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The Generational Change

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Hugh had newly minted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on yesterday – typically great Hewitt interview.  Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas was also in the studio and early in the interview Hugh directed a great observation/question at Senator Cotton:

HH: …I am very excited, it seems to me, and I’ll ask you this, Senator Cotton, that the Republicans own the generational change. Is that your experience in Arkansas and in the Senate?

TC: Yeah, it’s my experience in Arkansas, the Senate and the House for that matter. If you just look at the people who sit in the Senate and the House, most of the 30-somethings and even the 40-somethings tend to be Republicans. It’s certainly the case when I served two years with Paul in the House, and in the Senate as well. And that’s, for one reason, because people who are in their 20s or 30s are some of the worst, or get some of the worst lot of the Obama economy, and they don’t have an opportunity to get out of school, whether it’s high school or a trade school or college and get a job, and move out of their parents’ home and start a family. They’re having to defer their lives, because we don’t have enough growth, we don’t have enough opportunity for Americans who are trying to start off in life. Everyone’s struggling, but in some ways, young people are struggling the worst, and I think they’re turning to people of their generation to try to find the solutions that our generation is going to face for the next 40 or 50 years.

Republicans may own the “generational change” in government, but the latest Pew Religious Landscape survey, out yesterday, makes one question whether religion owns the “generational change” culturally.  The usual caveats here, the PRLS is a massive thing and I cannot possibly have ingested it well since its release.  My comments here are based on the conclusions Pew makes based on the data as opposed to any in depth review of the data itself.  Here’s the money paragraph in my opinion:

But the Pew Research Center study also finds a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. The recent decrease in religious beliefs and behaviors is largely attributable to the “nones” – the growing minority of Americans, particularly in the Millennial generation, who say they do not belong to any organized faith. Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.

Basically the nation is less religious because religion is not reaching the next generation.  No doubt in the days to come there will be endless opinions recorded as to why.  Factors blamed will include the rise of new media, the increasingly secular nature of the educational system, the necessity for both parents to work, single parent families, and so it goes.  But in the end, those factors do not tell the tale.

My conclusion on what does tell the tale is an easy one for me to draw.  I am, quite sadly, childless.  I will not pretend to know what it is like to parent a child in the current environment.  Yet I cannot help but conclude that if the Millennials are less religious than any other prior generation, it is because preceding generations did not value their faith sufficiently to pass it on to them.  All the factors I cited in the prior paragraph are real, as are a number I do not cite, but it seems obvious to me that if we truly valued our faith we would have searched, endlessly, for ways to overcome those factors in order to pass on our faith.  If there is a failure here, it is ours.  I include myself in this fault finding.  Being childless I have to ask myself what I did to promote faith in younger generations even if the young people involved were not my own.

The die is not yet cast for the Millennials.  Most generations experiment with walking away from faith only to return when they begin bearing their own children.  Since this survey is self-reported, it may represent more boldness to declare the walk away than an actual change in behavior.  But more importantly we of the older generations can still find a way over, around and through the many barriers to take our faith to them.  The Millennials are past the age where such life altering decisions are easy to influence.  But difficulty does not equate to impossibility.

What it does require on our part is deep resolve and intention.  I pray God He grants such to us.


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