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.