People trying to get millennials into or back to the faith have their work cut out for them. Sometimes for reasons they don’t expect:
Psychotropic medications have done a better job at giving us hope, strength, and peace than our experience of God has. Anti anxiety drugs like Ativan and Xanax give us peace. Antidepressants like Prozac give us strength and hope. Antipsychotics like Zyprexa and Seroquel keep demons at bay. Experience with mental illness and mental illness treatment instills a kind of kinetic materialism; for those of us inside of it it’s difficult to believe we are any more than our brain (keep in mind as many as one in four millennials have a mental illness). Add to that a lot of us don’t trust our minds and are pretty metacognitive. This allows us to see the “man behind the curtain” in our supposedly spiritual experiences.
Screen time and isolation have meant that social skills have atrophied. The same social skills needed to interact with people are ones needed to interact with God. People without social skills such as those on the autistic spectrum have much higher rates of non religiosity than the general population. On a more practical level group cohesion is a prerequisite for spreading and nurturing religiosity and in populations with impaired social skills this is a more difficult thing to achieve.
We trust God the way we trust a person. We keep a stiff upper lip and tell people we don’t need God but deeper down we need him too much. We took God up on his promises of hope and sustenance because we didn’t have anything to hope for in this world (no career, no stable relationships, no house). However, when nothing materialized we fell away, but it was because we were often so close to the edge we couldn’t afford to give cart blanch and unlimited second chances to those who didn’t come through. Rejecting those who don’t come through is a sign of respect (for their word) and we’d expect the same if the situation was reversed and we didn’t come through for them. This applies to all relationships including our relationship with God.
Meekness is seen as weakness and selected against, even in Christian circles. We are steeped in culture where people do the most self serving thing and the only way to preempt this is to overpower them. We’ll do things for nothing like working for free at an internship to get our foot in the door for jobs but we are well aware virtue is weakness. Then you have women complaining Christian guys are “too nice” and people who care about the state of the world being denigrated as “social justice warriors”. The only situations where one can be both virtuous and strong is when there are a critical mass of virtuous people around them. For example at a job which is OK with and supportive of a person having a mental illness. Or a church where people are actually helping each other. It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma where if both parties cooperate, there is a good outcome, and if both parties defect, there is a good outcome, but the party who defects always has the upper hand so naturally everyone ends up defecting.
Our definition of truth is often reactionary; a reaction against the way we’ve been lied to. How we are lied to has informed how we reckon truth. We have been marketed to and fed B.S. basically from the cradle. We push against this. Some of us turn into empiricists, if something is put forth and the evidence says otherwise, then we trust what the evidence points to (when we were 3 we saw that McDonald’s burgers didn’t look like what they did in the commercials). Others of us come to the conclusion that since we’ve been swimming in a sea of lies for so long, there mustn’t be any truth at all. Some of us even want to be lied to because we no longer see the truth as a safe space. What doesn’t usually end up happening is any of us seeing any beauty at all in truth.
Shame has supplanted guilt as the primary corrective force in society. Religion is largely powered by guilt but modern culture is more powered by shame. Boomers can’t fathom why a lot of us don’t feel guilt for sleeping around but get worked up over still having a flip phone. The moral dynamic has changed under their noses. Shame drives everything partly as an artifact of consumerism (you got shamed into buying things, not guilted into buying them). Part of the culture’s power is it’s just so potent and pervasive that the shame of resisting it crowds out any guilt we might have felt over what we were going to do. With guilt there is the possibility of absolution, with shame absolution is a farce. This makes the gospel, largely a cycle of guilt and absolution, seem strange to us. We don’t feel guilty and we know we will never be forgiven for the shameful things we do (that is part of what made the Bart Simpson permanent record folder joke so funny).
We often don’t have (and often don’t want) a car. It’s true one can get rides initially for church functions but as people have become more atomized it’s gotten harder finding people who will give consistent rides places. Public transportation runs the least on Sundays and even then many churches are in the nicer parts of the suburbs where there is none.
The thought of living forever (even in heaven) creeps a lot of us out. We’ve been taught not to trust bliss. Bliss could be bipolar mania or a trip on meth. Either way there will be consequences. Eventually the heat death of the universe will happen and there will be nothing again. We are at peace with the prospect of eventually not existing.