Almost a month ago, an atheist friend of mine asked, “You talk about Jesus and Christianity in a different way than I’ve ever heard. Can you explain this subtle difference I’m hearing?” And to be honest, I’ve been wrestling with that question for nearly a decade.
A USA Today article in 2010 revealed that 72% of today’s Millenial Generation can identify themselves as highly spiritual but not religious. Jeff Bethke unleashed a firestorm on Youtube with his video, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.” And although I’m not sure I agree with the arguments Jeff made in his ‘hipster-esque’ poem, I do have this feeling that faith in the modern world is changing, especially among Christians.
Millennial populations who attend church continue to decline. The Christian Post gave us Six Reasons why Millenials think church isn’t important, and the new term for this demographic under 30 is The Nones. These are people who don’t label themselves in affiliation with any particular religious background.
I grew up in a pretty religious environment, and as I see this trend continue I’ve wondered, Why? Why are so many students and young professionals choosing to run away from the Church? It seems like the church has all the bells and whistles to draw them to an event, programmatically speaking the Church has been consumer driven for almost 50 years, and the rise of Mega-Churches and Rock Star Pastors continues to grow. So what gives? Why are students running away from Religious Conversations?
Maybe Religion Is Suffocating The Message
I suppose we have to define religion in through the eyes of Young People. I think when students hear the phrase religion, they have visions of strict almost suffocating institutions where they have to commit to a long lifestyle that removes freedom from the table. They hear religion as someone who says, “Well I said it, so do it.” Without any thought and free flow of ideas. They miss the message of Jesus who said, “I’ve come to give you life and life more abundantly” and they feel like their creative will and desires stifled.
That’s a tough environment to welcome in a transient group of people who have bought into the lifestyle where they just want to make a difference in the world. When I talk with students they feel as though religion doesn’t give them a place to make a difference, they just have to fall into line and do whatever it is the system asks of them without any way to express their own journey. They’re way more excited to meet with people, to share what God is doing in their life, and live the boundless exploration of why and what they can contribute to the planet. In contrast, they’d much more likely be people to give their time and talents rather than participating in a highly liturgical rote rhythm of faith. Believe me, I get both sides of this equation, and know the importance of both. I’m just making observations.
Maybe Religion Has a Branding Problem
A cursory look across the world, and it seems like the conflicts between civilizations can be reduced down to differing religious world views. If we take into consideration much of our sociological tribalism taking us to wars around the world, they are often at least branded to have complex historical variables each religion brings to the table.
Humanity can embrace an almost vague mission statement that defines, “OUR god is better than your god because we operate out of a particular systematic way of life.” This naturally leads to an Us. vs. Them conflict, and as I talk with Western Students, they’re tired of that. They see so much beauty in the world, and it feels to them like Religion takes away that beauty and reduces beauty to another system.
Historically, this system has brought bright accomplishments to the world, but it’s also been responsible for extremely awful tragedies. Maybe it’s just a branding problem where we need to highlight the good, and ask for forgiveness for the mistakes?
What if Religion wasn’t the Way-Anyway?
What if they’re right?
What if religion brands people to be on a team, when actually all people were created by God to be individual members of a beautiful world? Remember, students aren’t running from the fact that spiritual things are important. They just identify themselves as anti-religious. They haven’t jumped off the proverbial cliff of God’s existence, they’ve just tried to reveal to us that there’s something more.
There’s something intrinsically more special about a God who created the world and the people who live in it to come to some sort of table of common understanding. And as soon as humans begin erecting the division between each other through religious labels, natural human tendency of power and corruption takes its root and conflict comes.
Even in my own label (Christian) I think a lot about the one we claim is the revolutionary (Jesus) and He seems to be abolishing the system of religion and the power structure of his day that really isn’t that different from today. (some people call it fulfilling, but lots of the systems were called into question every time Jesus talked) Religious leaders today still have power and control, political oppression is still the norm, and Jesus came to invite all people to God’s Kingdom. In other words, Jesus didn’t even come to establish a religion, He came to live with the very humanity created to Love God. He came to unite humanity with the spirit of God. (Remember Jesus wasn’t a Christian.)
I want to spend more time publicly exploring this difference. And I welcome any comments and questions. In fact, I’d like to reach out and begin a collaborative mentoring process where we can continue this conversation. If you’d like to be a part, let’s talk. I’ve been challenged to find 2 people who are willing to travel through this conversation for a set period of time. I’m looking.
Oh and it goes without saying, Please, if you’re going to comment and have conversation, let’s keep this above the level of snarky. If you have a comment, please think it through and let’s learn together. There’s no reason the internet has to be a “wild willd west” of saying whatever you want without any thought. I really think there’s a revolution happening, and we have a chance to ride this wave together. I’ve got lots of books, lots of friends, and lots of ideas. Let’s share this exploration together.