Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Spirituality of the Smart Phone Generation

There's something interesting happening in the Millennial generation and it has to do specifically with religion. More so than any other generation Millenials are disavowing religion, in particular Christianity, as they reach into their burgeoning adulthood.

Just so we all understand, America is home to the most amount of self-identified Christians in the world. We fucking love Jesus. The entire history of the nation (I should mention, post-colonial white people who write history text books, nation) is pretty much fueled by us loving Jesus so so much.

 A Brief Religious History in the U of A

While I really do appreciate that I was taught the same incorrect history lessons for years in elementary school, the foundation of America's religious background was not one based on kind and forgiving tolerance. People were frequently hanged during the start of this America, merely for believing in the wrong denomination of Christianity. That's pretty nit-picky of all those hangmen imo.

In the America of the 1960's we could surely believe in whatever we wanted legally, but would definitely be socially ostracized for expressing viewpoints that were out of the norm. There would be no dinner with the Leibowitz's,  or god-forbid the Kerouac's and heretics. Believe whatever you want, just don't talk about it, at least let everyone hold the illusion you're a good Christian boy or girl.

I remember this brand of diseased denial particularly in my grandfather, who instead of voicing his obvious ambivalence towards religion during bouts of depression, would merely stop going to church, and sit in stoic silence when questioned about it. Oh Grandpa, how I miss your stoic silences, the best part of every grandpa is how goddamn afraid they are about talking about feelings, and also how much they probably whipped our parents.

The United states of America in 2015 is a very different story however. We live in a world where people are begging for you to know as much about their private lives as possible, and nothing is too embarrassing to share.

 Here we are, in a country that for the first-time since its inception, will probably have less than half of its youth believing in the gospel of Jesus. Only 56% of younger millenials (born 1990-1996) identify as Christian. The amount of the population that identified as Christian between 2007 and 2010 dropped by 7%, despite there being a population boom at the same time.

The Future of American Religion

I guess the question is, what happened to all our love for Jesus? Did it just disappear? Will it return in some other form? What does the future of the American religious landscape hold?

Well, the majority of the switch comes from people changing their religious affiliation later in life.  Over 42% of Americans now affiliate with a religion different than the one they were raised with. The religious group that is getting the biggest boon from religious switch-over, is religious"nones", a weird euphemism for Atheists. It looks like our new religious landscape will be barren; no crosses or yarmulke's or Ganesha's speckled across this hillside (sorry not sorry about that sentence). That's something that will be very interesting to get to see happen in our lifetimes. This could cause the political field to become more open, a larger tolerance towards people who deviate from hetero-normative sexuality, and a generally less prejudiced society.

Finding spirituality 

I am one of only 9% of Americans raised in a household with no religious affiliation. I went to Church a total of three times as a child, and had many conversations in long car rides about the restrictive and destructive force of religion. Religion was framed to me as a political tool, a comforting illusion, and a totality of human greed and ignorance. While I can still find some truth in the teachings of my youth, I have come to have a different relationship with religion than I ever expected.

This view, ironically, has many of its roots in gentle moments spent with my father, who shared with me his joy of exploring the American countryside at crucial moments in my development.

When I was 17 years old my parents took me out on my first of many road-trips with them. We rode in vans, and rented RV's across the nation, keeping with us only bags of chips and boxes of wine for sustenance. We explored the vast history of sites like Mesa Verde, and the pure natural wonder of the Grand Canyon. These are experiences that today, I am so much the better for having had. I was able to see the wonders of America (for free) at a young age, something that people spend their entire lives wishing to experience.

At the time, I was like most teenagers, pretty shitty. I was glued to my smartphone, which I kept close to me at all times.  I needed it in case a boy texted, or a tweet came to mind, or I wanted to look a piece of history up, instead of taking a moment to stare at history, straight in its weathered face.

"Alena, you will never be able to write, or understand the world in any larger context if you don't pay attention to what's going on around you. I understand that there are very pressing concerns for you in that phone of yours, I used to be young too, but there's something bigger just outside your window. That's more important."
And so, I looked. And what I found was spirituality. There, before my eyes, was pure awe. Nothing that I had seen before could prepare me for what I felt then. My stomach falling into a pit, witnessing the pure magnitude, and ability of the entire universe to culminate into these wonders. The human ingenuity that created dwellings in  the sides of cliffs, the ability of a river to cut 6,000 feet deep into soil, and the pure chance that I exist to observe this. Being forced into total presence at these monuments gave me the state of mind to see myself as imperceptibly small, but also imperceptibly large.

Some more of my Hippie Bullshit

I don't believe in a doctrine, or a religion. I don't believe in spiritual immortality. But I don't believe in nothing. And I don't believe that believing in something means you are feeble-minded, or searching for comfort, or that you are a religious zealot.  There are entire fields of study, peopled with some of the most celebrated academics of our time, devoted to understanding religion. It is not something to be sneered at, or treated with derision, it is also not something that should be used to judge or debase other human beings. 

It's not a coincidence that the millenial generation, the first to be raised on the internet, is the one that is falling into non-belief the fastest. The internet has allowed us to become smarter and less empathetic, than the generations before us.

I don't think belonging to a denomination is necessary, I don't think a decline in Christianity is a bad thing, but I also don't believe we should completely deny the possibility of spirituality or religion without looking at it with an objective eye. Religion is not incompatible with science, and it can be something much larger than the history its been tainted with. Whether you call it spirituality, or religion, or appreciation, or poetry, or music, there is an importance and beauty in allowing ourselves to be present and reverent for the awesome moments we witness within our lives. Because we are a part of this universe, the good and the shit of it. 

Yo what's up? Did you like this? Did you hate it? Let me know, comment on it, we can talk.



  1. Deep, Alena! Very nice you had those opportunities with your folks. I went camping every summer with my family and saw every state in the country except for Alaska and Hawaii, and I can tell you the memories and life lessons I learned (with a father who was both spiritual and a history buff) were priceless. I enjoyed this. B

    1. Thank you so much B! I think traveling is so great for gaining perspective. I'm glad we both had parents that were able to provide us with that opportunity and that also thought it was important to share.