More than 200 volunteers, of all ages and different faiths, work to remove dead brush, weeds and trees at Balboa Park in San Diego during the Day of Service 2009. Photo by Matthew Parker/Creative Commons

Millennials: get over your faith phobia

(RNS) — More than 1 in 3 millennials (ages 22 to 37) identifies as religiously unaffiliated. That makes us far less connected to organized religion than older generations.

We are less likely to attend religious events compared to our parents, and scandals such as child molestation in the Roman Catholic Church have increasingly eroded our confidence in religious institutions. However, as a practicing Muslim, I can assure you that religion still plays an important role in many of my fellow millennials’ lives.

Although many of us are nonreligious, millennials are also the most diverse generation, and we’re religiously varied too. Among my friends, I can count Wiccans, Baha’is and Zoroastrians along with Christians, Jews and Hindus. Many of us regularly attend faith-based events and imagine ourselves marrying someone who shares our religious convictions.

Meanwhile, we puzzle over the fact that religious identity seems to be overlooked in our conversations. While we routinely discuss cornerstones of modern identity politics such as race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status, we still tiptoe around religion.

Perhaps our hesitation stems from negative media coverage of religion. For every story about faith leaders putting aside their differences to serve the common good, it seems there are 10 others about extremist militias, draconian blasphemy laws or other subjects that cast religion in a dim light.

We Muslims are all too familiar with negative coverage. Many millennial Muslims growing up in the United States share a common story. As children, we practiced our faith without notice from the general public. After 9/11, we were expected to become walking Islamic encyclopedias and answer the age-old question, “Why don’t Muslims speak out and condemn terrorism?”

Muslims are viewed less favorably than other groups, even atheists, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. However, many of us believe that religion can serve as a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.

Faith-based institutions are some of the largest providers of charitable services in the United States, and there is huge potential for interfaith cooperation in solving pressing social problems. For example, as a medical student, I have witnessed houses of worship hosting health fairs that serve religiously diverse populations. They help patients manage conditions as varied as depression, drug addiction and diabetes.

Interfaith service projects can take many forms. The project does not need to be interfaith at its inception; it just needs to address a pressing problem in the community. This might be poverty, homelessness or environmental degradation. Virtually all religious and nonreligious traditions value volunteer work. Choosing a salient issue will automatically attract service-minded individuals from a variety of avenues.

The next step is to identify helpful partners for the initiative. Chances are, some service groups might be already working on the problem. In that case, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. These groups will often welcome additional volunteers. After this, target outreach toward faith or nonfaith communities that are interested in the project. You can bring people of diverse backgrounds together while focusing specifically on the issue that needs to be addressed.

Volunteers sort food during an interfaith project at Atlanta Community Food Bank in September 2012. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

When the project begins, attempt to create diverse working groups. Ensure that participants are meeting people from a different faith background. Interfaith conversations might happen organically as participants discuss why they care about the issue at hand. If this is too difficult, you can create safe spaces for interfaith dialogue by having reflection or debrief sessions throughout the day — preferably with food. Free food attracts people of virtually every background.

Volunteers are apt to leave the event feeling positive that they have made a difference in the community, while making new friends across lines of difference.

Interfaith work isn’t about watering down our religions. It’s about building relationships so we can together serve others. Yet this spirit of cooperation across lines of differences seems sorely missing from our society.

In seeking a better way, we have no better American role model than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who as a young Christian pastor worked with Muslims, atheists, Jews and many others to achieve his dream.

Rather than becoming permanently nonreligious, perhaps millennials are just looking for religion that effects social change.

(Aamir Hussain is a medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and Harris School of Public Policy. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)


  1. Interfaith only in all being wrong. Again only for the eyes that have not seen, the Great Kibosh:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  2. A thoughtful and well reasoned commentary. In the here and now, we’re all in this together, carping at one another is less than useless…dialogue as a by product of good works may build bridges of congeniality even if it does not lead to persuasion or conversion regarding spiritual themes.

  3. There are a lot of good people in the world – many of them are “religious” – sometimes active believers and sometimes cultural followers.

    So what?

    None of the efforts described are faith-based. They are actions carried out by people who come together to make a difference – and most would do so irrespective of the presence, or absence, of faith.

    It was the obvious truth that many of those who proclaimed their beliefs and allegiance were not good people which started me down the path of questioning the faith I had inhaled daily and automatically followed since my birth.

    Pretending that faith is a necessary part of good works is understandable – but, IMO, wrong.It is a misapplication of the human need to seek to correlate cause and effect. Indeed, one could argue that the fact that some people can ignore religious differences to work together suggests that the work, or what they get from it, is more important than their beliefs.

    Remember also that most faiths contribute to the problems that humanity needs to sort out – they act as a rallying point not only for the decent but also for the bigot, the inadequate and the wicked.

