Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Speaking Out: It all begins with the family

By  anastasia corkery, Youth Speak News
  • February 23, 2022

Are young people, particularly those aged 18-30, still interested in religion?

Recently I spoke with Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of the Cardus Institute, and Dr. David Haskell, a religious sociologist from Laurier University, about why youth seem to be turning away from Christianity, specifically Catholicism.

I learned three key reasons for why teens and young adults leave their childhood faith.

The first two are no surprise: a lack of spiritual formation and a non-existent one-on-one relationship with God. The third explanation is they embrace a social justice belief system instead.

Conversely, Dr. Haskell shared three indicators that a young person will lead a strong faith life as an adult. All three can be found primarily within the family. The first is simple: having loving parents. The second: praying, reading Scripture or participating in other religious activities as a family. And finally whether a young person could recognize experiencing the love of God — an encounter with the transcendent.

These indicators surprised me. I anticipated rigorous and intense requirements justifying why young people chose to turn away from their faith rather than “doing the work.”  

So what hinders young people persisting in their faith? One answer is education. Many children attend Catholic school, which you expect would offer a rich faith experience. While these institutions acknowledge and commemorate Catholicism’s rituals and practices, Dr. Haskell suggested they place no emphasis on the individual’s relationship with God. How can one identify with the love of God if he or she cannot first build a personal relationship with Him?

This explains why familial religious practices are so integral to building a relationship with Christ. The communal aspect of faith, fundamentally found within the family, gives one the tools to create a personal relationship with God, identifying with His love and seeing His work in one’s life. Not only this, but parents mirror the love of Christ Himself through their love for their children. Consequently, a positive family faith experience inclines an individual to persevere in their faith. Or, on the flip side, a negative family faith experience could do the exact opposite. 

Let us imagine if one did not have loving parents. This might mean no familial religious activities whatsoever. With these parameters, and without receiving authentic parental love, recognizing and appreciating God’s love may be difficult.

This might somewhat explain the rise of social justice activism for causes like Black Lives Matter, climate change or LGTBQ awareness. These provide rituals and practices just like religion. One such ritual is collective guilt over a social justice issue.

However, although these causes may be worthy in themselves, Haskell has seen scholarship suggesting those who gravitate towards liberal social justice are the least happy, in contrast to practising Christians, who are the happiest. This may ultimately come down to the difference between these social justice causes and Christianity. Social justice activism offers no concrete solutions to resolve collective guilt, for how can one person be responsible for the sins of many? Almost paradoxically, in Christianity, through Christ’s redemptive death, everyone is absolved of his sins.

What does all of this tell us? It seems to speak to man’s inherent desire for meaning and a personal relationship with his Creator, a God who loves him. The family appears to be the fundamental and primary building block to this relationship. Unlike a social justice initiative, this relationship fulfills a need deep within man — for love and resolution of his transgressions.

(Corkery, 20, in her third year studying Literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.