Millennials are Moving Toward Spirituality and Away from Organized Religion

Ulises Koyoc, Reporter

Have you ever been asked if you are religious? More and more people are responding with “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

Affiliation with religious organizations is decreasing and the number of people who consider themselves “spiritual” is increasing, according to a 2017 study from Pew Research Center.

If this trend continues, religious institutions will have no place in a society that has made them obsolete. Spirituality among current and future generations will be the new form of devotion.

According to Merriam Webster, being religious is “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity,” while being spiritual is “relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit.” It is important to know the distinction between these two words.

My father wanted to be a priest and it was his influence that encouraged me to attend mass and Sunday school. Even though I enjoyed going to church, there was something missing. I felt disconnected from Catholic teachings. It wasn’t that I did not believe in God or Christ, but my questioning of the church intensified as I matured. I believe that my feelings of disconnect from Catholic traditions came from the generational divide between my father and I.

According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, there are three key elements that shape generations; parenting, technology and economics. These elements have forged the way my father looks at the world compared to me. I have the ability to access information in seconds while my father didn’t. My father was heavily influenced by his mother to follow Catholic traditions and he was fine with that, but I can say that I have opportunities to break the very traditions he once learned.

Religion professor Colleen Windham-Hughes said although statistics indicate that the number of individuals who consider themselves religious is lowering, there are many reasons for this trend. Windham-Hughes said America is a nation of people questioning institutions, including religion, and millennials are leading this trend.

“I think culturally in the United States there’s a lot of questioning of institutions of all kinds, there’s institutional pressures in education, finance… and religion,” Windham-Hughes said. “I think that there are institutional problems in multiple aspects of society, so people are less willing to participate in them.”

Even though my parents may consider themselves religious, the word religious does not encapsulate who I am. I see myself as a spiritual individual and I’m not alone.

According to the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey of California Lutheran University’s 2015 first-year class, 21% of participants said they were “spiritual, but not religious” and 16% said they were “neither spiritual nor religious.” Only 10% said they were “religious, but not spiritual.”

IDEALS surveyed that same class four years later.  According to the 2019 survey, 38% identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” a 17% increase.

This shows that young adults who fall under the millennial generation are redefining their religious beliefs.

Perhaps one of the most powerful reasons that I stay away from labelling myself “religious” is the negative connotation attached to the word. In recent years, many religious institutions have caused controversy.

“There’s a lot of stigma attached with religion and I think a lot of it is based on organized religion,” Windham-Hughes said. “Some of their difficulties have been played out in the media… and it can be a discouraging experience.”

Windham-Hughes said that scandals, such as The Boston Globe breaking the story in 2002 that Catholic priests were molesting young boys, are influential in the way adolescents perceive religious institutions.

In a 2013 article from The Washington Post, religion reporter Michelle Boorstein said that the meaning of the word “religion” was changing in American society. Boorstein said Americans are now using words like “holy,” “faithful” and “spiritual” to describe their beliefs.

If the rise of spirituality keeps up, religious groups will either have to adapt to people’s spiritual demands or they will simply disappear. Spirituality will occupy the space that religion once filled.