The Springtide Research Institute has released a new poll that revealed more young adults aged 18-29 profess a belief in God or some form of a “higher power” post-pandemic. According to the study, “About one-third of 18-to-25-year-olds say they believe – more than doubt – the existence of a higher power.” That is an uptick from 2021, which was around one quarter. The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the findings, credited the pandemic with increasing young adults’ faith. “For many young people, the pandemic was the first crisis they faced. In many ways, it aged young Americans, and they are now turning to the same comfort previous generations have turned to during tragedies for healing and comfort,” The Journal stated. The increase is encouraging, considering that belief in God in the U.S. remains lowest in the youngest generations. But what does the increasing faith of Gen Z really mean for the Christian landscape in America?

The Wall Street Journal interviewed several young people, and most would be described as “spiritual but not religious.” Despite more young adults professing a belief in a higher power, that is not translating into higher church attendance or most young adults professing a certain church doctrine or moral outlook. One such person interviewed was Desmond Adel, a self-described “agnostic theist” who professed openness to a belief in God but “[not] like any Gods described by major religions.” The type of faith described in The Journal, according to The Daily Citizen, can be more accurately described as “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a term coined by Christian Smith in his book, Souls in Transition. Smith and a team of researchers conducted a study on the religious habits of teenagers, summed up in a report entitled “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers.” 

Moralistic therapeutic deism, according to Smith, agrees that there is a god who created the universe, who desires people to be nice and kind to others yet does not need to be directly involved in people’s lives. Moralistic therapeutic deism also asserts that good people go to heaven. Smith’s study found that most U.S. teenagers could not articulate their religious beliefs, and “most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding.” Smith wrote in his report that “…it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth or both.” 

Springtide, noting this “spiritualism” in young adults, still interpreted the results positively, sharing that “Those indicators cannot tell you, for example, that numerous young people engage with crystals and herbs, anime, activism and politics, tarot, and nature as spiritual exercises. Before dismissing these practices as New Age frivolities, consider that young Latter-day Saints and Muslims — groups that traditionally hold more conservative/orthodox religious beliefs — were among the most likely to engage with tarot or other forms of divination on a regular basis (38 percent and 35 percent, respectively).” The Institute encouraged churches to utilize young adults’ openness to faith by establishing relationships with them and opening up discussions about doctrine. The Daily Citizen agreed with this assessment but with a caveat. “It’s good that some young Americans are becoming more open to ‘faith’ in a general sense. But it’s not sufficient, especially to the extent that Americans are turning to faith for a sense of ‘comfort.’ Make no mistake, believing in a God who cares for humankind and loves us unconditionally can be comforting, but belief for ‘comfort’ sake is not enough,” The Daily Citizen asserted. “No one should believe in something or someone because it makes them comfortable. They should believe in something because it is true.”

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