FOR anyone puzzling about why young people today are not religious, finding the answer might be more obvious than one thinks: ask them. As a sociologist of religion, I am familiar with research on the subject, based on interviews and surveys.
Brian Mountford’s recent book takes a different, less mediated approach. He asked a selection of 18-25-year-olds to write short essays attending to specific issues: to describe their experience of religion and what they thought their contemporaries’ views might be, and discuss their thoughts on its future. In a telling aside, he explains that there was a significant omission because he couldn’t find anyone to write from what he described as the “couldn’t-care-less” stance. As he notes, that “wasn’t altogether surprising since no one cared enough to be bothered by it”.
What people did write is arresting, engaging and profoundly informative. The nine essays offer original insights and stories about, mainly, Christianity and why young people are often disengaged. Many offer a different viewpoint than that taken by Mountford in his introductory and concluding essays. While treating his interlocutors’ ideas respectfully, he still seems convinced that rationality, individualism, and consumerism have killed religion. The alternative, to hold up a mirror, may be more disquieting and yet instructive.
Listen closely to the suggestions of, for example, Tara Lee, who in “Age of Uncertainty” speaks about non-religious forms of awe and amazement: “However, magical thinking of the less pragmatic kind has managed to sneak its way back into my life every now and again”. And, as she writes, she has found beauty, kindness, and wisdom in non-religious forms.
Kizzy Jugon, whose essay “Jesus is a Feminist: Why isn’t the Church?” describes how “feminism runs in my generation’s blood.” Although not raised to be religious, she does a good job of wrestling meaning from scripture. She gained there a confidence in what she described as her God-given nature which drove her away from the Church and organised, patriarchal religion, but not from Christ.
For those preoccupied with matters of “the ultimate”, as clergy and theologians are wont to be, the lesson from Connie Tongue, in “Religion and the Environment”, is her horror that the Church has not taken environmentalism more seriously and to heart. She concludes that people of her generation “find religion, and the Church in particular, has its priorities wrong”.
This is a compelling volume, recommended for clergy, academics, and youth workers committed to hearing, and learning from, young people today.
Dr Abby Day is Professor of Race, Faith and Culture in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her forthcoming book from OUP is Why Baby Boomers Turned from Religion: Shaping belief and belonging, 1945-2021.
Religion and Generation Z: Why seventy per cent of young people say they have no religion
Brian Mountford, editor
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