Twenty-six people left dead in cold blood. On November 5th, 2017, a man named Devin Patrick Kelley committed one of the worst shootings in Texas history (Wilts). This shooting occurred in a local Baptist church on a Sunday (Winston). Though, when uncovering the motives as to why Kelley might have committed such a horrific crime, the answers were unclear. Many made suggestions that his primary purpose for committing such a crime could have been associated with the fact that he himself was an atheist.
There were also many statements made regarding his past being tied to growing up with a Christian affiliation, due to his family being affiliated with this religion. “Courtney Kleiber, who was close with Mr. Kelley from middle school through high school, said ‘he was heavily involved in the church at one point and did believe in God earlier on in his life’” (Wilts).
However, as Kelley grew up, he started to distance himself from his religious affiliation and soon began to preach and advocate the ways of atheism (Winston).
Overall, it is unclear as to why Kelley committed this crime, but this crime should set a precedent in the eyes of many Americans because it is alluding to the ever-growing ideology that America should not be a religious union, but rather adapt vital values from religion. Church and state. A state with no church. A church with no state. Secular. This is the timeline the United States government has endured. This is an argument not of conversion, but rather adaptation.
Where is the middle ground? How might this united nation reach homeostasis? Millennial America is in distress because it lacks cohesiveness, conformity, and social benefits due to the sharp decline in organized belief systems.
It is prominent in today’s society that religious affiliation has hit a new low. As told by the Pew Research Center “…millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s)” (“Religion Among the Millennials”). Research has shown that many people ages 30 and younger describe this sense of being unaffiliated similar to that of being atheist, agnostic, or nothing (“Religion Among the Millennials”). In the article “Religious Vocations Today,” Richard Rymarz states that there has been a “…steep decline in many aspects of religious life in recent decades” (Rymarz). Though, it is extremely evident that the issue of there being a steady deterioration in religious affiliation, the question that one must ask now is why? David Masci from the “Pew Research Center” believes that this decrease in religion could be attributed to the fact that many Millennials are rejecting the status quo.
This rejection is now being portrayed as the creation of new ideologies that have separated like-minded groups into blossoming individuals. Millennials have been able to cultivate this ideology by changing the traditions that were once set in place. Masci demonstrated this by stating that Millennials have “…rejected the idea that a good kid is an obedient kid. [This ideology is at] odds with organizations, like churches, that have a long tradition of official teaching and obedience. And more than any other group, Millennials have been and are still being formed in this cultural context. As a result, they are more likely to have a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude toward religion” (Masci). This attitude has become widespread amongst much of the Millennial youth and there have been predictions that these trends may follow suit within the preceding generations as well. This is due to the fact that not only has there been a newfound individualism within Millennial America, but there is also a massive lack of trust.
Therefore, with uncertainty, pride and security that individualism contains, there is no evident reason as to why this trend of being unaffiliated with religion has not lost its strength. The United States of America is a country where the citizens come from all over the world with many different views and religions, but there is one common thread that runs through all of them and that is their sense of unity. Americans have many shared values such as civil religion and basic cultural values that are unique to this country. As a result, citizens can relate these strong feelings to a sense of national identity. Miller and Anderson in their essay “Religion’s Role in Creating National Unity/Comment/Rejoinder” discuss shared values as the glue that shapes the national identity. They also suggest that common values and civil religion are more important for unity than that of ethnicity and nationality. The authors cite examples that show the correlation between religion and democracy, and in doing so they mention the writings and beliefs of John Locke who held that “…the cornerstone of liberty is religious freedom.”
National unity is necessary for society to have a sense of complete civic identity and civil religion provides that common element (Miller and Anderson). However, the Millennial ‘generation is not only the most ethnically diverse in US history, but it is also the most religiously diverse.” Many of this generation reject many of the spiritual values so deeply held by their predecessors. They prefer to emphasize nonprofit educational and religious institutions rather than doctrine and ritual practiced by previous generations. As a result, the Millennials are very active in national and community service and exercise the spiritual beliefs as they desire, which may be a very positive thing as well as a benefit to organized religions (Winograd and Hais).
With unity comes conformity, but many take a negative view of the word conformity because they feel it limits individuality, and they believe it is necessary for a developing society to have an overarching sense of diversity. However, government conformity is far from being negative. Conformity makes society the functioning unit that it is. It provides rules and laws, which are necessary for a civilized society and law-abiding citizens. Though when defining conformity in a more abstract sense, one might question the internal and external values within. One may see internal as being values that are similar to those of individual beliefs and external values being the laws that are practiced in the external world. In the article “Dynamics of organizational culture: Individual beliefs vs. social conformity” authors Christos Ellinas, Neil Allan, and Andres Johansson explain the complexity and nature of organizational culture and the challenges associated with such dynamics (Ellinas et al.).
