Do Young Americans Have a “God-Shaped Hole”?
Editor’s Note: In this vision for the future, students discuss religion in light of Pascal’s idea that everyone has a hole in the shape of God. Next week we’ll be asking, “Polls suggest that nearly half of young Americans use dating apps. How has the computer revolution shaped how we think about romance and love? “ Students should Click here submit opinions of less than 250 words by December 28. The best answers will be published that evening.
American youth have not turned away from the divine. They just filled that hole with something new. The routine followed by generations past, flocking to their places of worship or turning to the scriptures for advice, is now fulfilled by following Instagram idols and retweeting their posts.
This new religion is more evident in those who adopt the manners and markers of a political movement. Like Jewish men wearing their kippahs, a Trump supporter wears a red MAGA hat. Meanwhile, Progressives are sporting their Nalgene bottle with stickers saying “Water is a right” or some other statement to broadcast that they are on the right side of the story. Awakened ones have adopted all the hallmarks of religion, from rituals of recognizing privilege, crafting a new language, and proselytizing the holy truth to which all must conform or face eternal damnation.
Pascal was right: we all want God, and my contemporaries filled the void within themselves with political movements and tweets.
—Joshua Pearson, George Mason University, International Security
Religion establishes human bonds
Religion creates small, tight-knit communities. These communities provide connections – friends, mentors, and even romantic partners. Religious communities also give members a feeling of belonging and transmit a common morality. The faithful help each other in times of prosperity and turn to each other in times of need, creating a safety net. In short, religion provides social capital.
Religion does not have a monopoly on social capital, and our generation might find secular analogues. But by turning away from religion without another community taking its place, we risk further dividing the country at a dangerous moment in our history.
In turning away from religion, we are not missing so much part of ourselves as we are missing parts of each other. What we lose is not God, but the best angels of our community nature. We find on the altar of secularization not a diminished interior spirituality, but the dissolution of the bonds with our common kinship.
—Max Willner-Giwerc, University of Chicago, Law (JD)
The reasonableness of secularism
Blaise Pascal’s ideas must be understood in the context of the 1600s. As a highly educated French mathematician and mystical philosopher, he was exposed to realities Americans were unaware of. France was born from principles that were based on an understanding of God. In the 1600s, it was rare to meet someone with a secular mindset.
To apply Pascal’s claim of a god-shaped hole to young Americans today would be to reduce the identity of an entire population to a missing part. It would be a reckless injustice to these secular young Americans who grew up in a religious world.
Modern politics reject the proposition of gospel truth. The truth simply no longer exists. The arguments are easily reduced to the sentence “You do you”. In many ways, technology has replaced God. The mysteries of the universe are no longer attributed to a divine figure. An American diversion of religion is reasonably justified.
—Isabella Barrett, Belmont Abbey College, Politics, Philosophy and Economics
Our quest for meaning
When we invite God into our lives, we realize that the world does not revolve around us. Life is centered on serving God through generous acts of love for others. The reason why Meta appeals to so many people is that it’s a world where everything is in user control. There is no suffering in a metaverse, a fictitious world. My generation has learned to avoid suffering at all costs, but to quote Viktor Frankl: “If there is meaning in life, then there must be meaning in suffering.
The trials and pains of everyday life only make sense if we have faith that God will not forsake us. If we don’t stick to it firmly, we will live in a constant state of anxiety and resentment. If we hold on to it firmly, suffering will have meaning and life can be joyful. Not easy, but happy.
—Nathaniel Valyo, Seton Hall University, Economics
Spirituality and politics
Young Americans are turning away from religious institutions, but they remain invested in spiritual matters. According to Pew Research, a growing number of young Americans identify as “spiritual but not religious.” I think secularism is actually weakened when people see their faith as coming from outside established institutions. It is relatively easy to put a barrier between organized religion and government, but much more difficult to separate politics from spirit. I predict that the lines between faith and politics will blur rather than solidify in the years to come.
—Thomas Brodey, Amherst College, history
The impulse of religion
Increased secularization may have changed our behavior, but it hasn’t curbed our urge to worship something, even if that something is ourselves. In an increasingly secular society, Americans have lost many of the healthy opportunities they once had. Religion has always been a way for people to claim identity, build community and give meaning to their lives. Without these opportunities forcing them to look outward, Americans have become more and more egocentric. This phenomenon is only encouraged by social media, which convinces people that self-expression should be their priority.
Religion gives meaning to human life, which otherwise may seem aimless. Despite cultural changes and the decline in religious affiliations, human nature has not fundamentally changed. All people still long to be loved and to feel their life has meaning. Young, non-religious Americans continue to search for purpose and identity. They try to find them in gyms, therapy offices and workplaces. The fervor with which young Americans do all of this can only be called religious.
While they’re less likely to be found in a synagogue or church, they’re no less likely to have these religious impulses. People always seek forgiveness for their wrongdoing and pursue whatever seems to make them feel important.
—Ivy Young, University of North Carolina, journalism
Click here to submit a response to next week’s Future View.
If you are interested in an internship with the Wall Street Journal, applications are open. Click here for the Bartley Summer 2022 Opinion Fellowship and here for the Bartley Social Media Summer Fellowship 2022.
Copyright © 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8