Unpacking millennial’s troubled relationship with religion

Thursday February 20 2020

Findings of a research published in 2014 by Pew Research Centre shows that there are more people today who don’t subscribe to any religion. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Millennials, or Generation Y, have earned a reputation for redefining workplace behaviour, reshaping our understanding of parenthood, and revolutionising the dating culture.

Unlike their predecessors, millennials don’t conform. They don’t play by the rules. Not even to seemingly rigid, age old practices such as religion. They create their own rules and push through, or adopt only what works for them. 

Findings of a research published in 2014 by Pew Research Centre shows that there are more people today who don’t subscribe to any religion, and, predictably, majority of these individuals are aged between 18 and 35. 

Yet most young people were raised in religious families, only to change up and choose their own independent paths upon attaining the age of consent.

Unlike before, young men and women today don’t mind dating or settling down with partners who don’t conform to any religion. This has given rise to a generation of children who are raised purely outside the confines of religion.

Some of the reasons given for this trend is that young people were never really attached to religion and its teachings, and that they toed the line simply because they parents demanded it. That there is no correlation between religion and morality, is the other argument.


Kenya considers itself a religious nation. But what does its young citizens think about religion? Four youth tell us.

Charsley Okemwa, journalist

"Religion is mental slavery created by the mighty to oppress the weak,” Charlsey says.

He doesn’t believe in the existence of God, arguing that when one leads a just life, good things happen to them.

‘‘Life is like a monetary transaction. When you invest money wisely, you get it back and with profits. You can’t get good returns if you are reluctant to invest. Human beings are entirely responsible for the quality of life they lead,’’ Charsley contends. 

His viewpoint occasionally puts him at cross purposes with those close to him, especially his family.

‘‘I come from a strictly religious family. They believe in miracles, but I believe in opportunities that come to those who are morally upright.

“Satan does not exist as a being. He is, however, embodied in greed, jealousy, spite, and other forms of evil.

‘‘Being selfish and uncaring about the needs and feelings of others is what constitutes Satanism. Humans should live for others too, not just themselves.’’

 According to Charsley, human beings can be happier and can lead better lives in a world that is devoid of religion.

‘‘Religious doctrines compromise the quality of life. While trying to observe these rules, human beings end up leading pretentious lives, which is ungodly,’’ he says.

So, does he think that his views on religion might change later on?

“I like to remain open to new knowledge and alternative perspectives. Nothing remains the same forever. Who knows, my stand might change someday. I believe that everything happens for a reason so I can’t rule it out,” He said.

Juliet Mwangi, communication professional

Juliet’s parents introduced her to church from a very young age, and even with the rebellion that comes with teenage, she has held on to Christianity. She plans to pass this religion on to her children because she believes that Christianity has made her life more meaningful, and that because of it, she now has something to live for.

‘‘If I wasn’t a Christian, I probably wouldn’t be here today. My life would be totally different, probably a big mess,’’ she says.

While it provides a guideline for a fulfilling, joyous life, Juliet laments that religion in Kenya has been infiltrated by selfish individuals, including the clergy.

“The church has become a secret hideout for evil people.

‘‘It bothers me that innocent and naïve people are being taken advantage of in the name of religion. True religion preaches about caring for the less fortunate, and exists for the good of all, not for the benefit of a few,” she says, and notes that devious pastors and church goers have given Christianity a bad name.

But despite all this, Juliet admits that her Christian beliefs have greatly influenced her other life’s principles.

‘‘According to the Bible, I became a new being the moment I became a Christian. Therefore, my values and beliefs are solely grounded on the teachings of the Bible,’’ she says.

She says that Christianity has helped her avoid evil deeds that would otherwise have put her in trouble, and that she is safer for it.

Research shows that the rising number of families that don’t confirm to any specific religion globally is partly attributed to millennials who settle down with atheist spouses, and are subsequently influenced by them.

Would Juliet date or marry someone who doesn’t believe in any religion?

‘‘No. That would be problematic because we would disagree on so many issues,’’ she says.

Juliet notes that contrary to the notion that Christian life is boring, she greatly enjoys being one.

‘‘Through church activities, I have had so much fun and exposure. I’ve mingled with many young people from across the country and learnt a lot from them,’’ she says.

Stella Nzisa, marketing associate

For Stella, this subject is beyond human comprehension. She believes that man is a religious animal, and that religion is a social construct that only attempts to explain certain inexplicable phenomena.

