doubt is a good thing. We need to use it more, no matter what the subject. If we allow ourselves to close off an entire area to critical thinking, then we’ve put ourselves in some kind of danger. Why not shutter any other area? Why not put a stop to one line of research or another because it looks too difficult to ever come to fruition or because it conflicts with some group’s idea of ethics? We can’t do that. Without doubt we’ll stagnate. I know this generation is better than that.
At least I think I know we are.