If anyone has ever been on the Internet they probably know that millennials are killing a lot of things, from homeownership (because it was definitely millennials who caused the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis) to fabric softener. Another thing the younger people of this country are “killing” is religion. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, younger Americans are significantly less religious than older Americans. Fewer millennials (those born 1981-1996) attend weekly services, believe in God, and consider religion very important in their lives than any generation before them.
To be sure, many young Americans are still religious, and the drop-off being seen with millennials is not too out of line with the drop-off seen from generation to generation in the past. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from publishing articles with titles like “Our culture is experiencing a hostile takeover. We must stop rejecting God if we ever want it to end”. That was an op-ed published on Fox News last November that argues we are undergoing a cultural crisis because of a YOLO generation that is obsessed with themselves, has a lack of respect for human life, and has turned away from God, which has led to moral failings.
There are an abundance of problems I have with an argument like this, but I guess I’ll start off with the notion that if you don’t believe in God/aren’t religious then your moral compass is inherently flawed. There’s simply nothing to support this. Anyone on the religious spectrum, from someone completely dedicated to his/her particular God/gods to someone who is an atheist, possesses the potential to be a kind, decent and good person. Conversely, they also possess the potential to be a jerk.
Being a good person is not dependent on walking a specific path. I believe there are many different ways, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. But for any one group of people to claim that the only one way to achieve strong morals is to believe exactly what they believe is foolish. Personally, I would say that a group demonstrating such close-mindedness is less likely to be the optimal avenue for good morals. If their belief system leads them to think that everyone who disagrees with them is misguided and amoral, then it isn’t a belief system I would want to take part in.
The other main argument that is made is that embracing the idea that we only live once encourages selfishness and has created an entitlement mentality among younger generations. At least this is somewhat plausible. Believing that the life we have on earth is the only one we get could encourage people to act more in their self-interest, because naturally you would want to experience as many good things as possible in the limited time you have. But wanting to experience life’s pleasures is not mutually exclusive from caring about one another and treating others with love and respect.
Calling millennials the “entitlement generation” may very well be accurate. There is a great deal of support for entitlements like universal healthcare or a living minimum wage. But the desire for these initiatives is not born out of selfishness. It is born out of a sense that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t fall gravely ill or die because you don’t have the means to pay for health coverage. It is born out of a sense that companies making record profits should not be able to pay full-time workers wages that keep them in poverty.
These and other entitlements are not the product of love for oneself, but love for others. Supporters of these policies know they aren’t free. They know that it will take contributions from everyone, and that they may very well give more than they receive. But they also believe that if they give a little extra and it helps save a life than it is damn well worth it.
So, if it’s not too much trouble, I would greatly appreciate it if older Americans would refrain from lamenting us young whippersnappers as being morally bankrupt because we aren’t as religious as they are, or because we fight for a better standard of living. Millennials, and anyone for that matter, are perfectly capable of making sound moral decisions whether they are influenced by religion or not. And if you think something like universal healthcare is a selfish desire than you may need to reread or reevaluate your own religious teachings.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.