Why It's Great That Millennials Are Defining Religion For Themselves

by Chris Walker

Millennials are becoming a strong influence on the American social landscape.

The way things are going, this generation will undoubtedly have a huge impact on society, culture and politics for many years to come.

On the topic of religion, many Millennials are finding themselves taking a step toward non-identification.

While many Millennials may still “believe” in a higher power, some don’t subscribe to a particular label, putting aside traditional monikers and keeping the tenets they adopt to themselves the tenets.

Here's why it's a good thing that Millennials are taking religion into their own hands:

Millennials are less Christian, more open-ended.

Millennials are far different than the rest of the country when it comes to beliefs.

According to a recent Pew survey released earlier this month, more than 70 percent of Americans across varying generations identify as “Christian,” while less than a quarter are unaffiliated (which includes atheists, agnostics and those practicing “nothing in particular”).

It's clear that there's a significant change occurring when it comes to religion in our society.

Only 57 percent of older Millennials (born between 1981 and 1989) and 56 percent of younger Millennials (1990-1996), considered themselves Christian in the same Pew poll.

More than a third of Millennials in both groups were religiously unaffiliated, at 34 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

In short, Millennials are still more likely to be Christian than anything else, but they're far less likely to be Christian (or any mainstream religion for that matter) than their Gen-X, Baby Boomer or Silent generation counterparts.

And, there's a higher number of Millennials checking off the "none of the above" box when it comes to religious preferences.

Ambiguity in religion is nothing new.

Is this a bad thing? Some may think that it is. Religious organizations and other promoters of specific belief structures will undoubtedly view the lessening number of affiliated Millennials as a troubling trend.

But there have always been unaffiliated people in our society, and many of them have made huge contributions to the progress of our nation.

Among one of the most prominent was Thomas Paine, the 18th century essayist who penned "Common Sense," a mass-produced pamphlet that made the case for American independence in 1776.

Paine's words were so inspiring that many credit him for turning public sentiment on to the idea of rebellion.

In "Age of Reason," Paine makes a strong statement of his faith, having been asked his opinion on the issue on several occasions prior.

He writes:

"I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life... [But] I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church [Islam], by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

This is probably what most Millennials who are unaffiliated in their religious beliefs lean toward as well.

Some don't believe in any God; some do believe in a God, but beyond that, they don’t want to make any assumptions of what that entails.

In short, the last line of that excerpt fits them best: their minds are their churches.

They believe in a higher power because they themselves think one exists. And that's a fine enough belief to hold.

Make your own church.

I affiliate with Christianity, but for me, there isn't a single Christian church or organization that fits with my beliefs 100 percent.

Some organizations come close (others, not so much). But for me, my beliefs in what God is are mine, and may not align with any organized tenets.

These beliefs are derived from religious readings, discussions with religious leaders and observations of the world around me.

From those various sources, I've come to the conclusion that my belief in God doesn't fit in with a conventional church.

That is totally fine; my relationship with God doesn't have to follow anyone else's rules but my own.

That's how many Millennials across the country are feeling, too. Whether they believe in God or not, they're making their own decisions on beliefs, practices and worship styles.

Millennials are making their own churches through their own belief structures.

Even if you decide that entering a building or a community is what you want, remember: that's your decision to make, based off of your own thoughts.

We're all our own little churches walking about.

Thomas Paine would indeed be proud.