Tony Farah never really knew God. As a child growing up in a
loosely Christian household, he thought he did; but as the 29-
year-old musician reached his early teens, he found less and
less evidence to back up that knowledge.
He began to do his own research. In the process of searching
for a religion that spoke to him, as well as trying to alleviate
his doubts about religion, he had a realization. He found that
most religions have the same core messages; the only major
differences are in whom they dictate you pray to.
His uncertainty remained, and his search never brought him face-to-face with a belief system that he felt a connection to. Nowadays, like 14.8 percent of his generational peers, Farah considers himself an Atheist.
“You can pray for days, ask the Lord to make your life easier, win the lottery or what have you. I'm one for immediate results,” he said. “If I can fix what's going wrong by myself, I'd rather do that than wait around for a miracle.”
For a nation founded under God, the United States is becoming increasingly godless. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 24 percent of Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated. They constituted the largest of the 18 religious groups analyzed by the organization.
That fact seems magnified when observing millennials. In another study, the Pew Research Center — a non-partisan “fact tank” — recently conducted a religious survey of 34,345 individuals, including 7,419 millennials.
When asked about their belief in God, 14.8 percent of those millennials claimed to not believe in one. Furthermore, when asked about the importance of religion in their lives, 15.4 percent of them considered it “not at all important.” Both of these measures were the highest found across five different age groups dating back to the Greatest Generation (people born from 1901-1927).
Those figures reflect across multiple dimensions of religiosity. Pew also found that a survey-high 35.7 percent of the cohort seldom or never attend religious services, marking a 15.2 percent jump over Generation X.
Additionally, 63.1 percent of millennials seldom or never pray, representing another bump of 10.7 percent over Generation X.
So, why are millennials abandoning their faith? What are they turning to instead?
David Williamson, co-founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, chalks it up to social evolution. Nowadays, he says, younger individuals can replicate the communal aspect of religion through activities like athletics, employment, social activism and other secular outlets.
“Churches are the social clubs of the past,” Williamson said in an email. “While they are still relevant in many people’s lives, they’ve had to change in many ways to maintain members. This tells me that people are learning that you don’t need gods to … have a fulfilled life.”
Today’s digital revolution is also to blame. With the rise of the internet, millennials have massive quantities of information at their fingertips, all just a keystroke away.
Pew’s data shows that only 24.7 percent of millennials rely on religion as their primary source of moral guidance — the lowest among all other generations. In its place, philosophy and science have increasingly been drawn upon, pointing to an ethical foundation that’s rooted across diverse fields.
“People have been misled to believe that it takes religion for people to act kindly and compassionately to one another,” Williamson said. “The problem is that people attribute these things to theology instead of human nature.”
In the age-old battle between the earthly and the divine, human nature appears to be gaining ground. When it comes to coping with life’s challenges, religious practice seems to be taking a back seat to other, more material methods.
While Farah banks on his music to find solace in the midst of life’s challenges, Avi Matarasso, a 21-year-old chemical engineering student, vents his frustrations through poetry.
“As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more about the catharsis, getting all of my feelings out,” he said. “I think that, as I grew older, I didn’t really need to think about God in any specific way. … I think faith is really helpful, but I wish I had it more.”
However, irreligiosity shouldn’t be confused with immorality. Despite holding traditional spirituality in lower regard, millennials continue striving to be inclusive, tolerant and understanding.
It’s something that Williamson describes as “humanism:” A set of concepts that people — religious and non-religious alike — agree on across cultures. In a globalized world, it could represent the globalization of faith. Human nature is human nature, regardless of religious or spiritual identity.
“Secular people (Atheists and Humanists) still share all the same core values as religious people—especially those in less conservative religions,” Williamson said. “We even share values with conservatives. We only need to look for them.
“Theistic religion isn’t the only path to the kind of society we want to live in. Therefore, we don’t need religion to have that kind of society.”