"Big Four" Highlights


Chicken Little Lessons

How to stop the sky from falling on our Catholic faith

By Jason Godin

Pew Research recently released a second installment of survey results from its 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The latest report shifted focus from findings in the first installment on religious affiliation among U.S. adults to their religious beliefs and practices.

Once again, the view from the pews wasn’t too pretty. The report found U.S. adults in 2014, relative to 2007:

  • 89% believe in God (down from 92%)
  • 77% are religiously affiliated (down from 83%)
  • 23% are religiously unaffiliated (up from 16%)
  • 50% attend services at least monthly (down from 54%)
  • 55% pray daily (down from 58%)
  • 53% consider religion very important (down from 56%)

Like the earlier survey, many have read these results in the fashion of Chicken Little – the sky is falling in terms of faith, especially among millennials. A glance at the report certainly makes it appear millennials both older (born 1981-1989) and younger (born 1990-1996) are less religious than all generations before them. And, certainly, the lower levels would lead to fewer Catholics over time if the downward trends continue.

But if one puts aside the apocalyptic attitude, while at the same time not burying one’s head in the sand, a more optimistic view can be developed by drawing comparisons within the millennial generation. There are a few signs of hope in the millennial “religious beliefs” found deeper in the second report:

  • Believe in heaven: 67% (older); 68% (younger)
  • Believe Scripture is the word of God: 50% (older); 52% (younger)
  • Believe in hell: 55% (older); 56% (younger)

Younger millennials, by margins slim but noticeably more than their older cohorts, believe in heaven, hell, and the Bible being the Word of God. In other words, a slight increase exists when accounting for age.

It isn’t much, but it is a solid place to start evangelizing a new generation of Catholics. The Catholic Church has grown globally for over two millennia partly because of beliefs and a body of believers that endure. Countless followers have fallen away, but that hasn’t stopped the Magisterium from declaring teachings and traditions grounded in eternal, practical truth. Generations have testified to this reality, at times, with their very lives, in a variety of degrees and a wealth of ways.

It is those latter two realities we should keep front and center, it seems to me, when reading any surveys on religious belief and practice. No one denies we need to take in information to stay informed. But if we want higher levels of millennials practicing the faith, perhaps it also will take closing our mouths and raising our hearts and minds in prayer more often, so more opportunities may open for God to speak. Doing so may require parents putting the parable of the Merciful Father and the Prodigal Son into practice with their children as they age – backing off a bit, letting them learn some important lessons through trial-by-error, and ultimately waiting to embrace them with welcoming arms when they finally figure it all out.

Millennials like authenticity, accessibility and optimism. Give them and their faith all three by talking about the current religious landscape more like the Merciful Father and less like Chicken Little. Who knows, it may lead ultimately to you and them acknowledging that “everything I have is yours,” as you collectively “celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was last and has been found” (Lk 15:31-32).

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good