Recently some new studies came out showing that today's young people (in the U.S.) have a strong negative opinion of Christianity, dramatically more so than ten years ago. The only surprise to me is that anyone was surprised at this news. One main reason is quite obvious, and it's not an intrinsic problem with Christianity. It's that the political movement known as the "religious right" encourages people to think their movement's political positions are one and the same with Christian beliefs and theology. And the religious right's political positions practically amount to generational warfare, the old vs. the young. Frankly, it's a formula for driving the next generation away from Christianity.
Look at the religious right's set of pet issues:
The study discovered that young people are concerned about the environment. Can we say "No duh"? If it looks like we have maybe thirty or forty years left where we can continue consuming oil at the current rates, and we'll probably be able to keep up our current lifestyle's waste-and-pollution rate for the next few decades, then it's pretty convenient to tell yourself that Jesus will be coming to burn and/or fix everything eventually. If you're sixty, that is. If you're fifteen or twenty -- whether you believe in the rapture or not -- you're likely to have concerns about what Earth will look like in 2050. Really, who do you think is going to be paying for our little joy-ride on this planet? I'll give you a hint: they're currently wearing diapers, and I don't mean adult depends.
Going to war for what's left of the oil rather than putting the priority on diminishing our dependence on fossil fuel? That's quite a task to be placing on the shoulders of our young.
Science education? It would be nice for our kids to have some, wouldn't it? They'd love to have the skills to compete in the global marketplace. But, gosh, implementing a serious math-and-science curriculum, and attracting qualified people to teach it? That's pretty darn expensive. (And giving it to kids for nothing? Isn't that communism?) Teaching them straight from the Bible is a whole lot simpler, and cheaper.
Then there's "abstinence education" and reproductive rights, i.e. sex. Nothing but nothing says "old people vs. young people" like wanting to see maximum punishments enforced for sex. 'Nuff said.
As a subset of the sex question, there's discrimination directly focused on gay people. What a dog of an issue! This one really highlights the short-sightedness of the religious right's strategy, focused on energizing their base today without a thought for tomorrow. Young people have grown up alongside gay people as ordinary people. The opinion divide on whether homosexuality is a choice isn't along liberal vs. conservative lines nearly as much as it's along the fault line of old vs. young. So when a group stands up and says their number one issue is keeping marriage contracts away from (gay) people who want to get married, all the young see is pure bigotry.
All of these ideas are embodied in our illustrious president, Dubya. The corruption, the illegally spying on his own people, the torture: all excused because at least he's not afraid to be outspoken about his relationship with Jesus. He thinks God told him to invade Iraq, and he's apparently incapable of even considering the possibility that that might have been an error since God can't be wrong. It would be one thing if it looked like Christians were booing him off the stage clamoring that that's not Christianity. But when Christians excuse his crimes and incompetence because they're impressed by his grand declarations of piety? How do you imagine that affects people's view of Christianity?
Apparently polls show that not only is Christianity significantly down but atheism is on the rise in the rising generation. I'd like to give the "new atheists" all the credit, but I honestly think the main recruiters have been the religious right and Dubya himself.
Good Christians: Don't look at the religious right and think "Well they're Christian, so at least their heart is in the right place." If they're on the wrong side of the issues above, then their heart is not in the right place. Their heart is in the place of maintaining their current consumption level and putting it on their grandchildren's tab. I know, I know, it's just that they grew up in an era when people didn't have to worry about our footprint on the planet, and now they're too set in their ways to change. So maybe it's not really their fault. But in that case, maybe it's time to take away the keys.
Now I know many people will read the above and think "Chanson, you big meanie, you don't want granny to have her medication?" Au contraire. I want granny to have her medication. The United States of America is a rich enough country to be able to afford correct health care for everyone if correcting the health care system were a priority. But the religious right waving these generation-warfare issues in granny's face is ultimately a tactic to scare her into voting against her own interests as well as her grandchildren's.
I'd like to see good Christians loudly proclaiming that the short-sighted theocrats of the religious right don't represent them. That xenophobia and hating gay people aren't what Christianity is all about. I don't want to be too hard on liberal/progressive Christians for not shouting loudly enough because, frankly, the theocrats are so loud that it's difficult for anyone to be heard over them. But what I'm saying is for the benefit of the faithful as well as the skeptic. We need a candidate who -- when questioned about his/her faith, regardless of his/her beliefs -- will look the camera in the eye and say "I'm running for president, not for first pastor."
Now I'd like to address the young people (teens and twenty-somethings) reading this if I may.
If I can give one piece of advice to young people today, it is this: Aspire to something more important than equal or greater material comfort than what your parents enjoyed. Aspire to pass a livable planet on to the next generation.
Now some of you are probably asking: "Why should we be the responsible ones? Why should we be the ones to think of future generations before thinking of ourselves, if our parents and grandparents didn't?" Well, somebody has to think of the future, and if your parents and grandparents aren't doing it, then it will fall on you. Remember you'll be living farther into the future than they will. Being young today means advantages and especially challenges that no previous generation has faced.
Right now you're probably more worried about your friends, and having fun, and finding your talents and your place in the world -- as well you should be. But if you're also thinking a little bit about what kind of planet you'll be leaving for your (future?) kids, then prepare to be a leader. Your country, your species, and your planet will need your leadership skills, whether you end up influencing five people or five million. Start walking in the right direction and others will follow you. And if you think I might possibly be talking to you, then I'm talking to you!!! :D
What you'll face won't be easy, but I believe in you. For all of our sake, I hope you'll rise to the occasion.