Are Millennials Creating a New Religion? by Mike Friesen

Has anti-religion become the new religion of delayed adolescence?

Part 10 in series How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Mike Friesen

The YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” (below) has been viewed over 20 million times now. It was a viral video, and represents a generational thinking about religion. It shows my generation’s disgust for injustice, legalistic churches, and for the religious environment that we have grown up in. We’re anti-religious.

Psychologist James Fowler created an understanding of the progression of faith, and how one seems to grow within their faith journey. For the previous generations, this anti-religious and de-institutionalization of religion was stage four. Fowler says that stage four faith: 

“Most appropriately takes form in young adulthood (but let us remember that many adults do not construct it and that for a significant group it emerges only in the mid-thirties or forties). This stage is marked by a double development. The self, previously sustained in its identity and faith compositions by an interpersonal circle of significant others, now claims an identity no longer defined by the composite of one’s roles or meanings to others. To sustain that new identity it composes a meaning frame conscious of its own boundaries and inner connections and aware of itself as a ‘world view.’ Self (identity) and outlook (world view) are differentiated from those of others and become acknowledged factors in the reactions, interpretations and judgments one makes on the actions of the self and others.”

On the outside it may appear that my generation is actually stage four faith, but when in fact, because anti-religion is the cultural and generational norm, it actually looks like stage three faith. Fowler says of stage three:

“It typically has its rise and ascendancy in adolescence, but for many adults it becomes a permanent place of equilibrium. It structures the ultimate environment in interpersonal terms. Its images of unifying value and power derive from the extension of qualities experienced in personal relationships. It is a “conformist” stage in the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp on its own identity and autonomous judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective.”

In previous generations, stage three faith were our unquestioned, establishments of church and religion.

“Anti-religion” is now the culturally established Stage 3 Faith that needs to be doubted (and rejected?) in order for us to reach Stage 4 Faith

My generation has not deconstructed and broken away or differentiated it’s belief from others and the general worldview (anti-religion). What it has done is, make anti-religion, in a weird way, its new religion. Or, at the very least, stage four faith for Millennials will look like a deconstruction of the deconstructed worldview we have already been given. Disgust for the church is a predominant foundation for some churches. And, while I appreciate the hope that there is within the post-Christendom faith (we have reaped many rewards), our making of religion as the enemy has actually within itself created a new religion.

I believe that true “stage four” faith for my generation, will be the deconstruction of this anti-religious model. It will look like reconciliation with the previous generations and looking to our previous traditions to find hope, meaning, and joy within a time that is filled with cynicism and angst. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out that in previous generations we believed publicly and doubted privately. But, in our generation, we doubt publicly and believe privately. Stage four faith, while I don’t know what it will look like, may end up being a radically new kind of belief.

We live in a confusing time. For my generation, we’re walking away from the dominant narratives and worldviews that have shaped Christianity for centuries. And, while I don’t want to make this as a universal truth for my generation, if we aren’t able to recognize the pattern, this is in fact something it could become. More thane ever, we need spiritual leaders who can help us question, forgive, and have the courage to move forward. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We must understand where we come from, so we can know where we’re going.

Next post in the series: Why Many Emerging Adults are so Spiritually Mature, by Todd W. Hall, PhD



Read More on Mike’s Blog ‘Christianity for the Rest of Us.’