Is religion dying out for millennials? Students less religious than rest of U.S., but more diverse

You walk into church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) and look around.

You see adults and families with young children but there are hardly any high-school students or young adults.

Then you think to yourself, are you going because you want to or because your parents insisted that you accompany them?

Perhaps it’s a holy day, and this is the only time of the year you attend.

Does that mean that religion is dying out in the millennial generation?

In an Oct. 1 poll, 126 high-school students shared their religious beliefs and practices, along with those of their parents.

Of the students polled, the religious affiliations of the parents are 40 percent Christian, 25 percent non-Christian and 35 percent “atheist, agnostic, unaffiliated or none.”

However, students say they’re 30 percent Christian, 19 percent non-Christian and 51 percent “atheist, agnostic, unaffiliated or none.”

Percent of religions among students
Madison Judd
Percent of religions among high-school students, based on an Oct. 1 poll

Seventy-one percent of the students are affiliated with the same religion as their parents.

Junior Avi Bhullar, who is Sikh, goes to temple (Gudwara) once every couple months, though her father would like her to go more often.

“I absolutely love being in touch with my religion and culture,” she said.

“I also believe it’s completely understandable that I would rather go to a friend’s house or a concert than go to the temple.”

Senior Elie Kuppermann, who is Jewish and was Bat-Mitzvahed, shares a similar connection to her culture.

“Judaism itself is not particularly prevalent in my life, but being Jewish is part of my identity,” she said.

“I follow and pay attention to Israeli news and issues.”

Freshman Sam Buck said he stopped attending synagogue when he began to question his belief in God.

“At age 8, I stopped believing in Santa Claus.”

According to Buck, this then led him to question other beliefs. “I shouldn’t believe in anything without any sort of proof,” he said.

Interestingly, only 10 percent of students and 20 percent of parents attend services weekly.

This contrasts to 53 percent of students and 46 percent of parents who never attend religious services.

Freshman Gabi Alvarado, who shares her parents’ Quaker faith, said, “I don’t believe in God but (my parents) do.”

However, she said she agrees with all the other Quaker beliefs.

Quakers go to a meeting house on Sundays. They sit in a circle in silence for an hour, where “everyone is their own minister,” Alvarado said.

Although Alvarado enjoys going to the meeting house, only 46 percent indicated that they attend services because they want to, and the same amount said that they attend because their parents want them to.

Senior Diego Perochena, a Roman Catholic, said he attends Mass regularly because it gives meaning to his life.

“It makes me a better person, and inspires me to dream about doing awesome things,” he said.

On the other hand, senior America Lopez, also a Roman Catholic, said, “I somewhat believe in it, but my parents make me go (to Mass) every Sunday.”

“I always go because I feel like I’m being rude to my parents if I decide not to.”

She said she has received the sacraments, mostly due to family obligation.

“I really didn’t have any choice but to go to church school and carry out these religious ceremonies,” she said.

“When I’m at Mass, I usually tune out and don’t listen to any of it.”

Lopez, like many of the students interviewed, does not plan on going to services when in college.

“I attend church now because it’s a family obligation, but I will have much more freedom in college,” she said.

Perochena, on the other hand, said that he will go to Mass when in college.

“I know it will lift me up, give me strength and will help me persevere when times are tough.” he said.

Many students mentioned that schoolwork and family activities take time away from religious events.

However, in senior Serajh Esmail’s case, the conflict is even greater because Muslim services are on Friday afternoon, during school. Because of this, he doesn’t attend services regularly, he said.

Nevertheless, he still attends on holidays and other days that he can be present.

In Hinduism, most religious ceremonies can be performed inside the home, junior Shriya Nadgauda said.

Nadgauda said she usually says a quick prayer every day before she leaves the house, and she says she will continue to when she goes to college.

Looking into the even more distant future, interviewees were asked if they would bring up their children religiously.

Those who are religious said that they would raise their children with some form of religious involvement.

Kuppermann would like her children to have the same positive experiences that she had at synagogue while growing up.

“Ultimately, I will let them decide for themselves what they want to be a part of,” she said.

“But before they become adults, I would put them in Sunday school, have a Bar-/Bat- Mitzvah and take part in Jewish holidays.”

Although Nadgauda states that she is not as religious as her parents, she said, “religion is still important to me, and I would want it to be important to my kids as well.”

So how do Country Day’s demographics compare to the American population?

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center (PRC) study (“America’s Changing Religious Landscape”), the Christian population of the U.S. is declining and unorganized religion is growing.

According to PRC, 71 percent of US adults identify as Christian.

However, at SCDS, only 30 percent of students do.

In 2014, the PRC study reported that 23 percent of US adults identify as religiously unaffiliated (the study defines this group as “atheist, agnostic, none or unaffiliated”).

In comparison, 51 percent of SCDS high-school students identify that way.

More meaningfully, the PRC study reports that 36 percent of 18-24 year-olds are religiously unaffiliated, whereas at Country Day, 51 percent of the high-school students are unaffiliated (according to the PRC definition).

Freshman Ethan Hockridge, who is religiously unaffiliated, said, “I don’t think religion is nonsense, but my knowledge of science would make it hard for me to practice a religion.”

After establishing the background of the various religious beliefs and practices in the high school, the question still remains: is religion dying out?

Fifty-two percent of the students said yes, while 40 percent said no. The remaining 8 percent aren’t sure.

Although it would seem that atheists would say that religion is dying out, at SCDS this isn’t necessarily true.

Among the atheists and agnostics, 18 percent said that religion is not dying, even though 52 percent of students are unaffiliated.

Several students blamed religion for numerous wars around the world.

Buck distinguishes between the state of religion in developing countries and that in First World countries.

“I feel like it’s (religion) declining in First World countries where people have more access to scientific information,” he said.

According to the PRC study, Americans of non-Christian faiths make up 5.9 percent of the population, while at SCDS, 19 percent of students are non-Christian.

The high school has substantially more  religious diversity than the American population, but our demographics don’t answer the question of whether religion is dying among millennials.

In truth, there is no simple answer.

Perochena has a perspective that reveals the complexity of the question.

“I think that many people have given up on God, but at the same time there are a lot of young people who look for answers to the ‘why’s of life,” he said.

“They are also seeking something more in life that gives them fulfillment.”

—By Nicole Wolkov

second half(Graphic by Madison Judd)

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