Millennials prefer spirituality

It’s not hard to find a reason why millennials are so quick to turn away from traditional religious beliefs. Thankfully, younger generations are finding other ways to instill trust through their beliefs. In an age where access to virtually any information is just a click away, millennials have taken advantage of finding the answers to the many questions they’re often given sugar-coated answers to.

Growing up with complex questions like, “Where do we go when we die?” being answered with heaven and hell just wasn’t enough.

In May 2015, the Pew Research Center found 36 percent younger millennials, born 1990-1996, and 34 percent of older millennials, born 1981-1989, don’t identify with a religion. This is a significant decline from the silent generation, born 1928-1945, where only 11 percent didn’t identify with a religion. The percent of non-identifiers has been increasing since surveys were first conducted, according to the article.

A factor as to why an increasing number of people are not identifying with religions could be that technology is opening doors to information faster than ever. It’s rare to see millennials without smartphones – a generation with Google in their hands. It’s no wonder why with all this information millennials have access to they're the first generation to dig deeper for answers to those complex questions.

“I feel like we’ve become more of a modern society,” said senior biology major Lisa Jennings. “Our parent’s generation and our grandparents were very close-minded; they didn’t have the technology we have. I feel like the more technology we have the more things we learn about, things like science and space – things that they didn’t know much about.”

Millennials are the first generation to grow up with all these technological advances happening so quickly – personal computers, cell phones, the internet, mobile internet, etc. With these technological advances come more opportunities to learn about other religions and any desired information about them.

Rev. Phil Perez, who identifies as Christian, is the president of the Association of Campus Religious Organizations. Perez thinks the old models of religion are pushing younger generations away, and the church has changed throughout the years. Newer models, like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch of 52,000 attendees in Houston, seem to attempt to attract people by being vibrant, flashy places to gather along with live bands and intense sermons. Other models, like the model Perez follows at NIU, are more mission based.

“That’s why I don’t have an office. That’s why we’re talking like this,” Perez said, while sitting at an open table in the walkway of Faraday Hall. “For us, the model is, ‘Let’s take God to the people. Let’s not try to get the people to God.’”

Perez said even though old models are no longer working, millennials are more spiritual than any other generation. If one were to talk to almost any millennial, there’s a good chance they’ll say they’re not religious but they’re spiritual.

“I think I’m more spiritual than religious,” said senior psychology major Nicole Covello.

Covello said doing yoga and meditating are more religious for her than anything else. These, among other Eastern activities, are very common among millennials who lean more toward New Age beliefs, as the New Age focuses more on spirituality, being in touch with yourself and nature and Eastern practices, according to allaboutspirituality.org

These practices can include meditating, yoga, using stones for healing and even going to concerts.

“It sounds so hippy-ish but thinking good vibes for somebody – I feel like that stuff is true. That works. I guess that can be someone’s version of praying. But when you’re praying, you’re praying to a God. I just believe in more natural things,” said Jennings.

Among the millennials who do not identify with a religion, “two-thirds believe in God or a universal spirit, and one in five even pray everyday,” according to a March 3 PBS News Hour article. Just because people aren’t identifying with a specific religion, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t spiritual.

“I think there are many reasons as to why religious belief has declined among millennials,” said Zachary Rohm, Youth Minister at Newman Catholic, 512 Normal Road. “I think a main reason has been the rise of the, ‘you do you’ or ‘whatever floats your boat’ mentality, which is the predominant thought nowadays. I would say this thought either leads people away from faith because it imposes guidelines, which people don’t believe in, or causes people to keep bouncing from faith to faith to find whatever fits what they want to believe in; which often leads to no practicing religion at all.”

Although many millennials fit this description, they do not describe it that way. For example, Covello doesn’t identify with a religion but says she takes parts of many religions and incorporates them into her life.

Although many millennials fit this description, they do not describe it that way. For example, Covello doesn’t identify with a religion but says she takes parts of many religions and incorporates them into her life.

“I was looking up if there’s a religion that encompasses all [religions], and I guess there’s something called Universality,” she said. “It’s where you take bits and pieces from different religions.”

The lack of traditional beliefs among millennials doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all.

Perez said millennials are substituting traditional religious activity with new practices like ones associated with the New Age.

“The millennial age group is just as spiritual as anybody else,” Perez said. “Your generation cares about deep things, soulful things as much as any generation has. I think the evidence for that is in just how much your generation goes toward service. You look at products they buy. There’s a want to attach meaning to the stuff they buy, like the TOMS shoes.”

With millennials being so conscious of their actions, it seems as if religion is declining because it is getting replaced with a new way of thinking that doesn’t necessarily require a label.

“With everything that is happening in the world, people are doing things with a purpose,” said Covello. “People are doing things out of the kindness of their heart because they see other people struggling not because there’s a God.”

Jennings, a former Christian until she was 18, said doing good just to do good is better than doing good only because a god told you to.

“I didn’t question why we went to church or why we had to do what God said,” said Jennings. “I think I’m a better person now than I was then because I’m not being a good person just because I’m afraid of going to hell.”

“I think that what millennials have noticed is that religion brings a lot of conflict and differences are brought out in people,” said Covello. “Religions tend to show that we can’t live together with those differences.”

Perez disagrees. He said he calls the Association of Campus Religious Organizations the “Justice League of ministers.”

“It’s actually a really unique group of people and very diverse,” he said. “Like you wouldn’t put this group in a room together normally. Each one of us serves students in some way shape or form. No one’s there to try to convert anyone else. They’re all there to respect each other’s beliefs and support all the work that goes on in the spiritual realm on campus here.”

If everyone despite their beliefs  like the group of leaders in ACRO  could converse peacefully, there wouldn’t be so much conflict between religions.

Showing respect to others’ beliefs, rather than identifying differences are what millennials are all about. There may be a decline in traditional religion, but millennials are religious in their own ways. They incorporate all different activities into their lives, some from different religions and some just find a certain deepness they connect with.

Millennials seem to be focused on doing more good for the world rather than focused on what they should believe. Whether people believe in Allah, Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the decline in traditional religious beliefs doesn’t really matter as long as you respect other people’s beliefs.

Religion isn’t a contest, it’s a label we identify with.

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