‘Required reading for those who wish to evangelize the next generation’

The least religious generation in U.S. history, a reflection by Bishop Robert Barron on Jean Twenge's book “iGen”

(image from occupycorporatism.com)

Jean Twenge’s book iGen is one of the most fascinating—and depressing—texts I’ve read in the past decade. A professor of psychology at San Diego State University, Dr. Twenge has been, for years, studying trends among young Americans, and her most recent book focuses on the generation born between 1995 and 2012. Since this is the first cohort of young people who have never known a world without iPads and iPhones, and since these devices have remarkably shaped their consciousness and behavior, Twenge naturally enough has dubbed them the “iGen.”

Now there are many more insights that Dr. Twenge shares, but I was particularly interested, for obvious reasons, in her chapter on religious attitudes and behaviors among iGen’ers. In line with many other researchers, Twenge shows that the objective statistics in this area are alarming. As recently as the 1980s, 90% of high school seniors identified with a religious group. Among iGen’ers, the figures are now around 65% and falling. And religious practice is even more attenuated: only 28% of twelfth graders attended services in 2015, whereas the number was 40% in 1976. For decades, sociologists of religion have been arguing that, though explicit affiliation with religious institutions was on the decline, especially among the young, most people remained “spiritual,” that is to say, convinced of certain fundamental religious beliefs. I remember many conversations with my friend Fr. Andrew Greeley along these lines. 

But Twenge indicates that this is no longer true. Whereas even twenty years ago, the overwhelming number of Americans, including youngsters, believed in God, now fully one third of 18 to 24 year olds say that they don’t believe. As late as 2004, 84% of young adults said that they regularly prayed; by 2016, fully one fourth of that same age cohort said that they never pray. We find a similar decline in regard to acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God: one fourth of iGen’ers say that the Scriptures are a compilation of “ancient fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.” Her dispiriting conclusion: “The waning of private religious belief means that young generations’ disassociation from religion is not just about their distrust of institutions; more are disconnecting from religion entirely, even at home and even in their hearts.” 

Now what are some of the reasons for this disconnect? One, Twenge argues, is the iGen preoccupation with individual choice. From their earliest years, iGen’ers have been presented with a dizzying array of choices in everything from food and clothes to gadgets and lifestyles. And they have been encouraged, by practically every song, video, and movie, to believe in themselves and follow their own dreams. All of this self-preoccupation and stress upon individual liberty stands sharply athwart the religious ideal of surrendering to God and his purposes. “My life, my death, my choice” (a rather iGen friendly motto which I recently saw emblazoned on a billboard in California) sits very uneasily indeed with St. Paul’s assertion, “whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” A second major reason for iGen dissatisfaction with religion is one that has surfaced in lots of surveys and polls, namely, that religious belief is incompatible with a scientific view of the world. One young man that Twenge interviewed is typical: “Religion, at least to people my age, seems like it’s something of the past. It seems like something that isn’t modern.” Another said, “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore.” And a third—also attested to in lots of studies—is the “antigay attitudes” supposedly endemic to Biblical Christianity. One of Twenge’s interviewees put it with admirable succinctness: “I’m questioning the existence of God. I stopped going to church because I’m gay and was part of a gay-bashing religion.” One survey stated the statistical truth bluntly enough: 64% of 18-24 year olds believed that Christianity is antigay, and for good measure, 58% of those iGen’ers thought the Christian religion is hypocritical.

Dismal stuff, I know. But Dr. Twenge performs a great service to all those interested in the flourishing of religion, for she lays out the objectivities unblinkingly, and this is all to the good, given our extraordinary capacity for wishful thinking and self-deception. Further, though she doesn’t tell religious educators and catechists how to respond, she unambiguously indicates what is leading this most unreligious generation in our history away from the churches. Her book should be required reading for those who wish to evangelize the next generation.

Full story at Word on Fire.


  1. Pagan babies living among us.

  2. I am no big fan of Bishop “Hell is most likely empty except for really bad meanies” Barron, but this is an article worth reading.

  3. Your Fellow Catholic says:

    I have repeatedly tried to express to readers of CCD that part of the reasons for the decline in churchmanship of Americans includes Christians who present Christianity as an incompatibility between science and faith, economics and faith, sexuality and faith, gender equality and faith, compassion and faith. Basically nobody leaves the Church or the separated faithful because there is no Latin Mass, women altar servers, or that people chitchat too much, even if many of us seak out congregations that have a different practice. If we are to truly evangelize, or re-evangelize, we must get to the heart of the matter of why we ourselves, in our practices and in our avoidances, turn people off from faith. We are why our neighbors lose faith.

