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Opinion: Don’t discount religion

If you already have, at least consider this.
Image by Eleanor King
Pictured is the First Congregational Church of Minnesota, located in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis. They offer multiple resources to students and other members of the community including a food shelf, community kitchen, Little Free Pantry and more. Built in 1851, this building is a historical piece of Marcy-Holmes and remains a reliable resource for students today.

Of all the chores assigned to me as a kid, there was not one I disliked more than attending weekly confirmation classes at my local church. This process, which lasted the entire nine-month duration of my freshman year of high school, did the exact opposite of its intent.

It guided me further away from God than I had ever been. 

While the group singing, hand-holding and preachy message bothered the self-appointed intellectually independent teenage me, it was even more confusing how so many people could believe in something without undeniable evidence. 

I especially reveled in my distaste and skepticism for what my parents were putting me through, because it gave me an excuse to rebel against them. 

Immediately following my confirmation ceremony, I decided Christianity, God and religion were all pointless and nonsensical. Nothing or no one could convince me otherwise. 

For many current college students, this personal account likely resonates in some capacity. 

According to a study done by The Survey Center on American Life, 18% of our generation identifies as either atheist or agnostic, and a whopping 34% identifies as religiously unaffiliated. The latter percentage, which has only increased in the past century, is double its respective amount within the baby boomer generation. 

It’s hard to pinpoint one cause of this decline, as the issue is inherently complex. 

Father Jake Anderson of Gopher Catholic cited declining family structure and increased institutional skepticism as a possible reason for this shift. 

“I think that’s an instability factor for a lot of people to begin questioning things, to drop out of things,” Anderson said. “People are much more inclined to listen and hearken to the authority of experience rather than a spoken word from a higher institution.” 

This skepticism, upbringing and institutions aside, has undeniably been exacerbated by technology. Young people now have easier access to a wider range of opinions than ever before, resulting in a generation of impressionable kids who now think twice about going to church on Sundays. 

For those who already identify as religiously unaffiliated, college represents the perfect opportunity to shelve any association with the concept. College campuses, especially now, are littered with various outlets focusing on social activism, politics, academics, sports and Greek life. People make new friends, start new hobbies, become more social and expose themselves to new ways of thinking. 

But what happens if it all starts to feel surface-level?

No one wants to be the person having an existential crisis in the corner of the party. No one wants to feel like they lack meaningful connections or a sense of purpose. Most importantly, no one wants to feel like they have nothing to fall back on when they need it. 

In the past year, this exact internal dilemma forced me to reconcile with my previously set-in-stone dismissal of religion. 

I’ll admit — I still can’t bring myself to look past the same distaste for the church environment I had as a kid. I’m not even sure if my shaky belief in God is out of true faith or just a fear of there being nothing beyond material existence. 

But the beauty of religion is how it recognizes the never-ending nature of this internal debate. 

Eli Bechard, a fourth-year University of Minnesota student who was raised Christian, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s about accepting everybody where they’re at,” Bechard said.

Even without fully believing in God, basic religious principles can provide value for anyone. 

On an interactional level, religion provides a framework for displaying compassion, mutual respect, charity, discipline, forgiveness, humility and ethical decision-making all while encouraging individuals to partake in community and civic engagement. It satisfies our natural desire for belonging and gives meaning to the everyday interactions with our coworkers, friends and families that we often take for granted. 

On a personal level, religion teaches us plenty more. Commentary on self-reflection, gratitude and purpose is ingrained in every major practice in the world for a reason — it teaches us to reexamine our actions, strive for improvement and understand our place in the world. For many, developing a sense of spirituality (a divine connection with God) gives them hope when adversity hits.

While thinking about these core values, consider this:

We are part of the generation with the highest recorded rates of depression, loneliness and anxiety. Regardless of the cause, those numbers are only trending upward. 

We are often told that we come from nothing and that there is no greater meaning to our daily lives and interactions. Many of our lives revolve around jobs we don’t care about. We live in a world filled with distractions fueled by online echo chambers, tribalism, social media and a culture of comparison that leaves us perpetually unsatisfied. 

As a college student, it can feel impossible to balance family, friends, job searches, academics, hobbies and money at once. 

No, faith will not solve all your problems. Yes, it must be acknowledged how religion can and has been used to justify oppression for centuries. However, this does not mean that the underlying message has no value. 

At the end of the day, is it really detrimental to believe in something that allows us to step back from our everyday lives and think about what matters in life?

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  • Hakon
    Feb 8, 2024 at 8:15 am

    I think you can find that spiritual sense, and love for yourself and others without having to conform to an institutionalized, historically oppressive, stigmatizing, and marginalizing religion. You need to find god in yourself, don’t let other people tell you where god is. If you value that deeper, surface level experience, why are you turning to the most intrusive and structurally-woven religion in our culture as a form of guidance, especially if you don’t know if you believe in it! That’s the most surface level way of experiencing spirituality.

  • Kevin
    Feb 7, 2024 at 3:44 pm

    Important message. Thanks for sharing

  • Jorge
    Feb 7, 2024 at 11:39 am

    I think another big factor is the way the representatives of religions act: Christianity has only recently started to move towards LGBTQ+ acceptance, Islam is still vehemently against treating queer folks as people and Judaism is almost synonymous with Israel… which we all know is not a cool thing these days.

    A lot of people leave the religion they were raised in because they don’t agree with the most controversial aspects, which are often the loudest: for most people, if the choice is between potentially the love of their lives and a singular God that isn’t central to their life, the answer is as easy as it comes.

    At the end of the day, many of the values these religions preach can be upheld without necessarily believing in an absolute entity above everything else and the younger generations are realising that, becoming members of some sort of “religion of values”.

  • Kira
    Feb 7, 2024 at 9:55 am

    Even if your faith is shaky (maybe even especially then), it’s so valuable to have a community to lean on. I moved across the country for undergrad knowing no one, and the faith community I joined is one of my greatest support networks. Find the “flavor” that works for you!

  • Elizabeth Van Nice
    Feb 7, 2024 at 9:29 am

    excellently argument in favor! love it
    also, love the divine goldy,
    well done

  • Drew Bromley
    Feb 7, 2024 at 9:19 am

    Wonderful article Michael! As a follower of Jesus and a college student, I thought this article was super introspective, great work. Come to Jesus! He is so good and so worth it! Reach out if you want to talk my friend.

  • Alanna Halloran
    Feb 7, 2024 at 7:16 am

    Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts with us.