Friday, September 1, 2017

Six reasons millennials are abandoning religion - By an actual millennial who abandoned religion

Please excuse the click bait title. Actually I lie, this is click bait, no excuses. I have no real qualifications for this other then being a millennial that has abandoned religion.

It shouldn't be any news by now that the latest Australian census results declared 'No Religion' to be the largest single religion in Australia. 30% of Australians claim no religion. Combined, the various flavors of Christianity still dominate, at about 52%. The non Christian religions come in at around 8%. (Its a non compulsory question on the census, which explains why these numbers don't add up to 100%). What is even more interesting is the predominance of no religion among young people. And these stats are being reflected in religions across the world.

I recently came across a couple of articles on my Facebook news feed. The first one was by a Christian, proclaiming woe and doom if we abandon Christian values. The author manages to claim every single advance in human rights to Christianity (I should probably write another post about that). It pins the demise of Christianity on the rise of the new religion of Atheism, with the prophets of Dawkins and Hitchens. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say a traditional book burning won't bring millennials back.

A second poster on my Facebook feed posted 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. Its a list of reasons presented by a Christian millennial for why none of his age group are at church. There are 12 reasons in there, but they can be summed up pretty succinctly: churches aren't listening to millennials, and aren't adapting themselves to the special unique needs of millennials. Its a seductive argument for the religious, if only they could figure out what millennials really want and need, then we would all come rushing back in. Atheism would die and the world could go on the way it used to be. There are a few churches trying to engage and adapt with millennials today, but I see little evidence of it actually working.

Out of curiosity I did some more googling. There are plenty of articles that attempt to rationalize why millennials aren't at church. Its frequently blamed on science, atheism or the church culture. Some blame it on doctrines being too harsh, doctrines being too watered down, or the general secular nature of education. All of them seem to be written by people still within religion, and seem to run with the idea that if the churches could just find the right solution, millennials would come back.

The reasons millennials are abandoning religion go far deeper. Its not something that can be fixed by a few tweaks to church culture or making us feel valued. It runs so deep it might not be possible to fix at all. Here are my six reasons why we've abandoned religion. And in typical click bait fashion I'll start with the least important and work my way up.

6) We are connected to knowledge. The universe has very few unanswered questions for us. Want to know how the earth formed? Want to know what causes cancer? Want to know why their are starving children in Africa? The answer to all of these questions is only a Google search away. What's more, with that knowledge we can actually make a difference, in a way no amount of prayers ever has.

5) We are connected to ideas. At a click of my fingers I can access the philosophical ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, Aquinas, Confucius or Hank Green. And that's just scratching the surface. Any significant issue has been wrestled with by many thinkers, and the answers have been refined for centuries. That includes everything from moral code to what happens when we die. Religion no longer has the best answers to the difficult questions.

4) We are connected to people. Social media has diversified and globalized our friendships. I have significant contacts across the gender, religious, political and geographical spectrum. Its hard to vilify Christians/Muslims/Gays/Transgenders/Iranians/Atheists/etc when one actually talks to them on a regular basis. Millennials encounter these people all the time. We see them as the thinking rational people they are. On the other hand religion is constantly telling us that accepting group x will cause the disintegration of the fabric of society. Its a hard one to swallow.

3) Religion is hard work, with little to no benefit. Millennials live in an on demand society. I want to watch a new movie? I can load it up in just a few moments. I want to talk to someone? Social media means I can start a conversation in seconds. Hungry? There is a app on my phone that will have food delivered inside half an hour. Contrast that with the promises of religion. If you live this arbitrarily long list of requirements for your entire life, then you will receive a reward after you die. That doesn't really appeal to a generation that complains about three seconds of buffering on YouTube.

2) Our values don't match up. For millennials same sex marriage is good. Access to reproductive services is good. Education is good. Egalitarianism is good. Many of the values held by religion appear down right evil to millennials.

1) We just don't believe it. Religion makes some wild claims. There is a magic man in the sky who created the whole universe, and he cares deeply about your personal sex life, but chooses not to prevent famine or disease or natural disasters. If you follow the instructions of the magic man in the sky, you will have good things happen to you after you die. As evidence religion offers a book that was written a few thousand years ago by dessert dwelling nomads. Do I really have to explain how ridiculous this is? I've got just as much evidence to say that Hogwarts is real or that vampires exist and sparkle in the sunlight.

Often these conversations end with what religion can do to be more appealing to millennials. On this I have no answer. The changes required to bring millennials back to religion would probably destroy religion itself. Like the proverbial cat, this one isn't going back in the bag. I guess the best advice I can offer is to prepare to live in a world without religion.

I'm a big fan of the Socratic method. Which means I encourage people to comment and debate on this post. Have I got something wrong? In that case post a counter argument. Have I got something right? Post evidence to prove it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The fifth soil

There is a parable given by the Savior in the New Testament, commonly referred to as the parable of the sower. The vision of the tree of life given to Lehi in the Book of Mormon has a similar theme. Both stories describe the various ways in which people interact with the gospel, both when they first hear it, and as they grow and develop. There is a focus on why people leave the gospel, both parables have far more people that leave then stay.

One of the first categories is the seeds that falls by the wayside. The wayside is the hard, packed ground next to a road. The seed doesn't get a chance to grow or sprout, and is immediately stolen away by birds. This is described as the person that hears the gospel, and immediately discards it without due consideration. In the tree of life this is the people that never leave the dark and dreary wasteland.

The next category is the seed in shallow ground. The seed grows, but because of its shallow root it withers in the sun. This is described as the person that finds the gospel, and meets it with eagerness. But they don't develop a deep understanding of the principles, and when things get hard they give up. These people grasp the iron rod, but only lightly, and are soon drawn away.

A third category is the seed on thorny ground. The seed grows, and even begins to bare fruit. But its soon choked out by weeds, and dies. The weeds are described as the cares and riches of the world. But they can be anything that is put ahead of the gospel. The church doesn't fall away due to lack of testimony or knowledge, but because there are simply other things put ahead of the church. In Lehi's vision this is the people who come and partake of the fruit, but are afterwards ashamed and leave for the great and spacious building.

The fourth category is the good ground. The seed grows up and bears fruit. Its not overcome by weeds or the sun. And everything is good. Some people join the gospel and reap the blessings, and are happy for it. In the vision this is those that partake of the fruit, and continue to do so.

I want to propose a fifth type of soil. The fifth type of soil is good ground. The seed takes root and develops. It brings forth fruit. This is the person who holds onto the rod, gets to the tree, and partakes of the fruit. And yet the fruit isn't 'delicious above all else'. In time the plant is uprooted and the tree is left. Not because of thorns or neglect or birds. But because the fruit is not worth maintaining. This is the faithful member who becomes disillusioned with the church. The person may continue with the gospel for a long time, attempting to endure to the end. But eventually they leave.

This fifth type of soil is one that isn't very well tackled in the scriptures or doctrines of the church. The scriptures and prophets teach that the gospel brings blessings. Period. The very idea that church membership might not be the ideal mode of life isn't considered. Reactivation efforts focus on a person that has been offended, or that is suffering from addictions, or that simply cannot get out of bed on Sunday mornings.

Nowhere is it acknowledged that for some, life might genuinely be better outside of the church.