    • Basically I wouldn’t want to be a member of the sort of misguided, liberal church you repeatedly promote either.

    • Anonymous says:

      YFC, yes, there are people who have left because “it’s not the Church I grew up in.” There are people who will leave, or at least, get upset, if the priest talks about political topics. It doesn’t matter which topic or which side of the topic. The only time I’ve heard sexuality addressed in a sermon is when a priest said that we need to stand up for the truth about sexuality even if we are persecuted. Gender equality? Every person is made in God’s image. People get defensive if wealth is talked about or if they are treated like they aren’t doing enough for the poor or if they feel criticized in anything.
      Some people get upset if the priest seems to vary from Church teaching in any way. Some people like it, though, because…

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        A very fair point anonymous. Some studies have confirmed what you say, that people leave a church if it engages in politics. And people leave SPECIFIC parishes beacuse they don’t like the music, or they don’t like the homily, but really leaving the Church entirely is, what I think, we are talking about here.

        • Anonymous says:

          People leave for lots of different reasons. Some because because they don’t believe one thing; some because they don’t believe anything.
          The Church can’t change Her teachings because someone doesn’t like it and has left. We have to stand firm and let them figure out what is best for them.
          Being authentic is a very popular concept now and it is the job of the Catholic Church to hold to the Truth as revealed by God. We can’t force people to accept it. We can’t change to make it more acceptable to some. We try to live a good Christian life that will attract those who are seeking God, but we fail often, For those who have the Faith and leave, we have to give them time and space to figure it out. Pray for them.

  4. Another work on trends not unrelated to the above & perhaps more incisive is ‘Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy’ by Mark Regnerus.
    Review here: https://ifstudies.org/blog/mapping-the-new-mating-market-a-review-of-cheap-sex
    Pertinent findings:
    Reduced religious affiliation is among the additional victims of ‘cheap sex’.
    The trend of ‘cheap sex’ will not be reduced by Christian churches which endure poor catechesis, the tendency toward therapeutic expressive individualism, and a new emphasis on supporting versus challenging members.
    For those hoping to curb cheap sex & its negative effects, the book is a framework for future action.

  5. Michael McDermott says:

    The next generation is being ‘evangelized’ – using terms that I am sometimes disparaged for daring to quote, although as the following shows – you don’t have to make things up, they exist independent of reason or reality in the pathetic farce of Academentia. BTW, I also have copies of the Pig/Male ‘artwork’ of the Academic Gaystapo:
    USC professor defends tweet promoting violence against whitenesss
    “Yes, I stand behind my statements against white supremacy, heterosexism and homophobia, and patriarchy as systems of oppression, all of which are both embodied and advanced by the violent and dehumanizing…

  6. What comes to mind is the relationship of constant self satisfaction with the opioid epidemic. Both are affective disorders in the sense that despite reality, I have to feei good, feel sensually satisfied . Sacrifice, any kind of self deprivation is a major evil.
    In addition to the souls being lost, one has to feel sorry for these children being unable to handle the realities of human existence. No pain no gain is not in their perception.
    May God forgive them.

  7. Linda Maria says:

    An important part of growing up right— is to have schools that are very strong academically, teaching the classics– to help kids to grow morally, intellectually, and humanistically, to become intelligent, morally-good citizens of our Nation! To be good, responsible, trustworthy workers and employers in our communities, to be good spouses, parents, and neighborhood and community members and leaders, to be well-prepared for the roles of maturity and responsibility, of adulthood! Without that, communities and whole countries, will eventually fall to pieces!

  8. Anonymous says:

    After watching a video of the author of this book with CBS morning show hosts, it appears that we should make a great effort to evangelize these young people. They are lonely, feel left out, depressed, suicidal, anxious. They need the Lord and his Mother and they need the Church. They hang out with their parents more than other generations. So an evangelical effort toward the parents should help too..

  9. Anonymous says:

    iGen is the term this author uses for what is probably most often called Generation Z.
    There is a lot of research but they are still very young.
    They need prayers and good example like all people.

  10. Linda Maria says:

    It is a big mistake, to separate kids into a different group, apart from the rest of society– as a “unique generation,” a sub-culture of teen-agers! Instead– kids should be well-integrated into the whole of society, and should feel a part of a strong and loving American family, with good values, at home! And the young should love and respect their parents and elders, who have much to teach them! By the same token– our elders should take great delight, in helping to form the young people in good values, with strong, lifelong, loving, nurturing bonds! Our Church should help to form a much better society, with good religious values!

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