Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Growing Up Godless

I was raised in one of the many locales that claims the title "The Buckle on the Bible Belt," but thankfully in an only moderately-religious household. My exposure to fundamentalist Christianity was mostly limited to occasional visits to relatives' churches. The Parental Unit was clearly disappointed that I didn't show more (make that "any") enthusiasm for attending church, but eventually gave up on forcing me to go. When I finally acknowledged my own atheism as an adult, there was no great sense of loss because there'd never been any great sense of having or belonging to a religion. It's only been fairly recently, as I've encountered other freethinkers in books and online, that I learned how much harder the journey from faith to freethought was for some. Those who were raised as strict Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, etc., and not allowed to mingle with heathens sometimes didn't realize that life without religion was even an option until they were well into adulthood.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Many churches are up in arms about dwindling participation by teenagers and young adults. Try googling "youth falling away from the faith" (or "...from the church") to get an idea of how many denominations and churches are truly worried. The reasons for the exodus aren't entirely clear (although one group blames secular influences like "government schools," TV, and parents who leave the spiritual "reprogramming" of their children to their church...preferably one with a curriculum that "examine[s] everything in the light of biblical truth"). A July 2010 survey by the Barna Group concluded that "teenagers are much less inclined toward spirituality than were teens a dozen years ago," and the president of the Barna Group commented, "Teenagers view religious involvement partly as a way to maintain their all-important relationships. Yet perhaps technology such as social networking is reconfiguring teens' needs for relationships and continual connectivity, diminishing the role of certain spiritual forms of engagement in their lives. Talking to God may be losing out to Facebook."

How much longer can religion wield its authority in a society with so many options? Unlike religion, science can back up its answers with evidence, not just appeal to authority and old books. Technology (born of science) lets kids communicate with friends over any distance, whenever and wherever they want, not just on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook and campus groups at high schools and colleges, youth who might previously have been afraid to voice their doubts to the religious majority are realizing that they're not alone in their disbelief. Even the evangelicals admit that "The trends are frightening." If I made my living off the tithes of churchgoers, I'd be frightened too.

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