Is iGen the “first truly post-Christian generation?”
Posted On February 8, 2018
It’s been 136 years since Friedrich Nietzche declared that “God is dead.” Despite the revelations of the Enlightenment, however, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other forms of religion have survived and prospered around the world.
Now, over a century later, one study suggests iGen may be looking to finish the job.
In a recent study by Barna Group, 13 percent of iGen respondents (or Generation Z, as Barna calls them) identified themselves as atheists, a percentage double that of the U.S. adult population. That led Barna to refer to iGen as “the first truly post-Christian generation.”
Thirteen percent is less than one in seven – hardly proof of a wholesale turning away from the idea of God. But the increased prevalence of atheism among today’s teenagers (all iGen respondents in the Barna study were between the ages of 13 and 18) is statistically significant and it’s worth examining the reasons behind it.
Barna did so, and the top reason it found was one that has hounded believers for centuries – the question of how a benevolent God could allow so much suffering and evil in the world. The next two reasons may be trending upward and contributing to the increase in atheism – the idea that many Christians are hypocrites, and an inability to reconcile the Bible with science.
The former may be fueled in part by an ever-growing political divide that has pushed civic discourse toward extremism and hyperbolic rhetoric, and in which many self-proclaimed Christian groups have taken an increasingly active role. The latter, of course, grows with continued scientific discovery, as each new revelation and theory challenges our interpretations of a 2,000-year-old text.
We can also see the effect of lagging church attendance, as many of today’s teenagers haven’t grown up in church as many of us as kids and don’t have a feeling of belonging to a church community. More than half of the iGen respondents to the Barna study said they found church attendance “not too” or “not at all” important.
Today’s young people are more open-minded socially than their parents — more accepting, for instance, of homosexuality, transgenderism and alternative lifestyles – and less receptive to institutions that aren’t. And when we speak of universal truth, they are more likely to demand proof. Nearly half of the study’s teen respondents, about the same percentage as millennials, said they needed factual evidence to support their beliefs, which makes the entire premise of faith problematic.
As we often ask ourselves in cases such as this, is this a trait specific to this generation or to young people in general across generations? It is only natural for us to grow more spiritual and turn to God as we grow older. After all, we’re getting closer to meeting him.
The Pew Research Center found back in 2010 that millennials were significantly less “affiliated” with any particular faith than were Gen-Xers at similar points in their lives. Taken with the Barna study, we can surmise that it’s a trend that’s growing stronger with each generation.
“Young people love what is interesting and odd, no matter how true or false it is,” Nietzsche wrote in Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. In a land settled by Puritans, the idea of an accidental universe may be even more “interesting and odd” than the mystery of faith.