There has been a lot of press lately about Generation Y—often referred to as the Millennials—since they started to come of age around the year 2000. It’s a generation that doesn’t fit the old stereotype of rebellious youth that began with the Baby Boomers; articulated in the movie Rebel without a Cause, or by slogans like “don’t trust anyone over 30.”   The early Generation Xers rebelled against the idealism of the Boomers (my favorite example being a line from a Sex Pistol’s song: “never trust a hippie”).

In his book American Grace, sociologist Robert Putman points out that the Millennials are less likely to have been raised in a particular religion than any previous generation, and they are even less likely to believe that any one religion holds exclusive access to the Truth.  Religious affiliation has been has been dropping off since the mid-1960s, due to religious intermarriage—which tends to negate exclusive truth claims—and cultural shifts on social issues—which make church dogma appear quaint and irrelevant.

As someone who has one foot in the Boomer generation and another in Generation X, I’ve been watching my children’s generation with astonishment. Although they are the first generation that will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents, they are not nihilistic. Instead, I see a combination of cynicism and conservatism.  They are cynical because they have been immersed in a culture of hyper-consumerism that is more promise than substance.  In other words, traditional advertising doesn’t work on them. They are conservative in that they are less willing to jump into debt or marriage unless they feel confident about the reasons for doing so.  They yearn for authenticity and have little patience for hypocrisy…i.e. when someone says one thing and does another. They certainly don’t want to affiliate with a religion that will embarrass them. They are also firmly post-modern: they don’t buy into the grand, triumphal stories that only serve to reinforce existing power structures.

I find it interesting that bona fide, the Latin phrase for genuine, is directly related to bona fides, the Latin phrase for good faith.  A good faith is a genuine faith. It’s saying who we are, and then being who we are.

Other religions are experiencing this same shift with their younger adults.  A recent book by David Kinnaman called You Lost Me explores some of the reasons.  (There is a short video on the Amazon page.)

I believe this is good news for Unitarian Universalism. The promise of our faith is the promise of a living tradition, not the dry bones of old, irrelevant texts.  The promise of our faith is the promise of personal wholeness; from our identity-based ministries to our anti-racism, anti-oppression and multi-cultural work. And the promise of our faith is the promise of being connected to something greater than ourselves—whether we call it the universe, the Spirit of Life or the interconnected web of all existence.  The best gift we can give each generation is to embody that promise, to invite each new generation to join us, to nurture them as they become a part of our communities and grow in their own faith and commitment, and—most importantly—to step back and allow them to transform our living tradition as generations before have done.

May our good faith be this kind of genuine faith, where the way we act in the world reflects our highest aspirations.

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • I’ve been struggling with this same issue. I have no dierse to belong to a church . But I am looking for a community to be part of. I also have outspoken kids, and I want to provide an opportunity for them have a peer group where they can be comfortable without having to shut up about what they think. After checking out several groups in our area, a local UU congregation seems to be the best fit for all of this. I’ve signed up to teach 6th graders, and my 7th grader’s class will be studying other religions and making field trips. There’s a Science and Reason forum, and lots of interesting people to talk to. Recent sermons were on Freud and Jung. Yet, I don’t know that I can ever be a member there. There are too many details that rub me the wrong way. Too much acceptance of woo . Too much emphasis on worship and spirituality , neither of which do I want anything to do with. I’m an atheist. UU suits my purposes for right now, but I don’t think I will ever be a UU.

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    • Amy

      Indeed. We watched a dotnuemcry Taking a Chance on God last evening in prep for our LGBT fall film festival. It is the story of Father John MeNeil, a Jesuit who was silenced and then thrown out of the Catholic Church. He then went on to teach and Pastor to LGBT folks all over the world. (We will probably show the film this fall.) My own cuts from the fine old Baptists were deep and caused me to simply decide that religion was closed to me. I covered the cuts and on. I cried real tears at the dedication of our building, the first time I heard Spirit of Life . I also knew I had finally come home. Learning to see our UU faith as a religion did much to heal those old wounds. Having llived most of my life outside the bounds of society’s norms and being told and shown that I did not belong, even in church, being taken In and finding goodness and meaning was precious. I hope we continue to define FUUCI as a church and a sanctuary for religious worship for generations to come.

      • Tracie, this was really a pfrewoul talk. Thanks for pointing us all to it. It takes courage to challenge the members of your congregation in such a bold manner (to trust each other, to step up to the plate, to stop gossiping, etc.), your delivery was strong and you spoke with authority (but not in any overbearing way), and I loved your themes of Power, Purpose, and Process.I think that power and purpose used to be more important to me in the past, but in the past couple of years, largely due to my professional life (and maybe a little due to my Quakerism), I’ve become aware of the importance of process. I’d love to hear you go deeper into it some time, especially as it relates to the struggle for utopia.