Millennials are notorious for many things: student debt, perpetual childhood, high self-esteem, and even low work ethic. But in the last few years, millennials have also become characterized by another feature, namely, a lack of religion.
As Pew Research explains, millennials make up a major part in the growth of the “nones,” individuals who “describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or ‘nothing in particular.’” The growth of nones is often attributed to the expanding secularization in society.
For those who believe that religious fervor and devotion is a sign of low intelligence, such news likely seems an excellent development. But not all atheists and agnostics automatically assume that religious belief equals stupidity. In fact, some are willing to admit that the most intelligent individuals they know are those who take their faith seriously.
Philosopher and New York University professor Thomas Nagel appears to be one of these. In his book, The Last Word, atheist Nagel writes the following:
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper – namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
As Nagel clearly implies, the only time he gets nervous about the veracity of his beliefs is when he comes into contact with religious individuals who are well-grounded, well-educated, and smart.
Agnostic scholar Charles Murray made a similar observation several years ago. He noted that true, genuine faith is often not an instantaneous Damascus road experience, but one which contains ideas and concepts each individual must thoughtfully wrestle with:
“I say this mostly out of my wife’s testimony, because she has been around some impressive examples, but to some extent from my own experience. You will encounter people whose intelligence, judgment, and critical faculties are as impressive as those of your smartest atheist friends — and who also possess a disquietingly serene confidence in an underlying reality behind the many religious dogmas. They have learned to reconcile faith and reason, yes, but beyond that, they persuasively convey that there are ways of knowing that transcend intellectual understanding. They exhibit in their own personae a kind of wisdom that goes beyond just having intelligence and good judgment.”
With such assertions from the learned - but non-believing - gentlemen quoted above, is it time we stop dismissing faith and religion as the arena of the uninformed, ignorant masses? Would we all be wise to increase our knowledge, study the tenets of faith, and deeply ponder the meaning of religion in our own lives before we automatically join ourselves to America’s expanding ranks of “religious nones”?
[Image Credit: Max Pixel]
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.