They state that any formal belief system affects the organizational construct of society. For maintaining a prosperous society, it is important to obtain both an internal and external litigation upon one’s self. This is due to the fact that religion shapes one’s moral compass and provides a sense of civic virtue. Not only does this benefit the individual, but this ideology of man being moral internally directly affects the external world as well, which creates a network of law-abiding citizens. Many millennials are opposed to the ideology of religion because they believe that this sense of conformity may lead to a plateau regarding development and diversity. In the article “Future Trends in American Religion” David Brown observes the prospective issues America will face because of its increasing diversity such as how conservatives might respond to this new-found diversity as well as the advancement in space exploration. Brown claims these are issues that arise due to America’s strong religious foundation that is still present in society today (Brown).
Though the counter-argument may appear strong, many Millennial ideologies lose credibility due to unintentional hypocrisy. This exists because no matter what belief system is enacted within societal ways, people will inevitably conform. Though swaying towards a more organized belief system may be better for the community because of the many moralistic benefits. In the article “Dynamics of organizational culture: Individual beliefs vs. social conformity,” authors Christos Ellinas, Neil Allan, and Andres Johansson state “…this study introduces an integrative framework able to capture both social and cognitive aspects in a simple model. In addition, the model extends the degree of contextual integration by introducing both peer-pressure and social rank” (Ellinas et al.). Therefore, the authors assert that this reinforces the potential hypocrisy that may arise in refuting arguments against the original claim made.
In addition to issues of the changing views and values of America’s youth and the ideas of viewing civil religion as the thread that provides the sense for a unified nation, religion has many documented benefits for both the individual as well as that of a democratic nation that seeks to secure personal freedom and civility. In the article “Who Benefits from Religion,” a study conducted by Daniel Mochon, Michael I. Norton, and Dan Ariely, discusses data collected on the benefits of religion to individuals and to the overall society as well as detrimental effects that may be influenced by religious affiliation. Societal benefits of religion include lower crime rates, education, more involvement in community affairs, lower divorce rates, happier and healthier families and better-adjusted children. Individuals also benefit from a wide variety of items including many that involve health issues, both physical and mental. In short, the individual has much higher levels of peace and well-being, which contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
However, this article poses other questions related to the possible detrimental effects it could have for some, such as those may have become influenced by agnostics and atheists. Those who rarely practice any organized religion are usually unhappy with such organizations and are easily persuaded by those who have no religious affiliations. As a result, many people have left their religious beliefs and joined the ranks of those seeking new ways to fill this void. The findings of their study were conclusive with earlier studies, but they concluded that while religious practice does aid the well-being of those who are strong in their beliefs, it could also be detrimental to others (Mochon et al.).
Though the argument as to why religion provides beneficial values that are vital for a well-rounded and functioning society, many refute this ideology and do not accept that America is in distress. The article “The New Atheism Debate,” by Neil Brown touches on this ideology. This article is introduced by referencing Peter Conrad. Brown makes the pronounced statement: “Conrad confidently assumes that at the end of the century God is not only dead, but also buried, and that modern culture has forgotten the place of his burial” (Brown). This statement leaves one with a heavy juxtaposition because in one simple sentence Peter Conrad was able to depict the current religious status of many Millennial Americans. In fact, many believe that America is better when religion is the prominent basis of everything. Overall, this makes Millennials certain that religion is bad for society. This is a heavily believed idea for many reasons, but the first would have to be that religion promotes intolerance.
However, on the contrary, religion caters immensely to the belief that community and being social within the community is good for society, which is an idea that is commonly perceived through those who have a similar mindset. Therefore, potentially making those who do not have the same religious affiliation or mindset feel ostracized or wrong for feeling or thinking the way that they do. The second reason many may refute the idea that religion is good for society is that religion can lead to extremists which may lead to atrocities. This argument is centered around the idea that many extremists blame or justify the horrific crimes they commit on their religious affiliation. The last argument that was made against religion being a necessity for society is that “religion privileges blind faith and obedience over reason and critical thinking. This promotes ignorance or denialism on scientific issues and hinders scientific progress.
By promising rewards in another life, religion distracts people from the problems they face in the life they are actually living” (Xygalatas). Ultimately, what is at stake here are the fundamental values that America was built upon. Millennial America’s thoughts on why religion might be bad for the government provide a strong argument, but the argument in this paper is not that church and state should come together as one again. It is rather that the argument at hand is one that is more feasible, yet strong in its works. America needs to grasp the moralistic, communitive, and strengthening values that religion has to offer.
There was a point in time when society cared for “thy neighbor” and protected each other for the common good. Now the world has become polarized and separated, and the idea of a united nation is now seen as one comprised of individuals who wish to be separated from all groups. This paper began with the tragic shooting committed by Devin Patrick Kelley demonstrating that man has turned against man. Therefore, the overall solution is not to convert everyone into a small category labeled ‘strong religious affiliation,’ but rather to help society indulge in the values that this country was built upon, which is to help our communities rise again and for society to obtain this desperate moral compass that has since been lost and, most importantly, for everyone to have a sense of community again. After all, it is “We the People” not “We the Individuals.”