As we conclude one of the most important times of the year for Christians, I have been reflecting on faith and my part in it. To me, being a young person with faith is often strange. The two ideas seem almost incompatible, as faith is always taught to be something greater than us, perhaps something that humans, especially children, will never understand.
I would not call myself a “faithful” person. Spiritual, maybe, but not faithful. I’ve always found the Bible to be somewhat confusing, especially since it seems to contradict itself more than a few times. The debate over the Bible and its accuracy has probably happened millions of times, and I am certainly not the first to think that its histories are somewhat fabricated. But when a large part of religion is tied to its text, how religious can one really be? This, to me, is one of the biggest reasons for dwindling faith in young people today.
The Bible spends much of its time (or at least passages I’ve studied) delineating Christian and Jewish history, and explaining exactly what humans are expected to do and be as God’s children. Some of its instructions are very specific, others, not so much. It has been translated many times, and at this point, some of the original messages could have been completely diluted and we would never know. The debate over the current Bible’s legitimacy is one that has become especially popular on social media over the last few years, particularly on TikTok.
A common thread I have noticed is that young people like myself are uncomfortable with the mystery of it all; it is difficult to give your “soul” to something you’ll never know is real. For others, this uncertainty is exactly what makes faith easy for them. There will never be anything to disprove the existence of God, and the idea of a being greater than ourselves is comforting and humbling at the same time.
However, religion becomes extensively more difficult when we tie other things to it; purity, goodness and morality are often synonymous with faithfulness, and that idea can be a turn-off to many, including myself. Growing up I was often taught to believe that to be good I must be religious. However, simply being a Christian was not enough. Instead, I needed to be “pure” and “faithful.” The definitions of these terms are often rooted in lofty and sometimes even objectionable ideology that no young person could ever begin to want to understand. Putting these unattainable ideals on youth who are just coming to understand religion causes distress and confusion, not to mention separation. Teaching young people that they are “moral” because they are religious suggests that others who aren’t religious or of a different religion cannot be moral or good as well. Religion then becomes a weapon against friends and family, a weapon I recall not wanting to have any part in.
Naturally, young people are not the only ones who choose to stray from organized religion. I know many adults who choose to practice their faith in less traditional ways, and some do not practice anything at all. At the end of the day, their connection (or lack thereof) to God is personal and personal only, not something to be judged by those of us who choose to partake in more traditional ways of worship.
Youth participation in religion is certainly dwindling, though I believe this doesn’t necessarily equate to a less spiritual population. To many young people, religion has become something they must jump through hoops to obtain, as it seems that believing in God and the importance of God’s word is simply not enough. Religion has become like a race with no finish line, and unsurprisingly, some people choose not to compete. Once the hurdles and qualifiers are removed from religion, I wonder if we might see more interest from young people. But for now, many of us have chosen to believe quietly.