  4. “Muslims are viewed less favorably than other groups, even atheists, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.”

    You poor babies – you think you’re better than atheists?

  5. Maybe it isn’t a faith phobia, and maybe it doesn’t have to be gotten over. Maybe it’s just a perfectly rational response to fantastic claims asserted without testable hypotheses and without evidence.

    Maybe people are now educated enough, with enough information available to them, and enough access to others of different faiths and beliefs, that the need for religion to “explain” anything— especially since it so rarely does— is no longer required.

    Every religion claims to be the truth, and every religion has its holy book to record that “truth”. But the evidence against any one religion, religion X, being true is overwhelming: you have the evidence of every other religion, every religion not-X, that X is wrong. It does no good to say that all religions are just an aspect of the truth. They are just admitting that they don’t have the truth after all, or that the truth is far more grand an encompassing than anything they have been proclaiming for their decades, centuries, and millennia.

    Maybe the documented, unvarnished truth is obvious to anyone that wants to see it: that for all of the good that religion has accomplished in the world, it has also accomplished a lot of evil that has been justified as the Word of God. That makes religion a human institution just like any other, and nothing special at all. It’s not as if you can compare the good to the evil, determined that there is more good than evil, and use the difference to declare that religion is a force for good. That’s not how it works.

    Maybe people are discovering they can lead perfectly moral, perfectly useful, perfectly spiritual, perfectly kind and compassionate lives without benefit of the priestly class.

    Religion can indeed serve as a “bridge of cooperation” rather than a “barrier of division”. Frequently it does; unfortunately, frequently it does both. But there’s little power, money, or dominion in cooperation. However, there is plenty of all three in division— witness these very pages!— which is yet more evidence that it is simply a human institution. Faith is simply not required to do any of the things that you claim religion does. One can work at a soup kitchen, donate money, sponsor a health fair without the slightest reference to any god or gods.

    All of that being said, I don’t have any real objection to faith or people being religious. If your faith Makes your life better and you a better person, I’m all for it. I’ve known many such people, and count Manny as my friends. The problem is when faith becomes a weapon to be used against the people that don’t share your beliefs. The problem is when faith impedes any kind of rational solution or any kind of progress. The problem comes when God or gods are used to justify what cannot be justified by any other means.

  6. Millennials have lost their religion (or never found it) because for too long religion has been viewed as always being on the wrong side of history in every instance of social change.

    When it counted the most, people whose consciences were on the right side of history and could have spoken up didn’t out of fear of rocking the boat. Their collective silence allowed the loud voices who resisted every form of social change to drown everyone else out. That’s what happens when you allow bullies to take over, as we’re all finding out now in the age of Trump.

    As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” For too long, the good people within Christianity didn’t speak up, and now religion has become associated with intolerance, backwardness, fear, and resistance to scientific fact when it should have been associated with love, the opposite of fear and the one thing Jesus taught us was the most important thing of all. That being the case, who can blame millennials for their free-will choice to abandon religion altogether? Not I, and I’m a believer.

  7. The author is sending out invitations to commenters to join him for a interfaith goodwill project because, “Interfaith work isn’t about watering down our religions. It’s about building relationships so we can together serve others”. So far it looks like the responses are as follows.

    Givethedogabone-so what.

    Edward Borges-Silva-a thoughtful well reasoned indeaver…I shall commit to attend.

    Ben In Oakland-maybe, maybe not, maybe.

    Jim Johnson-mooslum.

    Rational Conclusions-there is no evidence of a interfaith goodwill project.

    “Yet this spirit of cooperation across lines of differences seems sorely missing from our society.”

    Still waiting to see how millennials are going to respond.

  8. Certain service projects operated by different religions could, at least in part, be made ecumenical and open to all faiths and none there are numerous religiously affiliated service corps that actually do some good. Many are listed–from various religions, not just catholic–in the online Catholic Network of Volunteer Services. Most of these corps take in volunteers, usually for at least a year, provide them with a modest monetary subsidy, health care and housing or a housing allowance. Most of them also require certain commitments: to simple living, humble service, common prayer or contemplation or meditation, and cooperation (among the volunteers and also by getiing locals actively involved as co-agents of the improvements the corps are working on. Some corps emphasize training locals to become professionals needed in their areas: teachers, nurses, even doctors, etc.

  9. I don’t believe any of the major religions at this point have a “priestly class” ala the Levites and Kohanim.

  10. Who blesses your eucharists, then?

  11. Speaking only to the third-from-end paragraph, there are no “relationships” without some “watering down” of the tenets of the individual religions. You can pretend to ignore the extreme differences for an hour, or a day, or a week, but what sensible millennials (or young people of every era) really want is some religious leaders who will finally admit that religions have their extremists BECAUSE the textual materials are loaded with junk and nobody can get rid of it.

