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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Religious Attitudes Different for Gen X and Baby Boomers

Anyone who knows me, knows that the subject of "Baby Boomers" gets me excited. Before I continue in this somewhat dangerous zone, first I have to be thankful to the "baby boomers," as my parents are a part of that generation and they have given me life. This is also not about agism or the superiority of the youth (now as I approach forty, can hardly be called "youthful"). Rather it is the recognition that different generations have different values and priorities, for a variety of reasons. I have found that my values and priorities are closer to the "Silent" generation (those born between 1925 and 1942) than that of the "Baby Boom" generation (those born between 1943 and 1960 -- some extend the Baby Boom generation to 1964). A book that I have found helpful in understanding the differences between the various generations in America is Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069.

This morning while watching CBS Sunday Morning before Church, a Barbra Streisand segment aired. Now for me Barbra Streisand represents the epitome of the Baby Boom generation -- she is right at the beginning of it, born in 1942. (Barbra Streisand seems to represent the epitome of all sorts of things the creators of South Park -- Gen X'ers -- do not like as evidenced by their episode "Mecha-Streisand." The Baby Boomers instead of saying to the younger generation, "Now it's your turn." They refuse to pass the torch. As quoted in the 2005 article, "As Boomers Age, Legacy Doubts Surface," Dr. Terry Grossman says, "As an official member of the boomer generation, I do not believe it was intended for us to die. We were special right from the get-go — dying wasn't part of our script." While Dr. Grossman's sentiments may not reflect that of all people from the Baby Boom Generation, there does seem to be an over arching feeling of "specialness" or "greatness" among this generation. In effect, the Baby Boom Generation has set themselves up as their own idol or god.

An article in Newsweek from 2006 notes that the Baby Boomers shifted the emphasis on religion from eternal salvation to the here and now. "And the boomers wrought another, subtler shift on American religion, turning it from a preoccupation with salvation in the next life to fulfillment in this one." (Original article titled, "Finding and Seeking," Newsweek 2006.) The emphasis on the fulfillment in this life has turned religion into a market place that caters to the religious consumer. From the same article, "Churches now accommodate boomers' demand for autonomy and freedom of choice." Many people approach church in an à la carte approach to religion, picking and choosing what works for them. A result of this religious consumerism has been the decline in denominational loyalty.

The article below seems to indicate that young americans are more loyal to religion than Boomers are. The age group of the study was 36 to 50, so a solidly Gen X group. The article does not touch on Gen Y (The oldest of the Gen Y are just entering the work force, while the youngest of Gen Y are the children of Gen X). This in itself is an interesting phenomena. Gen X and Gen Y (except for the youngest of Gen Y) are children of the Baby Boomers. Gen X is the first generation subjected to legalized abortion in the United States; Gen X is only 71% the size of the Baby Boom Generation. Gen X is the generation whose parents divorced at high numbers and were the latchkey kids of the late 70s and early 80s.  The Gen Y children are from the second, third marriages of the Baby Boomers, or from children born after their parents had firmly established their careers, etc. There are preliminary indicators that the Gen Y generation regards themselves as "special" much like the Baby Boom Generation.  

The Gen Xers are more loyal to religion because they are reacting against the attitudes of their parents. If the Baby Boomers sought to replace the eternal with "fulfillment in the here and now," Gen Xers have not found the "here and now" as heavenly as their parents. The cross has a way of focusing people on what is truly important. Of course, this increased loyalty to religion does not simply translate into increased loyalty to tradition or to Christianity, but is simply a generations' recognition that ultimate hope is not found in the here and now but in something transcendent. The article below summarizes the "spiritual" legacy of the Baby Boomers, "The Boomers' enmity toward organized religion is still evident in the relatively large proportion of their children and grandchildren who are raised with no religious affiliation."

Perhaps, these are the indicators of a generational shift in process. Enough of my commentary and onto the article.


(Young Americans more loyal to religion than Boomers | Reuters: "Young Americans more loyal to religion than Boomers")

Young Americans more loyal to religion than Boomers

Sat Aug 7, 2010 5:03am IST

By Daniel Lippman

(Reuters Life!) - Younger Americans, between the ages of 36 to 50, are more likely to be loyal to religion than Baby Boomers, according to new research.

In a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Philip Schwadel, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said this was true even though they were less likely than previous generations to have been brought up with a religion.

He said the trend "is good news for those who worry about declining religious adherence."

Schwadel attributed the younger generation's overall loyalty to religion to a less staid and more innovative religious scene in America today, while religion in the past was more conservative, less diverse and stricter.

If people are not happy with one religion now, they can easily switch to a different denomination or faith, he added.

By contrast, Baby Boomers were a more rebellious generation and experienced the anti-establishment culture of the 1960s.

"It's a whole cultural package of suggestions of what went on to make that generation different," he said.

Schwadel's findings are based the General Social Survey (GSS) of more than 37,000 people from 1973 to 2006, which monitors change and the growing complexity of American society.

He found that the percentage of Americans without a religious affiliation doubled in the 1990s and has continued to increase in the first decade of this century.

Non-affiliation with any religion grew from 6 to 8 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to almost 16 percent in 2006.

The professor attributed the change to what he described as "a backlash by political liberals against the conservatism of the 1980s and into the 90s."

He suggests that liberal people who had only a tangential connection to religion may have decided to leave their faith because of the conservative emphasis on religion.

"The Boomers' enmity toward organized religion is still evident in the relatively large proportion of their children and grandchildren who are raised with no religious affiliation," he added.

(Reporting by Daniel Lippman; Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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