Published December 1, 2021
George Barna’s sobering new report, Millennials in America, exposes the anxious yearnings of a generation with little sense of the God who loves them. For Christians, the call to action is inescapable.
This Christmas, Covid-19 notwithstanding, most of us will gather with family and friends—some of whom will surely be millennials. What should we understand about this generation? First, this generation is 78 million strong, according to Barna, comprising those born in 1984 through 2002. In personal terms, they are our children and the parents of our grandchildren (if they have children at all). They are the future, and stand to shape the future for generations to come.
But their lives betray a lack of purpose — always searching, never finding. Millennials, according to Barna, grew up believing they deserve the best, a mindset that makes it difficult to form lasting, intimate relationships. No one measures up to an “ideal” standard all the time, so their relationships are dogged by restless uncertainty, the vague feeling that “something better” might be just around the corner. Little surprise, then, that fewer millennials are marrying compared to past generations, or that when they do have children, they have fewer. On demographics alone, millennial patterns spell trouble for the future.
The real eye-opener in this survey, however, comes from its penetrating analysis of millennials’ beliefs about God, morality, and the purpose of life. Most millennials profess to be Christians. Probe a bit more deeply, and the self-described “Christians” turn out to believe less in the actual one true God (only a third say God is an all- knowing, perfect Being and the source of all truth) and more in a vague higher power who just wants them to be happy (however defined). Millennials seem to view God like a benevolent uncle who sends nice gifts but has little to say in how they live their lives.
Here’s the problem — and the opportunity: the absence of God in their lives is not serving them well. As a generation, millennials are unhappy, fearful, and adrift. More than half say they often feel “anxious, depressed, or unsafe.” Three-quarters say they are still “searching for a sense of purpose in life,” but view all religions as basically equal. Truth and morality are relative, they say, so boundaries are ever in flux. Most distressing, according to Barna, “Millennials, more than any other generation, question the very reason for living.” Only 22 percent believe “life is sacred,” while 50 percent hold a more cynical view: “life is what you make it; there is no absolute value associated with human life.”
What’s the root of this emptiness? Millennials give us the answer, unspoken, but nevertheless plain to see: They need God. They need to know that the struggles of this earth are not “all there is.” It’s natural, in a sense, writes Barna, that “without any anchors for truth, emotions, decision-making, relational boundaries, or purpose,” millennials are beset by waves of “anomie and disconnectedness.” Life feels especially difficult when it lacks purpose and transcendence.
The truly wonderful news is that God desires something far better for them. He wants them to know His love. The desire for God is built into the human heart—a fact no less true for millennials than for any generation in human history. They have questions, God is the answer.
This Christmas – let’s ask ourselves how we can “make the introduction.” Don’t complicate things. Just share the truth. Whether they recognize it yet or not, millennials, like St. Augustine centuries ago, know down deep this truth: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
MARY RICE HASSON, J.D., is the Kate O’Beirne Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. She also directs the Catholic Women’s Forum, a network of Catholic professional women and scholars seeking to amplify the voice of Catholic women in support of human dignity, authentic freedom, and Catholic social teaching. She co-authored, with Theresa Farnan, Ph.D., Get Out Now: Why You Should Pull Your Child from Public School Before It’s Too Late, among several books she has written.