‘‘Human beings are curious by nature, which is why we have different perceptions of God,’’ she argues and adds, ‘‘I have read several books and articles which all suggest that man is the only being on earth who yearns for something greater than him,  and who believes in one or more deities.’’

‘‘I believe God is real. My very existence, yours and the entire universe, are all by his design. While the Big Bang theory attempts to explain the origin of the universe, it leaves so many questions unanswered, which suggests that there indeed is a greater power at work,’’ she says.

So, do believers lead better lives than non-believers?

Stella disagrees.

‘‘Good life is about being healthy, happy and content. While some get these gratifications from religion, others get satisfaction from other different things,’’ she notes, adding that there is plenty of fulfilment to be found from Christianity, which is her religion of choice.

Opinion is also sharply divided when it comes to the interpretation of death and the afterlife. Even for Stella, death, and what happens thereafter, remains a mystery. She admits that her religion doesn’t offer much explanation.

‘‘I have never really given it much thought. Apart from praying for those who have passed on to rest in peace, I don’t know much about death. I think I’ll only get to know what really happens when I get there,’’ she says.

The debate on whether human beings – especially those who are religious – are immune to temptations of sin, is as contentious as it is widespread. But Stella thinks human beings are naturally sinful.

‘‘We all are sinners, whether we subscribe to religion or not. Corruption, greed, sexual immorality and crime rates have all been increasing in our country over the years, yet 98 per cent of Kenyans identify with one religion or the other,’’ she argues.

But even in the face of all these uncertainties, Stella remains steadfast in her faith, and is not bothered at all by what others think of her religious stand.

‘‘If Christianity was imposed on me, maybe I would care about what others think. However, I chose this path. Let others choose theirs too,’’ she says.

Kinyua Njeri, teacher

Kinyua describes himself as an “irreligious theist”. He believes in God, but only selectively.

‘‘God created humans, and humans created religion,’’ he explains. ‘‘Man gave religion more attention than his creator, which, I think, is problematic.”

But Kinyua does not discriminate anyone on the basis of their religion. He associates with individuals from all faiths, including atheists and pagans.

As a young boy, Kinyua practiced Christianity to which he was introduced by his mother, but he abandoned it when he became an adult.

‘‘I consciously started to read the Bible, the Koran and even history, to get a deeper understanding about religion. However, I gave up on this subject when I discovered that most Christians defy the teachings of the Bible,’’ Kinyua narrates. 

He argues that the history of major religions is riddled by death and shedding of blood, yet the Bible, Koran and other moral books teach against murder.’’

‘‘Campaigns and crusades in the period between 1095 and 1270AD exposed Christianity as an armed organisation that killed many as they were ‘fighting for Jesus.’

He further criticises certain Islamic sects for wreaking havoc in the name of God, saying: 

‘‘In the history of humanity, religion-related wars have resulted in more deaths than political conflict and other disasters combined.’’

‘‘I think it is dangerous to hate, fight or instigate conflict for whatever reasons. After I found this out, I could no longer continue following my parents’ religion.’’

Kinyua however notes that arguments by scientists, including evolutionists, don’t offer enough evidence that God does not exist.

About whether there is any relationship between religion and morality, Kinyua says that religion is only meant to reinforce good deeds and behaviour.

‘‘Every society has its unique moral code that binds all its members. All over the world, theft and murder are prohibited. It is interesting how the Ten Commandments are revered across the world, even among those who are not Christians.

‘‘If these values were adopted by all humans, we would have societies that strictly observe good family values such as love, kindness and patriotism. We would have such a pleasant world. Paradise on earth! Maybe we wouldn’t even need religion at all,’’ he argues.

Does he believe in the correlation between science and religion?

‘‘Most scientists including Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Loius Pasteur and Albert Einstein believed in God. There is a relationship between the laws of science and the nature of God.

‘‘Humans may have invented cars and other machines, but they didn’t create the metals used to manufacture them. I believe that when God gave humans brains and hands that are more advanced than any other animal, he hoped they would continue his work of creation. The Bible and Koran both support medicine, science and technology.

Kinyua notes that scientists who contest the existence of deities, namely Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, are mostly theorists whose works aren’t anchored on the laws of science.

What irks him about religion is that it teaches different things about one God.

‘‘It’s either that all religions are wrong and only one of them is right, or all are wrong’’ he says, describing modern religion as “a hypermarket that sells cleverly crafted and selected pieces of the word of God to people who are in desperate need of hope.’’

‘‘We, however, ought to safeguard the freedom of worship. People should be allowed to worship whatever or whomever they want, or not to worship at all.’’