    The Jews are told they are a chosen people, the Christians get lost in an indecipherable gobbledegook of “Revelation” and Muslims think people have to die if they have enough sense to edit Mohammad’s musings. The written stuff needs an overhaul to merge the whole business to kindness and positivity toward caring about each other. We COULD have this in any generation, EXCEPT FOR the worship of questionable writings ruining the spiritual desire we would otherwise have to help each other.

  12. Perhaps the most important message to take from this opinion piece is that regardless of faith or no faith, it’s the actions that make the difference.

  13. Franklin got a invitation, he said-“hell to the no he won’t go.”
    Why would millennials want to stay at home with him?

  14. Ecumenical would be comfortable for some Christians. Common prayer, contemplation or meditation requirements with them would not be acceptable to those of other religions, non-believers, or secular humanists.

  15. The ideology of most Evangelicals must be confronted or this may actually become a theocracy. Cooperation with that ideology would be very difficult and dangerous. Thanks for that reference.

  16. Burke preferred tradition to reason. He insisted that Christian values should prevail in a just society. This is also the position of the Evangelicals and the Trump administration. I am not a believer and believe a secular society would be more just and peaceful.

  17. I almost agree with you, Ben. I do have a real objection to faith. It is not compatible with reason and often causes unreasonable actions by believers. It seems to be only when faith is not very strong is it compatible with reasonable behavior.

  18. Although a Pew survey wouldn’t support it, I would consider fundamentalist Christians currently the most dangerous to humanity.

  19. I’m not going to “get over it” … faithless for almost 31 years now, not going back, haven’t needed it, haven’t used it, I’m sorry I wasted 36 years of my “faith” years of my life bossing people around with it, pointing fingers at sin, speaking “damnation”, giving collossally stupid advice on how to live like, telling people we “ought” too-like this article. Muslim, Baptist, Catholic, religion, prayer…forget it. Milliniums..good luck, enjoy life, don’t waste it in church, drop the religous wordy-ness. How about that for advice and bossing people. See there, I can still be just as hypocritical without religion.

  20. Bob believes a lot of things that are true only in BobWorld. But you will notice he gave himself a specific “out”. So that when you point out that it is wrongs, he can jump out from behind the nearest rhetorical bush and yell, “gotcha!”

  21. It’s not a point of weak faith vs. strong faith, but weak PEOPLE vs. strong people. I have known many strong believers who are not unreasonable people. But they are not people who need to use their faith as either a weapon or a crutch.

  22. My experience is that many people with strong faith can be very reasonable and intelligent until reason conflicts with their faith beliefs.

    People that aren’t that committed to their religion are more apt to be reasonable.

    I see it as a psychological disease. The stronger the faith the more dangerous are the actions of the believer.

  23. This is something that I have said many many times over the years. How someone reads the Bible, how someone lives out their faith, very much depends on the kind of person that someone is, and not the other way around.

    You can see the evidence on these very pages. The sanctimonious and dominionist aholes, who use theirfaith as a weapon, are aholes in just about everything they have to say about others, their “solutions” to problems, their whole approach. The people who see their faiths as a means for lifting themselves and others up do not act that way.

    My oldest friend in the world, over 50 years now, is a very conservative Christian in his faith. But he has no issue with gay people and is apalled at evangelical support for someone like trump. But he has always been a very nice, sweet guy, and would never think to cite the Holy Boble as a weapon.

  24. He seems to have nothing better to do than gaslight anyone who disagrees with his bigoted beliefs, in order to “put them in their place.”

  25. The word of Bob.

    You have it exactly. He is a dominionist par excellence, or whatever the actual opposite of excellence is. His joy is in putting people down for not being Bob.

    Underneath it all, as others have noted, is a very insecure man, reasonably bright, but still very insecure.

  26. While there is no proof of a god or that faith works, but there is proof that science, especially medicine, is helpful, why would a thinking millennial who wa brought up in this time, have any recourse to faith? Today the loudest faith promoters are often obnoxious and arrogant. No one wants to listen to them or be like them. In addition, many young people know people of different faiths who are not the horrible people that so many preachers claim they are.

  27. Okay. You do sound sincere — as in sincerely totally wrong.

    If you think the Catholics or Methodists or Evangelicals are in trouble — and yes, they indeed are — that’s flat-out nothing compared to the federal disaster area that atheism has become.

    Some 40 percent of the “Nones” are still openly leaving the door open to discussing God the Creator.

    Atheism is so sloppy, so rationally unsupportable and bankrupt, that some atheists in KC and other cities gotta call their little gatherings “Atheist Church”. Yall can’t even snag your own pitiful customers without first stealing Christian terminology.

    So let’s face it Bob. Rot-Gut Tape-Worm Fake-Scams are NO good, starting with atheism & agnosticism. So c’mon and git your Upgrade!!

