Why we should worry when millennials don’t take religion seriously (COMMENTARY)

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Arthur E. Farnsley II is professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of "Flea Market Jesus. “ Photo courtesy of Arthur E. Farnsley

Arthur E. Farnsley II is professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of "Flea Market Jesus. “ Photo courtesy of Arthur E. Farnsley

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(RNS) I’m doing my best to help my millennial students see that religion is not just a placeholder for other interests; it is a powerful motivator and many religious people are willing to sacrifice, die, and even kill in its name.

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  • opheliart

    Arthur, you paint two faces here— Religious and Secular—but you don’t identify the third person, the person of Spirit—not feasting on doctrine … or secular gymnasium (that’s a gnostic understanding 🙂

  • I would counter this to note that if extremists Muslims’ violence is religious, I would argue that it is not inherent to religion – in the same way that violence done by Christians is not, to me, religious. Indeed, religion is VERY serious. It is so serious, that the people in power who, perhaps, have more political and economic agendas use it to sway others. How can Islam – a civilization that modeled scholarship and tolerance before its medieval counterpart – be so inherently violent? I use secular understanding of history to understand that. For that, I point to events after World War I and increasingly invasive foreign policy via unmitigated drone attacks. For Muslims in those regions, religion is the only thing that can stop their destruction.

  • I must add to this comment to clarify that I do not condone or justify what ISIS does (or any sort of vengeful action). But it doesn’t help to act like religious people (or Muslims as your convenient example) will inevitably come to violence. Power struggles have a rich history in other disciplines. Religion is not just a placeholder, but you do not solve the conflict by pointing fingers for a “root” cause when this cause is beyond overdetermined.

  • Jimmy

    Whether you are ‘SBNR’ or a ‘Silent’ or ‘Non-religious’ or ‘religious’ or ‘none’ or ‘whatever’, it behooves every individual to understand religion and the impact it has on people’s lives. Even if one is not focusing on all religions, at a minimum at least the largest religions of the world must be dissected and understood for what it stands for. For e.g. Buddhism at its core, stands for finding ‘enlightenment’
    Christianity at its core focuses on ‘individual salvation’.
    Each religion must be understood for what it stands for so that its broader implication on people of the 21st century and future generations can be understood.
    Every generation is responsible for leaving the next generation with something that is peaceful and sustainable.
    So, yes, agree with your premise.

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  • Larry

    Maybe if religious fundamentalist types didn’t constantly try to hijack the lives of others and more liberalized sects grew a pair, there would be far less people rejecting organized religion.

    Fact of the matter is, secularism protects religious freedom, not attacks it. Secularism is as likely to come from religious sources as it is from atheists.

    The author sets up false dichotomies between religion and secularism.
    What he doesn’t get is Milennials don’t take religion as seriously because they see all around how much religious belief has been turned into a joke by its own adherents.

    “Conservative religious convictions discounted?!?!” Try lame excuses for bigotry and discrimination. This inability to speak plainly and honestly mars any attempt to take religious punditry seriously. You guys crapped the bed and are telling me the smell isn’t there.

  • Millennials are leaving religion for the same reason Irish people don’t believe in Leprechauns anymore.

    Millennials have been informed that there are lots of religions and none of them appear to be true.

    Millennials know that religion is nonsense.
    NASTY nonsense.

  • Larry

    Many religious folk badmouth themselves. Especially when:
    -They start spouting rather nasty and ignorant stuff in public.
    -When they attack fellow believers who just happen to disagree on various issues.
    -When they insist their belief must be given color of law at the expense of others
    -When they act as laws unto themselves
    -When tribalism and sectarianism outweighs common sense.
    -When religious folk speak from a POV of arrogance, privilege or accuse those who disagree with as ignorant.
    -When you have people attacking the foundations of religious freedom.

    There is really nothing silly than the “either/or” of religious belief and secularism. The two are not exclusive categories except to those who do not value beliefs other than their own.

  • Seek the truth

    Reread Luke 19:27. Jesus tells a story and the character makes that statement not as an edict to kill but as a warning of judgment. Are you really interested in the truth or suppressing it? (Romans 1:18) Faith in the true Jesus will change you for the better.

  • Though I think I slightly disagree with you if I understand you correctly, in that I think secularization is a good thing over the long-term. You make some good points in this article. I am not a Millennial but Generation X. I have had some horrible experiences with religion having once identified as devout Christian and have now rejected organized religion of all kinds, and suspect I will never change my mind on that. Unfortunately, that also means that I come at this with quite a bit of anti-religion bias, so being objective on these issues is sometimes a struggle. Religion is real, it is important, and it will shape our culture and current events for decades to come, perhaps centuries. Millennials do need to understand that religious beliefs can be devout and sincere and based upon nothing other than faith and holy text(s). I am optimistic concerning them, but I think they do have a bit to learn in this area.

