God makes me feel weird - Not specifically the one(s) religion teaches or science denies, the concept itself. I’m just not comfortable knowing or accepting the possibility that some entity somewhere in the universe is watching my every move, taking decisions for me, for the people around me, deciding what happens next, following a mysteriously spectacular plan. It’s just.. Unsettling! It makes me feel uncomfortable and I like being comfortable, so comfortable that I pay Rs.500 for Netflix per month instead of pirating Jessica Jones like normal people, just so it would show the next episode in 12 seconds while I have my ass buried in the couch. Comfort! It’s the same reason why a lot of people believe in god. It comforts them. When life starts to come tumbling down and you feel lost, you need comfort. And many find it in god or the idea of it. Yeah, I get it. Also, ‘god’ isn’t the concept in an existential crisis in the millennial generation, religion is. There have been intense research conducted by Pew Research center that shows religion is on the decline and that the millennials are the least religious generation yet. And that’s what I wanted to write about, but we can’t really talk about religion, without talking about the concept of god. I would say it’s because religion created god(s), but on account of my new found empathy towards theists, I’ll skip that.

So religion might be on the decline on a global level, for better or for worse - I’ll leave that up to you - but what about the millennials around me? 51 of my friends, well friends and friends of friends (like I’d have 51 friends! Introvert. hello?), participated in a survey* about where they stand on the whole religion thing. The questions ranged from ‘are you religious’ to ‘how religious are your parents’ to ‘will you raise your children to be religious’ etc and ended with their stance on the concept of god. It is to be noted that the participants are all from India(except for one person, more on that later), from Hindu, Christian, and Muslim families, urban areas like Bangalore and villages in Kerala.

Nature or Nurture?

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Most of the participants are in their twenties, mostly dependant millennials, with a few independent and married ones. The most interesting yet obvious thing about the responses is that it can start a debate on nature or nurture when it comes to individual beliefs. 35 out of 51 said they are religious and all of them are from religious families that take it pretty seriously. On top of that, most of them studied in a religious institution. So it must be hard to ignore religion when you are surrounded by it, growing up. So I reached out to the 6 people who said they are not religious, but do come from highly religious families and studied in religious institutions, to see why nurture didn’t work for them. 5 of them responded.

Yashas, Software Engineer, Hindu family - I do believe in god, but I don’t keep any religion as a medium.I am a Hindu, studied in Christian institutions. So I got to visit both temple and church.. And as I grew up, I just realized that god and religion don’t have any connection.

Anna, Quality Control Specialist, Christian family - My mom's family is religious but my dad is not. And I used to go to church when I was a kid and the more I read and learned about the world and people, my opinion changed. Although I used to go to church, I didn't like being a hardcore believer in god almighty. And the fact that l studied science might have changed the way I see things.

Jithin, IT professional, Hindu family - My family and school never tried to impose their beliefs on me and schools just wanted money.

Vignesh, IT Professional, Hindu family - Though my family and school are religious, they have somehow influenced me in taking my own decisions independently in all my personal matters. Religion is something I chose not to follow.

Anjali, HR Specialist, Hindu family(also my sister) - I didn’t like the people selling gods.

I, myself, am one among these people. I grew up in a moderately Hindu family, studied in Christian institutions, from pre-school to college. Like Yash, the exposure or overexposure to another religion made me question things and think about it, a lot! And being religious wasn’t expected of me. I always had a choice and eventually came to the realization that I’m an atheist. But I’m not gnostic in any way, I just don’t know! I think Louis CK explains it better than I ever could!

‘I’m not religious. I don’t know if there’s a God. That’s all I can say, honestly, is “I don’t know.” Some people think that they know that there isn’t. That’s a weird thing to think you can know. “Yeah, there’s no God.” Are you sure? “Yeah, no, there’s no God.” How do you know? “Cause I didn’t see Him.” There’s a vast universe! You can see for about 100 yards — when there’s not a building in the way. How could you possibly… Did you look everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? Where did you look so far? “No, I didn’t see Him yet.” I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave yet; it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m just waiting until it comes on cable.’

So that’s me.. and Louis CK. But the difference is, for me, the existence or the lack thereof doesn’t really matter and if god does exist and appears right in front of me, let’s just say he/she/it is going to spend a year answering my questions. However, I guess it’s easier to get to this ‘I don’t know’ state of mind now more than ever, which brings me to my second point.

The culture shift

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Millennials are narcissists. No, I didn’t say that, the Time magazine did. But I don’t disagree with them. Yes, we are the ‘me, me, me’ generation, we invented the word ‘selfie’, probably the most narcissistic word of all time. But we value individuality and individual freedom. So it’s only natural that more millennials all around the globe tend to stay away from religion, which focuses on community rather than individuality. Yes, it most definitely has its downsides, for example, everyone wants to be considered, acknowledged, respected and represented, which results in a lot of ‘I’m offended!’ and ‘this is super offensive!’. But that culture shift is only starting in countries like India. Yes, we, Indians, are way ahead in the ‘offended’ department but we still value and care about the sense of community and family. We get offended in groups!

Politics

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In the United States, as the Pew research says, the scene is completely different. Even with the strong right wing, religious, conservative politics, millennials are leaving religion. As for other developed countries, Australia is one of the least religious among the developed nations and according to a 2008 survey, the Australian youth was named the least religious worldwide.

James Hunt, from Perth, Australia, who is one among the participants of my survey and an agnostic atheist from a non-religious family, had this to say when asked if his friends and the millennials in Australia will have the same views as him on the topic,

‘Australia is one of the highest agnostic/atheist subscribing countries per capita. Religion here is nothing compared to most other countries - western and easternI am only saying that based on my experience. I haven't seen the stats but I rarely meet religious people here.’

He goes on to say that, unlike the US, they don’t have devoted red or blue states. ‘Our states are balanced, the state governments flux in and out of left and right unlike the USThere are churches and a religious community, mostly Christians, but it’s not prevalent in our culture’. He says that although most of the first generation Aussies were very pious, the immigration from India, middle east, china etc and the adoption of European culture might have helped the culture change.

In India, religion is being infused with politics every single day. The division it creates forces people to hold on to their communities tight. When everything becomes about religion, everyone stops being individuals and starts being representatives, even if they don’t want to. So millennials aren’t excluded.

Future

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So what’s it going to be like for the children of these millennial adults? Globally, religion might not be something they care about. But here, among my 51 friends and friends of friends, 21 don’t want to raise their children to be religious and 5 of them are religious themselves. The other 30 want the future generation to be religious and most of them say it’s important that their children follow the same religion as their parents. But globalization and the unstoppable culture shift might not be in their favor. Regardless of what they want, the children might choose what’s best for them.

God

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The most interesting thing is that, regardless of their feelings towards religion, almost everyone seems to be very spiritual. 43 are theists, although 18 of them are agnostic and don’t seem to claim with a 100% certainty of the existence of a higher power. If the earlier Huffpost article is to be believed, that’s a global trend. Most millennials do have a strong faith in god.

As for me, the possibility that every atom in my body came from a star that exploded, the atoms on my left hand probably came from a different star than my right hand, the possibility that I might literally be made of stardust, is the most poetic and the most beautiful thing to believe in than anything else. Thanks to Lawrence M. Krauss for that wonderful revelation.

*The details and full statistics, graphs, pie charts and all the nerd stuff about the survey can be found here. The individual responses can’t be disclosed out of respect for the participants’ privacy.

Published by Arjun Raj