I’ve been thinking about last year’s Pew Research Study, the one showing that Gen-Y is leaving church in droves.
They call it the rise of religious “Nones.” When I first heard of these soaring “nones” numbers, I pictured a flock of baristas and hipsters descending en masse upon monasteries and abbeys. Like thousands of Lena Dunhams crying out for their own Julie Andrews Sound of Music iteration.
It’s not that kind of nun (obviously). Pew researchers coined “None” to describe us young hordes who don’t identify with any organized religion. Particularly, those of us who have fled from our parents’ brand of Christian religions.
I get it. No, really. Having grown up in the late-90s/early-aughts version of Christianity, I get it.
Having attended a Pentecostal Christian high school, middle school, and copious related youth group events, believe me: I get it.
(Sidenote: If you can find a 20-something who admits to liking Joel Osteen, please alert me immediately).
Not that all churches are the same. They’re not. There are some good ones out there, doing some good things. But I digress.
The research: We’re leaving church.
The question: Where are we going instead?
The answer: … Nowhere.
I say nowhere for two reasons. One, stats show we are not running to some replacement religion.
And two, we of Gen-Y hold one value above just about all else.
It’s right there in that most ubiquitous of Millennial memes: You do you.
Let’s deconstruct for a moment. Imagine you must explain “You do you” to Grams. What do you say?
“Okay, Grams. ‘You do you’ means I’m cool with you doing whatever floats your boat. Right? Like, if you want to take polka classes, which maybe some people would think is kinda weird, but I’m like, ‘You do you?’ Like, it’s not for me, but it’s your jam, so just, like. Just do it, and be happy.”
And that’s cool.
But if your Grams is anything like my Grams, she would respond, “What if I wanted to wear my underwear on a stick?”
Laugh and repeat, “Yeah, like that. You do you!”
But that was just Grams’ teaser line. Because Grams is really driving at, “And what if I wanted to throw all my plastic recycling in the regular garbage?”
Well then. Um, no. I’d have to explain to Grams that taking care of our planet is not an issue of “You do you.” It’s an issue of right/wrong. And it was a trick question anyway, because Grams just wanted to make sure I wasn’t falling for some new-fangled dumbness.
Or to take a spicier example. Let’s say Person A – I’ll call him Jax – is a big gun rights advocate who NRAs it up on the weekends. And let’s say Person B – Noah – is a big gun control advocate who spends his free time writing emails to politicians and organizing anti-gun marches.
Can Jax say “You do you” to Noah, and vice versa? I guess he could; it would be quintessential Gen-Y to do so. But he couldn’t say it and mean it, because Jax and Noah define good/bad in exactly opposite ways. Jax thinks it’s good for private citizens to be armed; Noah thinks private citizens with heavy duty weapons is definitely not good.
So, what if we are falling for dumbness? Like, falling hard.
I remember being single in Austin, meeting all these really vibrant fellow 20-somethings at bars on the weekend, and I cannot even tell you how many times someone said they lived a life of “No regrets.”
“As in, none?” I would ask.
“None!” they’d reply.
My unspoken mental reaction was always the same: WTH overlaid on this visual.
Because unless you’re the actual Jesus, living life means you have most definitely messed up somewhere. You have definitely made stupid choices, those choices have definitely hurt other people, and the fact that other people’s pain, caused by you, does not register in your calculus as a “regret” is… alarming.
Taken together, “You do you” and “No Regrets” is a recipe not just for withholding judgment from other people (which is mostly good).
It is also an imperative to withhold judgment from yourself (maybe not so good).
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Everyone from Socrates to Buddha to, yes, Jesus asked us wee mortals to take a long, sober look at ourselves and respect the reality of our own potential to lead lives of immense crap.
Socrates: “The unexamined life is a life not worth living.”
Translation: If some peeps are going about life never really thinking through their choices, Socrates is actually saying that those sorts of lives are “not worth living.” That. Is. Harsh.
Buddha: “The righteous man casts off evil, and by rooting out lust, bitterness, and illusion do we reach nirvana.”
Translation: Buddha draws a distinction between righteous (no lust, no bitterness, no illusions) and, well, the opposite. People who live in lust, bitterness, and illusion. Which Buddha calls “evil,” and I have to ask: when’s the last time you heard that word? I’m not sure we even believe in it anymore, but it’s worth considering that Buddha did.
Jesus: “First take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Translation: You’re a hot mess of your own issues; deal with those, and get over fixating on the tiny-ass flaws you see in others.
It is, I admit, somewhat frightful to write on this topic. That value I mentioned earlier, the one Gen-Y holds above all other?
Live and let live.
But we’re now the main “None” demographic, so the question of how we define right/wrong is open season for interpretation (reference Jax & Noah above). And if our morality no longer comes from religion… where is it coming from?
How do we propose to define “good” and “evil” going forward?
This is a question far and away too complex for this one article. But it’s one worth trying to answer, so bookmark this column, friends. I’m coming back with some sources of old and new thoughts on this in the weeks to come.
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