Young Americans are turning away from organized religion more than ever, it appears, as religion becomes more intertwined with U.S. politics. Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist and public policy professor who has been following the trend closely, spoke on the subject Tuesday, 6 October, as he delivered the annual Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska. Putnam’s observations raise some questions for us; is there any link between wanting to become a pastor in an online church and this emerging trend, and if so, what does online ordination mean for youth?
The secularization of youth has taken place roughly simultaneously with the increased politicization of religion, and the young age of America’s new secularists has longstanding implications. “It’s a big deal because in matters of religion, as in soft drinks, people tend to fix their taste early in life,” said Putnam, an award-winning author, in an interview in Lincoln. “A Pepsi person early is likely to be a Pepsi person later,” he noted, adding that, “we are likely to see a significant drop in religious affiliation in America” because more young people will abandon organized religion and remain unaffiliated for the rest of their lives. In fact, said Putnam, the percentage of unaffiliated youth has grown to 35 per cent–an increase from 5 per cent two to three decades ago–although most of them still believe in God. Ironically, however, trends like online ordination have actually been increasing among youth in recent years, especially on university campuses.
So, why are youth in the United States–widely deemed to be one of the most conservative nation-states in the Western world–deciding to turn their backs on institutional religion? The gradual insinuation of religion into U.S. politics is one likely reason. According to Putnam, “there’s kind of an allergic reaction by some younger people against such a close relationship between religion and politics.” Such an aversion to the politicization of religion might explain why more young people are choosing to get ordained online and become a minister in less orthodox religions like the Universal Life Church, which strongly supports the separation of church and state–young people seem to be getting fed up with highly theocratic political movements like the Tea Party.
Whether youth are flocking to online churches, or churches are adapting to the needs of youth, ministers will have to re-think their role in the community, and how their churches are structured, if at all. No longer is the pastor merely a receptacle of occult knowledge passed down through him or her from the divine to the ignorant masses. Young people are taking spirituality into their own hands. More churches will have to be structured on the egalitarian model of the circle rather than the elitist model of the pyramid.
Should we treat the growing spiritual unrest of young people as a sign to abandon organized religion? Not necessarily. As we have written in previous posts, young, well-educated people have found a sort of haven in the egalitarian structure of churches like the ULC. If we do view the ULC as a formal religious institution with its own ecclesiastical government, it is because we reject the patrician hierarchy of religious orthodoxy and emphasize our commitment to the full spiritual equality of all members.
What do you think? Can churches like the Universal Life Church Monastery–which are already highly unorthodox to begin with–survive in a future of “do-it-yourself” spirituality?
http://journalstar.com/elections/young-americans-turning-from-organized-religion/article_b3303942-48bc-5146-9dbb-997e58660725.html —Lincoln Journal Star