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Formative Distrust: The unraveling of trust in those under-30

There is declining religious affiliation among Generation Z and the youngest millennials, creating a unique trend in their approach to spirituality. A substantial percentage of Gen Z identifies as “nones,” characterized by a preference for being “nothing in particular” rather than explicitly labeling themselves as atheists or agnostics. This divergence from defined worldviews reflects a reluctance to align with specific groups.

A significant factor contributing to the under-30 group’s disconnection from organized religion is a broader distrust of various institutions and leaders. This skepticism, termed “formative distrust,” is particularly pronounced among millennials and Gen Z, shaped by experiences during periods of intense political polarization and allegations of compromised integrity in electoral processes.

The waning religious affiliation is not solely rooted in religious considerations but is also influenced by ethical lapses within religious institutions, especially concerning cases of sexual abuse. The younger generation’s skepticism extends beyond religious institutions to encompass a general distrust of major societal institutions and influential figures.

Shifts in moral perspectives, exposure to ethical shortcomings within religious leadership, and questioning the role of religion in addressing contemporary social issues like LGBTQ acceptance and gender roles are among the many reasons for new attitudes among Gen Z.

Interestingly, research suggests that, for those born in 2000 or later, women are more likely to identify as nones than men, possibly linked to changing dynamics between Christianity and conservative politics. This is a major departure from traditional trends.

Despite the societal acceptance of being religiously unaffiliated, the process of distancing oneself from religion is emotionally challenging, involving a reevaluation of personal beliefs and a gradual journey toward constructing a meaningful worldview.

Jessica Grose of the New York Times writes:

When I wrote my series on why Americans are moving away from organized religion, I didn’t focus specifically on those under 30, even though I knew they were the least religiously affiliated. I wanted to tell the full story that included different age groups because, in recent decades, all age groups have seen a decline in religious participation. The sociological term for the unaffiliated is “nones,” a catchall for atheists, agnostics and those who say they have no religion in particular.

I also thought that for the youngest adults, the move away from traditional worship was just an extension of the overall trend: a combination of fewer of them being raised by religious parents, a greater social acceptance of not identifying as a person of faith and a cultural association between conservative political beliefs and Christianity that started years before the first Zoomer was born.

But after more reading, rumination and reporting, I think there’s something slightly new happening for Gen Z and the youngest millennials. So I turned again to Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University who is a pastor and the author of “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are and Where They Are Going.” He told me: “The estimates vary on this, but it’s empirically defensible to say that at least 40 percent of Gen Z are nones now.”

Read the full article.

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