The New “Religion” Millennials Are Creating

The YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has been viewed over 20 million times now. It was a viral video, and represents a generational thinking about religion. It shows my generation’s disgust for injustice, legalistic churches, and for the religious environment that we have grown up in. We’re anti-religious.

The psychologist James Fowler created an understanding of the progression of faith, and how one seems to grow within their faith journey. For the previous generations, this anti-religious and de-institutionalization of religion was stage four. Fowler says that stage four faith, “Most appropriately takes form in young adulthood (but let us remember that many adults do not construct it and that for a significant group it emerges only in the mid-thirties or forties). This stage is marked by a double development. The self, previously sustained in its identity and faith compositions by an interpersonal circle of significant others, now claims an identity no longer defined by the composite of one’s roles or meanings to others. To sustain that new identity it composes a meaning frame conscious of its own boundaries and inner connections and aware of itself as a ‘world view.’ Self (identity) and outlook (world view) are differentiated from those of others and become acknowledged factors in the reactions, interpretations and judgments one makes on the actions of the self and others.”

On the outside it may appear that my generation is actually stage four faith, but when in fact, because anti-religion is the cultural and generational norm, it actually looks like stage three faith. Fowler says or stage three, “It typically has its rise and ascendancy in adolescence, but for many adults it becomes a permanent place of equilibrium. It structures the ultimate environment in interpersonal terms. Its images of unifying value and power derive from the extension of qualities experienced in personal relationships. It is a “conformist” stage in the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp on its own identity and autonomous judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective.” In previous generations, stage three faith were our unquestioned, establishments of church and religion.

My generation has not deconstructed and broken away or differentiated it’s belief from others and the general worldview (anti-religion). What it has done is, make anti-religion, in a weird way, its new religion. Or, at the very least, stage four faith for Millennials will look like a deconstruction of the deconstructed worldview we have already been given. Disgust for the church is a predominant foundation for some churches. And, while I appreciate the hope that there is within the post-Christendom faith (we have reaped many rewards), our making of religion as the enemy has actually within itself created a new religion. I believe that stage four faith for my generation, will be the deconstruction of this anti-religious model. It will look like reconciliation with the previous generations and looking to our previous traditions to find hope, meaning, and joy within a time that is filled with cynicism and angst. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out that in previous generations we believed publicly and doubted privately. But, in our generation, we doubt publicly and believe privately. Stage four faith, while I don’t know what it will look like, may end up being a radically new kind of belief.

We live in a confusing time. For my generation, we’re walking away from the dominant narratives and worldviews that have shaped Christianity for centuries. And, while I don’t want to make this as a universal truth for my generation, if we aren’t able to recognize the pattern, this is in fact something it could become. More thane ever, we need spiritual leaders who can help us question, forgive, and have the courage to move forward. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We must understand where we come from, so we can know where we’re going.


11 thoughts on “The New “Religion” Millennials Are Creating

  1. brookwarner1986 says:

    I totally agree, especially with your last point. However could it not be argued that this has already happened with the previous generation? I believe that the western church has gone on some weird tangent for the last 100 years – and that the “millenials” are waking up to this fact and trying to recover orthodoxy. Christology and Trinitarian theology are but two topics that need this treatment.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      You’re right. The previous generation already did that. So, when in fact that you look at stage 3 faith (the worldview you have inherited), stage four gave our generation a new stage three. The new stage four will be a breaking down, of our already broken down worldview. It’ll be deconstructing a deconstruction. And, hopefully we begin reconstructing before the generations after us continue to keep climbing through the mess.

      • brookwarner says:

        Hi Mike

        I guess what I am trying to say is that I think we are. The recent reclamation of ancient practices, the recent re-connection with the eastern orthodox church, the move to a more ecumenical stance are all signs of this. I think our generation is rejecting the ‘candy floss’ religion of our forebears and seeking deep authenticity and rich experiences. I do however need to read more about these four stages – do you have a link?

      • Mike Friesen says:

        Hey Brook,
        Here is a link:

        And, while I see your point (and love it because I think it’s healthier than the previous generations), we have inherited this worldview of community and ancient practices. This is what is stirring in society and it is doing so because of a deconstructed worldview by our elders. It is our job to deconstruct (to break down and preserve what is necessary), the current worldview we have received.

  2. Truly outstanding post on how Stage 4 spiritual development is the new Stage 3.

  3. Susan says:

    Excellent analysis! You’ve given me some food for thought.

  4. lamehousewife says:

    just two questions…what generation does Fowler come from and what are the years that millenials cover? i am kind of out of the loop on these things…interesting post…

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