One can get a lot of hits to their website by talking about the death of religion. “People aren’t going to church!” “Paganism is on the rise!” People are writing all the time about how people have given up on religion, but they aren’t writing enough about how young adults are still just as spiritual and how they are just as interested in community as ever.
I also know that sales of religious books are up; religious content online is still very popular. A lot of my friends who don’t attend services anywhere else have a home altar, an active spiritual practice (whether they call it that or not) and talk to me, as a community minister, about their emotional and spiritual needs.
I know that the going narrative is that humanity is turning its back on religion. I’m well aware that attendance is down all over the US as well as Europe. I know more people are withholding religious labels when they describe themselves. And none of that leads me to believe that people don’t want religion to do better; they just don’t want to support what they think religion is. I’ve seen people, from ages 20 to 60, light up when I explain Unitarian Universalism to them.
Being fed and being nourished aren’t the same thing.
People haven’t given up being religious, much less spiritual. They want relationships and exploration but they don’t want to be told how to do it. They’ve rejected tradition as “the peer pressure of the dead”. They want meaning and truth, but they know those things to be malleable just like human understanding of the universe.
Imagine being shown 5 sitcoms and being told your family had to model itself after one of them–These are the only ways a family can work. If you want any relationship with your mother, it has to mirror one of the sitcoms or you can no longer speak to her. As absurd as it sounds, that is how a lot of Millennials feel about being told that there are 5 religions that are the only valid ways to have a relationship with the divine.
Millennials, and even Gen X, haven’t become much less religious overall; they are mostly fed up with being told that there are right and wrong ways to explore their place in the universe. People today would rather discover their own way of doing things–creating community and ritual and spiritual practices of their own–and they just won’t do what doesn’t work. Those of us under 50 have just gotten use to solving problems in innovative ways and making things work for them.
They don’t know what they are missing
People don’t know that there are Liberal options that will encourage them in their personal pursuit of truth and meaning. They haven’t heard about communities that come together over shared morals without needing shared belief. I can tell you from personal experience that some of them will light up when we tell them about the kind of community we build in a UU congregation. It is just a matter of both inviting them and making room for them to be full and active members.