The Millennial Move from God

Why Millennials Are Less Religious Than Their Parents

By Payton Ramey, University of Central Florida

The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has gained so much popularity over the years that it has evolved to become one of the main identifiers of the millennial generation, aged 18 to 34.

Studies conducted within the last two years reveal that, compared to their parents and grandparents at the same age, millennials are considerably less likely to be attached to ideals of organized religion. Only about 40 percent of millennials consider religion to be an important part of their everyday life, yet 80 percent of the individuals in the same survey say that they have spiritual beliefs, identifying with statements like, “I feel a deep sense of spiritual well-being” and “I experience a sense of wonder about the universe.”

Unlike some, I was raised in a household that rarely ever discussed religion. To be completely honest, I had absolutely no concept of religion until a girl in elementary school very aggressively asked me if I was a Christian. I responded, “Yes, of course,” because it seemed like the only acceptable answer.

But I’m not. I identify with the “none” category, the unaffiliated, agonistic or atheist population, which, as of 2014, makes up roughly 23 percent of the adult community. For many, religion can be a staple in developing both a moral compass and a conscious belief system, but for others, it’s simply not thought about.

Beliefs are ever-changing and incredibly subjective. And while it’s yet to be seen whether this decline in religious affiliation is a permanent change or not, one thing is certain. The millennial generation, as of today, is on course to be the most educated, individualistic and liberal group yet, and they are no longer willing to simply accept the beliefs passed down through the family grapevine.

Cultural Shifts

One of the most significant considerations behind the dramatic decrease in religious affiliations for millennials revolves around the differences between generational teachings. The children of the Baby Boomer generation make up the millennial community, and, as with any generational gap, there are different lifestyle traditions in place that emerge as the so-called “legacy” of that time.

The Baby-Boomer generation, for instance, places a considerable amount of value upon the ideals of dedication and hard work. As such, they are accustomed to complying with the expectations of a career-focused life. This generation tends to lean toward a competitive outlook on life, while basing their earning potential on their individual work ethic and dedication to the job.

The Millennial generation is entirely different. As opposed to the previous “career is life” attitude held by their parents, this generation often focuses their thoughts on maintaining a work-life balance. They expect to build relationships with those around them and desire to feel a sense of belonging in every aspect of life.

Despite the enormous differences between the two, it’s obvious to see where the generations began to diverge. Millennials have been encouraged, from a young age, to express their thoughts and be assertive about pushing the limits of traditional values and beliefs. They’ve been taught to question authority when ideals of equality are being jeopardized, and have been provided with every possible competitive edge to succeed. As a result, they’ve emerged as one of the most individualistic generations yet.

Individualism and Religion

The individualistic beliefs that surround the millennial generation largely contradict traditional rules and values of religious organizations, which generally place emphasis on structure and group mentality.

When I was younger, I was offered the chance to visit a million different churches and attend a million different services, mostly because my friends wanted me to get “the real church experience” and seemed to think that their religion was the only one that could truly offer me that opportunity. As a friend, I always said yes, even when I obviously didn’t want to. But much to the disappointment of everyone, I still felt like I never really had a place in the church, which is a feeling shared by so many other young adults and millennials alike.

Unfriending Organized Religion


For many, religion is a difficult concept to accept for several reasons. Some people aren’t content to accept the existence of God only on faith, some find religious teaching too conservative and constricting, some find religion hypocritical and others simply feel like religion goes against science.

Ultimately, this dissatisfaction boils down to individual preference and beliefs. It’s undeniable that today’s generation is more accepting and open-minded than the previous generations. As such, it’s hard for millennials to accept all aspects of a religious identity when certain beliefs contradict with previously held ideals.

Transition to Spirituality

Levels of religious acceptance manifest not only in how people think, but also in what they do. Just 27 percent of millennials claim to attend religious services weekly, while the number of individuals who have never attended a service, and therefore do not view religion as an important aspect of life, is on the rise.

This transition away from traditional beliefs of religious identities doesn’t mean that millennials hold no regard for the ideas of spirituality, though. In fact, roughly three-quarters of millennials feel spiritual in their beliefs and find themselves thinking about the purpose of life.

Spirituality isn’t something that is necessarily synonymous with religion, though. Instead, it’s dynamic and is expressed in a multitude of ways and, much like self-expression, changes throughout the course of one’s life.

Modern spirituality, which involves picking different beliefs and practices that fit one’s identity, allows millennials to find a sense of belonging while still placing value on self-expression. And while no one can say whether or not organized religion will make a comeback in the future, it’s apparent that as of right now, individuality and religion are at a great disconnect, leading young adults to look elsewhere for a spiritual connection.

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  • A great suggestion Don. The word "spirituality" is being used today in many different contexts that may mean different things to different people. I think that this could make for a good forum discussion among the members that are part of this beta. More on this soon. Thanks for the suggestion.
    • Well, I'll offer my favorite passage on spirituality, from Sri Aurobindo's "The Life Divine"

      spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience. These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution, - the beginning of a spiritual realization, experience, change is not yet there. Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.
  • I'd be interested in a follow up article that goes into more detail about what millennials (and the author) mean by the word "spirituality."
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