Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Take: Why Quarterlifers choose Spirituality over Religion

******I wrote this blog for a large publication a few weeks ago. 
I thought I would share it here as well******

Fifteen years ago when Abby Wilner coined and defined the term quarterlife crisis as, “the period of anxiety, uncertainty, and inner turmoil that often accompanies the transition to adulthood,” I’m pretty she wasn't referring to religion. Then, I think she was referring to questions and anxiety surrounding career choice and relationships. Nowadays, however, the quarterlife crisis has grown to include all aspects of a young person’s life-- including religion and spirituality. So disappointed and frustrated by their “real word” experience in other areas, many young people are beginning to call into question the very foundations of their person-hood  For some, that means walking away from traditional religion to pursue the path of spirituality[1].  

According to a recent Gallup Poll, Americans are least religious at age 23. A similar poll found that the number of young people who identify as non- religious is rising. The poll contends that the rise in non religious Americans reflects changes in the general pattern of religious expression in America. The pattern notes a shift towards more "unbranded," casual, [or] informal religion.”  I have observed a similar trend among quarterlifers (18-35yrs) and would like to offer a few reflections as to why I think this is happening.

Tolerance and Inclusion- Spirituality is for everyone

For many quarterlifers, organized religion just isn't practical anymore. Today’s young people are entering into a cross-cultural economy; being successful in that economy means being able to seamlessly interact, both socially and professionally with everyone. Also, with the onset of mandated religious tolerance in the work place, it’s not uncommon to lump various faith based traditions into one interfaith observance. Celebrations like Christmas parties have long been replaced with more inclusive events like holiday parties or winter galas. In truth, being overly religious is frowned upon as it relates to establishing a professional identity. Young people are even cautioned from wearing or placing overt religious symbols on their body or in their work space. Indeed, young people are taught to be more than tolerant; we are taught to be understanding and accepting. Spirituality and other nondenominational faith traditions allow twenty-somethings to have a relationship with a higher power without alienating themselves from peers and co-workers. Identifying as a spiritual/ non religious person denotes open mindedness and inclusion. Both of which are highly sought after qualities in the work place.

Fundamentalist thought is scary- Spirituality is Non-threatening

I was a sophomore in college when I watched the twin towers fall at the hands of “religious extremists.” Before that day, I had never heard that word, but in the eleven years since 9/11, I have heard it countless times. The image of the crazed religious fundamentalists has been permanently etched into the minds of my entire generation. For that reason, many of us are leery of anyone who seems a little too faithful or devout. What is more, over the years, we have learned that religious fundamentalism is not limited to specific geographic locations or cultural identities. Christian fundamentalists have been at the forefront of the argument against same sex marriage and abortion. As these two are arguably the most polarizing issues in the modern political arena, I think some young people have begun to associate organized religion with homophobia and sexism. Although we know that being a part of a particular religion does not make you a fundamentalist; there is still a desire to distance one’s self from any way of thinking that does not appear inclusive and progressive.

Unequal Distribution of Power-Spirituality is Non-central

Many traditional religions place colossal amounts of power in the hands of only a few people. This unequal balance of power often leads to abuse and corruption. As a result, organized religion has gotten a little too controversial and hypocritical for quarterlifers.  Most recently, there has been quite a bit of controversy involving the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. A lot of people suspect foul play, although there has been so proof of such. Even so, young people are asking the tough questions. They want to know how the word of one human being can be infallible, and why there is only one right way to do things. Oftentimes there is no such conflict with more spiritual frameworks. In the absence of centralized religious offices or figures, the infallibility of top religious leaders or doctrines is not a factor.  Instead participants are encouraged to listen to their own heart and develop an internal locus of control. In this way, spirituality is empowering,

No More delayed Gratification- Spirituality seems Fast and Easy

It’s no secret that today’s quarterlifers are walking into a job market that’s worse than ever before. It is estimated that the unemployment rate for America’s quarterlifer is nearly twice the national average. Yet, the rate in which young people are enrolling into and attending college has never been higher. There is an obvious disconnect here. And that disconnect is leading to record amounts of student loan debt with very low prospects of employment. Consequently, having believed the “hype” in the past about how school would help ensure financial stability, and then graduating with more debt than any other generation; I think quarterlifers are skeptical about formal institutions in general. Moreover, we are lot less willing to accept any thought pattern that relegates our happiness, salvation or joy to a later date. Young people want their results now.

Spirituality offers a solution because there is no waiting.  Nontraditional or metaphysical belief systems promise fast results with little effort.  In addition, many of the aforementioned teachings are very simple. Most of them tell followers that all they have to do is think good thoughts and good things will happen. A stark contrast to being told you must attend church, monitor sins, and read religious texts in order to earn salvation.

Belief and Expectation

Today’s twenty-somethings are looking for alternative solutions to their problems. They do not trust the “tried and true” or the clich√©’ anymore. Five years ago, when I was standing at the crux of my quarterlife crisis, I dutifully sought relief in organized religion first. Unfortunately, what I found there did not help me. Having been raised in the church my whole life, I wasn't looking to sever my relationship with God altogether, but I was looking for a more inclusive way to live my life. Spirituality provided that balance. For that reason, when I wrote my book about the quarterlife crisis, I chose to address it from a spiritual nondenominational perspective. 

With every belief there comes an expectation, and when our expectations don’t suit our beliefs we either change what you expect or we alter what we believe. Today’s quarterlifers are choosing to believe in themselves and each other, instead of lofty religious leaders. We are learning to depend on our own hearts for guidance and to develop an internal moral compass. Throughout our lives we have seen the divisiveness that organized religion has created and many of us are becoming less and less interested in the drama of the dogma.

[1] Webster’s Dictionary defines spirituality as “the quality or state of being spiritual.” In truth, there is no formal definition, but the connotation of the word has come to mean a very personal and non dogmatic relationship with a higher power.

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