  28. And I would bet that the last time you disparagingly referred to his Bible as the “Holy Boble” in front of him, he didn’t offer you one smidgen of challenge on it, even as a longtime friend.

    Gotta avoid possible frictions & fractures, even if it means silencing the Scripture.

    There is a large evangelical church in Oliveto’s jurisdiction, and as an official bishop, she has the power over them — period. Plus there is a sizable pro-gay minority faction in the congregation, plus NO church ever wants to be isolated and dropped from other churches’ calendars (and fundraising aid).

    So what did the evangelicals do? They silenced themselves. Don’t even mention a certain Bible topic in private. No challenge. They play along very obediently, like little church mice, because they KNOW what will happen otherwise.

  29. If you can refer to gay people as Gay Goliath, you are hardly in a position to talk.

    I will refer to the Word of Bob in exactly the same derisory terms that he directs at everyone who disagrees with him.

  30. Millennials: get over your faith phobia

    Baby Boomers: get over your faith phantasy.

  31. “I will refer to the Word of Bob in exactly the same derisory terms that he directs at everyone who disagrees with him.”

    As opposed, of course, to your usual cackling derision, dismissal, mocking, and other behavior when you encounter disagreement.

  32. Well, you’ve been attacking Bob anyway. (Umm, you forgot to deny the point of my previous post, though. No biblical challenges from your longtime friend at all. He wouldn’t dare, eh?)

    But let’s switch gears and look at Gay Goliath. “Goliath” is not “derisory.” It’s not a gay slur. It does not symbolize weakness, stupidity or failure.

    Instead, as seen in the victories of LGBT activists, the term means great power, weapons, cleverness, determination. (You should feel happy; you work for Goliath.)

    But for Christians — ALL Christians, not just conservatives — Goliath is NOT a friend. He is an unmitigated, unmistakable, intelligent, fatally powerful threat aimed at Christians, their families, their Bibles, and their churches. The Gay Goliath is 2018’s version of the biblical Goliath. That’s the deal Ben.

    Like the ancient Goliath, the Gay Goliath doesn’t want compromise. He wants CAPITULATION. And he wants to make sure it hurts too. You see it happen with churches, families, & youth. Gay Goliath says “Ditch your Bibles, deny your Jesus, and become my Slaves.”

    But slavery is no good Ben. Christ came to save, cleanse, heal, and free up everybody. So Gay Goliath gotta go down, even if it takes a lifetime.

  33. So much bull crap and fake persecution.

    The majority of Christians in this country simply don’t agree with you. That’s what you really don’t like.

    The majority of ristians in his country didn’t agree with racial desegregation, either. But your fine with that, of course.

  34. You have just made my case above about reasonable behavior.

    Atheism is not an organization. Atheist just means the person doesn’t believe in a god or gods. Because there is no way to prove this one way or the other, I just call myself a non-believer.

  35. Ben, I realize their are good people who have faith in most religions and even ideologies. In my experience I am more likely to trust those that can retain an open mind especially when making moral decisions. To function on faith is dangerous. I don’t consider that people are evil, but I do see evil in religions and ideologies. They often relieve their followers of the responsibility of discovering moral answers..

  36. If you want more interest in and respect for your religion, then promote the good it’s doing in the world, rather than just sitting in judgment and spouting bigotry like so many of your church elders do. (And that applies to ALL religions, not just the author’s.) Millennials know the difference between talk and action.

    On the other hand, maybe growing disinterest in religion is just a sign of humanity growing up and discarding things it no longer needs.

  37. Nobody’s got a faith phobia. This writer’s premise is fatally flawed.

    If a group wants new members, it must be, first and foremost, an attractive group to join. An attractive group can be about a lot of things–rock climbing, running, jigsaw puzzles, watching 80s movies, even religion. But it needs to have a dynamic that is welcoming to new people and so much fun to be around that people will give up other ways to spend time to hang out with that group instead.

    It also needs to be based upon fairness and true ideas as well as a equitable distribution of power, because sooner or later someone really bad is going to get near a position of power. If the group isn’t built correctly, then that bad person is going to infest the leadership and invite more bad people to join.

    Christian groups simply aren’t attractive groups. They’re not based around true and real ideas, and their social systems are almost always the kind that open leadership roles to abusive people. And they’re never more appealing to members than doing something else.

    I no longer believe that Christians will fix this dealbreaker of a problem, but if they could, they wouldn’t be able to stop people from wanting to join.

    Instead of fixing that problem, this writer has, unfortunately, gone the route that so many of his religious leaders have taken: chiding people for not wanting to join his group. I get that it’s a lot easier to do that than to fix the broken system that is religion generally, but the time when that sort of tactic worked is long over.

  38. The problem with millennials hesitating to embrace any religious faith is the fact that they’ve seen religious professions of faith practiced so poorly by their elders.

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