I grew up Christian. My parents and family are Christian. As a kid I attended church on a weekly basis and still do now and then as an adult. Until about 18 I never really questioned my faith or relation to God. But coming to college exposed me to some of the hard-hitting questions of science vs. religion. I found myself debating them constantly, left and right in my head, refuting every atheistic argument I could possibly think of, mostly defensively as if I were protecting something sacred that my family had long instilled in me. I went to church and bible study groups off and on during college. But I started to ask myself: was this genuine? Was I really concerned with expanding my religious identity? Or was I doing this because I felt obligated?
Nowadays we have the “spiritual, but not religious” generation. Many adults in their 20s and 30s prefer to seek their moral principles through things such as meditation and personal, ever-changing relationships with the world around them. I must admit that, as a somewhat introverted person, this is something that I struggle with myself on a daily basis. But I can understand why younger people are choosing to seek a less dogmatic and formalized approach to spirituality. Institution is something that people see as “old”: your parents’ religion, which has a different outlook on life. At the end of the day your parents will have a different view on life than you will. Different generations come with different experiences. Religion is a part of this.
I respect and understand the tenets of Christianity. There are many people, regardless of affiliation, that do. However that does not mean that I agree with every single last thing in the Bible. Yet to be fully Christian you are told to accept everything in it as a matter of principle. I have no problem with gays and lesbians getting married. Yet to think this means that you are spiritually disconnected as a Christian. I believe that life on earth evolved over millions of years. Yet this is said to run contrary to the Old Testament. Younger people are coming into these facts and truths, which older people say are disingenuous, because it is not what they read in the Bible. Yet the Bible is not a science manual, or a manual on human sexuality. These things are far more complex, and subject more to investigation and experience than they are to a set of predisposed moral precepts on how they function.
I often find myself conflicted with the whole “spiritual, but not religious” thing. When I went to church during college, I did it mainly out of obligation, and also because I made friends in my church community. They were very nice people, always welcoming to everyone who came through the doors, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, gay, or straight. Once I got home, though, I began to notice one particular thing about church: age difference. Most people my age have either stopped coming or moved out, possibly attending another church somewhere else. There is a disconnect between the young and the old: a feeling that certain religious guidelines maintained by the institution don’t appeal to today’s structure. As a result many young people separate from the institution and prefer to find God on their own terms. Some people may think this is self-righteous; others may think that true spirituality is not what your institution says, but what you discover in life through your experiences and interactions. It can’t just be summed up in one book, or denomination. That does not completely discredit them, but it does mean that certain complexities of the human condition go beyond what our institutions say. The institutions are here to help, but they cannot hinder certain shifts in the paradigm.
Maybe it is confusion that causes the “spiritual, but not religious” mindset of younger people. But, as a younger person, you’re not going to have all the answers in life. And all of us (including myself) shouldn’t pretend to. You have to keep your mind open to new ways of understanding the “great, Supreme Being,” or the “great, supreme universe.” Asking questions might entail some difference in opinion from one generation to the next. But you shouldn’t be afraid of them. And you shouldn’t be afraid of having certain convictions that differ from your church, or religion. The differences are necessary for you to develop in your own person, not in theirs. And maybe being spiritually seeking, but not yet there, is a place to start. You’re still on your way.