Fr. Bryan Owen comments on a USA Today news story that’s been making its way around the religion blogs. It’s on what appears to be rising spiritual apathy among the young.
What struck me in this post was a quote from a guy who had written a book on the topic named Kinnaman:
Kinnaman himself says this: “‘Spiritual’ is the hipster way of saying they’re concerned with social injustice. But if you strip away the hipster factor, I’d estimate seven in ten young adults would say they don’t see much influence of God or religion in their lives at all.”
I think that what he says here is probably true for a certain segment of that group. But an even more important point is that we don’t all mean the same thing when we say “spiritual.”
But here’s the thing: I think it’s always been that way. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Rather, I think society is more permissive about people expressing what they think on these matters. Church is no longer one of the main social glues in American life. You won’t be missing out or harming yourself socially or professionally if you don’t go to church. Without church being one of required elements of conformist culture, there’s a new freedom to just say what you truly think on these things and to act on it.
I believe that people come hardwired with differing levels of religiosity. Some people seem to be just fine with the hour a week on Sunday morning thing. Others seem to be ok with even less than that. Questions about meaning, purpose, what it’s all about are just on different places on their radar screen. Some, like myself, think that these are some of the most important questions that we can ask and are continually wrestling with them.
On the other hand, I think that our culture is also getting better at dulling us to the import and impact of these questions. My evidence would be the tremendous growth of the entertainment and mass media industries over the past century. Humans have always had news, sports, music, entertainment—but never at levels like this before, and never so closely aligned and coordinated around a global consumer culture.
Fr. Owen is right; the church has a hard row to hoe. But these are my take-aways:
- Just know that different people are looking to satisfy different levels of apparent religious need. Not everybody is going to be hardcore church people (We sometimes forget that.)
- However, there can be a real difference between perceived religious need and actual religious need. Crises—whether societal or personal—are often the great drivers that make people sit up and take notice and realize that there actually is a gap between their perception and their true reality (but crises usually only provide a short window after which they go back to sleep).
- We need to be providing a clear understanding of what “spiritual” really means (or “religious” for that matter) and encourage people to figure out what they think they mean when they say it. That’s an important part of developing an honest and authentic spirituality.