  • Jack

    The author can’t possibly be as naïve as he seems…..

    Or maybe he is…

    Hand in hand with disbelief in God is disbelief that religion is the real motivator behind human behavior. The two forms of unbelief have gone together like bread and butter. Marx and other atheists said long ago that religion is just a veneer for deeper interests, principally economic.

    And the author is saying, “Gee, I dunno, where did those Millennials get the idea that religion isn’t a motivator for everyone from Mother Theresa to al Qaeda and ISIS?”

    Again, I ask, is he really that naïve?

  • Jack

    Wrong, Larry. The fastest growing churches over the past half-century have been those whose teachings are based on fidelity to Scripture and to tradition. The churches that continue to wither on the vine are the “me-too-me-too” churches that slavishly conform to whatever happens to be culturally fashionable at the time.

    And the reason is obvious. Who needs a sermon every Sunday that poses absolutely zero moral or intellectual challenge to what you’re hearing from Monday to Saturday? Why even have churches if they completely conform to everything around them and offer no critique of anything?

    If I want a voice that agrees with everything around it, I might as well buy a parrot.

  • Jack

    Max, Millennials don’t know much about anything, thanks to our public education system. Half them don’t know who the vice president is, what’s the capital of California, our largest state, who invented the telephone, or even what the law of supply and demand is and how it relates to the prices of things they buy or sell.

    And I’m just focused on the ones going through or graduating college.

    As far as critical thinking goes…..it doesn’t…..It’s all about feeling, not thinking….and looking for cultural cues on what the politically correct answer is to everything, so they can somehow get through life without getting the stuffing knocked out of them by some crazed lefty who’s “offended” by any number of things.

  • Jack

    Earth to writer:

    The same teachers who taught the Millennials that religion is bogus also taught them that religion doesn’t matter to people….and that other factors are the real motivators. Atheist writers and thinkers have been saying this at least since Karl Marx.

  • Larry

    Fastest growing because they are proselytizing in countries where education is scarce and poverty abounds. In the developed world, all Christian sects are in decline. Even the reactionary ones.

    Jack, you make Christianity into a joke with constant ridiculous, mendacious and shameless boostering.

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  • Jack

    No, Larry, I’m just responding to your endlessly conflating how the world actually works with how you wish it would work.

    You’d like to believe that churches that parrot the Zeitgeist will do well, but I’ve referred to a half-century of evidence that the opposite is the case, and I’ve offered a reason for it.

    I am hardly citing anything new.

    And no, Larry, I’m not just talking about churches abroad….I was actually referring to those in the US. Most of the liberal mainline Protestant denominations have been withering for decades, whereas the fastest growing American churches have been evangelical, charismatic, and traditional. Even the seeker-friendly mega-churches mostly teach adherence to the Bible as written.

  • Art Farnsley

    Hi Student:
    I don’t think you and I disagree. I do not mean to lay all violence at the feet of religion and I do not mean to argue that any religions are essentially violent. I’m just trying to argue that religious motivation is real and can be based in a fair reading of the texts as well as the history of the community. Anyone who tries to associate the “bad parts” with some other motivation is not taking religious serious enough and I see that as an ongoing problem.

  • Art Farnsley

    JImmy, you and I are together on this. This is not a matter of trying to convince anyone to think or believe something because I think it is correct, this is a matter of saying all kinds of dialogue and negotiations will be improved if the participants have a better understanding of the values and ideas held by other participants.

  • Art Farnsley

    Actually, Byroniac, I don’t think you and I disagree. I am not arguing in any way that secularization is a bad thing over the long term. But the long term is a very, very long way away and in the meantime, western, secular values will have to coexist with religious ones. Even if someone HATES the religious ones (I don’t, but even if someone did), peaceful coexistence is less likely if the secular do not understand the religious. The same thing can be said the other way around, to be sure, but I was focusing on the fact America is becoming more secular at a time when the world is becoming more religious. “Millennials” were just the character used to tell this story.

  • Art Farnsley

    Hi Jack: You seem very interested in this topic. I have a fair idea where the discounting of religion comes from, and it’s from a variety of factors including, but not limited to, Marx. I am not arguing in the slightest that millennials should be more religious or even that they need to be more respectful of religion. I’m arguing that the vast majority of people on earth ARE religious and that percentage is going up, not down, even as America becomes less religious. So continued coexistence depends on recognizing religious motivations for what they really are–and one thing they really are is religious.