A Millennial Lives Without Religion and He Says Life is Just Fine
When it comes to religion, young adults feel a lot differently about the subject than previous generations.
People in their 20s are less likely to be affiliated with organized religion. They’re also more likely to say they don’t believe in God. So what’s it like to be a young person navigating life without faith?
James Brown is a 20-something digital marketing manager in Seattle. He is curly-haired, skinny and six-feet tall. He drives a very yellow Ford Mustang. And his car pretty much holds a lot of what matters in his life.
"Here’s my rock climbing harness. My Costco sized box of cliff bars I keep around just in case," says Brown.
And two swords to practice fencing.
Brown tells me later why he enjoys fencing and his other hobby, rock climbing. They keep him grounded.
"It helps me situate myself and my place in the universe," he explains. "What I’m able to accomplish."
On Sundays, when everybody’s going to church, he says he is taking footwork classes at the fencing club. He calls it "my community."
As a boy, Brown’s community was his church. He grew up reading Bible stories with his dad. He used to pray before meals. "I feel [religion] was a very big part of my life," he says.
As a teen he spent many summers at Bible camp. "We rode trail bikes," Brown recalls. "We rode horses. We played paintball."
He’d go to camp every year with the same group of friends. But the last year he was there things changed. He was 17.
That year, like years past, a live band played Christian rock for the kids.
"At the end of the set the singer was saying to everybody, If you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, do that with me now."
Brown says he closed closed his eyes and, "I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anybody there that was talking to me. I didn’t feel any presence there. So that was the break for me. It wasn’t a journey so much as it was a hard stop."
Not a conscious choice
Brown’s experience reflects a growing trend among millennials, especially among men. According to the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of young adults aren’t certain God exists or they simply don’t believe.
For Brown, it wasn’t just a simple change of heart. It hit him square in the gut.
"It was an acceptance of what’s really out there or not out there and the way that the world works. And that was very, very lonely for me."
Brown says this just happened. It wasn’t a conscious choice. And even if it had been, it wouldn’t have been an easy one.
"I struggled for many years to reconcile that, the fact that I was going to die someday and that there would be nothing after. That was very trying for me. And I still haven’t resolved that. You just make everyday count. And you do the best that you can."
He says doing his best means figuring out his own beliefs without religion as a guide. But he says this is a good thing. It’s forced him to come up with decisions on all sorts of things, including controversial ones like abortion.
But he welcomes that.
"To be not religious and to deal with life on your own terms enables you to be a leader in your own life.
He actually thinks "if more people shared his view on God and religion it could be good thing.
"I think we’re having a political crisis in this country largely because politics and religion are becoming so intertwined. And if the nation becomes less religious I think we’ll be able to debate those ideological issues without such vitriol and maybe make headway and progress and evolve."
Brown has evolved himself.
It’s been 10 years since he quit God. He no longer calls himself an atheist. He’s an agnostic. And when I ask him about his future and having kids himself he tells me something surprising.
"I won’t tell you that I would not raise them with some type of religion because I might. It was a great experience for me when I was younger."
He says he wants his children to know about religion and be exposed to many different kinds. He just doesn’t want to force it on them.
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