I recently met a young woman who was just back from a monthlong Costa Rican vacation. She said that she had gone in part to connect with her spiritual self, to shed the moral strictures of her youth and to find her place of peace as an adult. In her mind at least, it had been a successful trip. She was a new woman, spiritually awakened.
She told me that she had gone from religious to nonbeliever, and then to spiritual. Putting aside the fact that most young people probably couldn’t afford to take a monthlong vacation in a foreign country, and the fact that her spiritual awakening was admittedly spiked with copious amounts of Costa Rican rum, her story struck me as increasingly normative rather than anomalous. Many young adults seem to be moving away from organized religion while simultaneously trying desperately to connect with their spirituality.
In fact, two recently released reports seem to buttress this observation.
A report entitled “Religion Among the Millennials” produced by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life and released this week found that one in four people 18 to 29 years old are unaffiliated with a religion. But that by no means makes them all atheists or agnostics. While there are always religious people among the unaffiliated, the numbers are significantly higher among the younger unaffiliated crowd. While they are less likely than those unaffiliated and older than them to believe in God, they are more likely to believe in life after death, heaven and hell, and miracles.
So, anyone laboring under the delusion that the generation weaned on MTV would move us closer to being weaned of an abnormally high level of religiosity — at least when compared with other industrialized countries — may have to keep waiting.
In fact, on some measures, the data suggest that these so-called millennials may be more spiritually thirsty than older generations. According to a Knights of Columbus/Marist poll also released this month, being “spiritual or close to God” was the most selected of any other “primary long-term life goal” among those 18 to 29 years old (other choices included “to get married and have a family” and “to get rich”). The rate at which they selected it was significantly higher than other generational groups, and nearly twice that of Generation X.
And the spiritual quests of the millennials may eventually have policy implications. According to the Pew report, “They are slightly more supportive than their elders of government efforts to protect morality, as well as somewhat more comfortable with involvement in politics by churches and other houses of worship.”
That last point worries me. It makes me want a double shot of that Costa Rican rum. Maybe then I, too, can find the spirit in the spirits.