Dr. Jessica Johnson: Gen Z gives religion a try

A significant number of Gen Z Americans and college students appear to be doing a “pivot” back to religion, according to Jay Richards, the director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion and Family at the Heritage Foundation.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Richards explained that this is a trend that differs from recent studies that show Gen Zers having very little interest in faith or God, especially young people questioned in surveys distributed before the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes one of the primary reasons for this shift is that Gen Zers are looking for worth in a world where most of their social interactions are behind a screen, which he stated is “a context with a complete loss of meaning” that “doesn’t fulfill the longings of the human heart.”

Another interesting take was provided by journalist Billy Hallowell, who asserted that the current culture gives Gen Zers and younger millennials “a false understanding that everything is about ‘you.’” Gen Zers have especially faced a lot of criticism from Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who think the majority of those in this tech-savvy generation are arrogantly self-focused.

Reading Richards’ comments regarding Gen Zers’ screen time causing a void in the heart made me think about many of the noteworthy viewpoints my students have shared with me concerning their generation’s social interactions. In my television diversity class, one of the discussion questions that I ask students when we get to ’80s and ’90s sitcoms is if they could picture enjoying themselves as teenagers during these decades.

To my surprise, many of them have stated that they believed this was the best modern era to be a kid due to having no social media but just enough necessary technology. I remember one student describing social media as “a toxic environment for young kids growing up and trying to figure themselves out.”

Some students also said that family and friendships were more solid and trustworthy during the ’80s and ’90s since face-to-face connections were primary forms of communication.

For young people who feel empty, lonely and discontented living in a culture that boasts peripheral connection through social media and lauds the status of likes, influencers and followers, I understand why many are now seeking God. They are not finding true, long-lasting or dependable relationships through digital platforms and a society at large that has devalued faith.

I also think, as Richards points out, that surviving the COVID lockdowns and enduring the social isolation and fears of uncertainty during the pandemic resulted in many Gen Zers thinking more deeply about their lives. Many are asking soul-searching questions that all of us have: why are we here and what is our purpose?

For Gen Zers who are zealously hungering and thirsting after righteousness as described in Matthew 5:6, I believe their sincere desire is to be “filled,” as Jesus stated in this verse. The Greek translation of “filled” here means to be satisfied in abundance.

An example of college Gen Zers seeking this abundance was seen during the revival held on the Kentucky campus of Asbury University last year. Students from more than 200 schools attended.

Asbury’s director of communications, Abby Laub, made an intriguing observation of the worship services, telling Fox News Digital that she is optimistic for Gen Z because they are “not coming with a veneer of religiosity.” I’m sure many Gen Zers have seen older folks be content with just adhering to a mundane church routine, that veneer and facade that has turned a lot of young people away.

Going through monotonous religious adherences won’t work for Gen Zers who want an intimate and personal relationship with God that goes beyond edifice walls.

One characteristic that I have noticed from working with Gen Z students is that when they are passionate about something, they go all in. They don’t half-step on matters that are important to them, so faith for those who are serious about it won’t be any different. This could be the beginning of a generational and ground-shaking spiritual movement, which would be glorious to witness.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *