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OpinionColumnistsAmanda Fiscina

Millennials and religion - a disconnect

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An adorable baby in her mom’s arms. Grandparents shushing toddler grandchildren. Attentive couples in their 50s. Teary-eyed widows. Communion students filling out workbooks.

And then there’s me on most Sundays — a 27-year-old trying to summon every bit of self-control not to sneak a peek at my phone on the pew next to me at Mass at St. Ignatius Martyr Church in Long Beach.

You contemplate as you look around any room and find you’re the only one of your generation. I can usually count on one (or no) hand other millennials attending the service on a given Sunday. Sometimes I chuckle at the “young adult” events listed in the weekly bulletin because they actually mean high schoolers, not 20-something millennials.

I attend Mass for several reasons. The simplest is sentimental — it’s one of the few connections to the religious grandparents I never met and the basis of many family traditions. Others are mostly selfish — I like the hour of peace to unplug from all my devices, particularly because of news alerts about the ugly horrors of the world. I need that silence to figure out how to cope.

I respect that going to church is a personal decision, so I don’t judge my peers who don’t. But many millennials don’t go and have far less religious affiliation than previous generations. According to Pew Research Center:

  • Only 27 percent of millennials say they attend religious services each week.
  • 4 in 10 of the youngest millennials pray daily, compared with 6 in 10 baby boomers and two-thirds of those over 70.
  • 4 in 10 millennials say religion is very important in their lives, compared with more than half in the older generational cohorts.

Realistically, it’s not heresy or new that young generations are less religious than older ones. After all, it’s the time in your life when you question authority and a time when you’re distant from the tribulations of midlife and death that attract people to faith.

As our age group says it’s losing its religion, though, the rest of the nation is still enamored. Evangelical Christian voters increased their already outsized influence on the Iowa caucuses and Republican politics, making up 64 percent of caucusgoers, up from 57 percent in 2012, according to polls.

Here’s what the Pew data don’t show, though: The majority of millennials may not worship on Sundays and may even reject stodgy religious institutions, but that does not mean they reject faith entirely.

We still strive to make sense of tragic events, whether a terrorist attack, or when one of our own dies. When a friend I grew up with — who became a New York City police officer — was fatally shot on duty last year, we tried to understand. Some prayed. Some posted prayers on social media. Others attended the funeral. All searched for answers.

A lot of us would say we don’t turn to religion for help, but many do subconsciously. Post an inpirational quote on Instagram? That’s faith’s reassuring words. Use dating sites like JDate or Christian Mingle? Those wedding date waiting lists at church and synagogues? It all shows we haven’t stopped believing.

It’s fitting that on Saturday nights when Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” comes on at a bar filled with 20-somethings — you know, the ones not at Mass the next day — it’s a singalong that could only be rivaled by a classic Billy Joel or Backstreet Boys track.

It’s an anthem to better days ahead, and asking listeners to keep the faith. Will more millennials “hold on to that feelin’?” I hope so.

Amanda Fiscina is an online producer for Newsday Opinion.

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