Monday, August 28, 2006

Spirit of Generation Y

By + Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. 27 August 2006

When people have mixed news and ask whether I want the good or bad news first, I usually ask for the bad news. It is better to confront the truth and try to deal with it.

However in any newspaper article you are generally told to be positive, at least at the beginning! This is doubly true when talking about what makes young people tick.

What are the spiritual virtues of Generation Y, those aged between 13 and 29? Not surprisingly a recent survey on the Spirit of Generation Y gave a mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent news. Three quarters believe in God (variously defined) and about half identify with a religion.

An old Irish-Australian woman, when talking kindly about young people, told me once that what is in the cat comes out in the kitten. There is much truth in this. Parents remain the most powerful influence on their children.

This survey found little difference in belief and practice between Gen Y Christians and their baby-boom Christian parents, but there are two particularly important developments.

About thirty percent of Gen Y are moving away from their Christian origins. Some have reduced their attendance at worship or stopped attending altogether. Others no longer identify with a religious denomination or no longer believe in God.

By the time Gen Y reach the age of 29 twenty five percent of those who used to belong to a church are already ex-members.

Another historically significant finding is that young women are no more religious than young men. This has enormous consequences for the future. Generations of children across most ethnic groups in Australia had the faith passed on to them and nurtured by the devotion of their mothers. It remains to be seen how many Gen Y women revert to this role once they have children of their own.

Media reports of the study's findings highlighted the number of Gen Y who do not belong to any religion or denomination. But almost half of this so-called “no religion” group believe in God or a higher life force.

One finding that did not surprise me is that young people who seriously practise their spiritual and religious beliefs are likely to have high levels of social concern and community participation, and positive civic attitudes. It is important to remember that these virtues do not just reproduce themselves. As irreligion spreads, selfishness is likely to increase.

Grandparents and parents will easily recognize most of the survey’s findings. We Catholics, in particular, need to get into gear and stop basking in past glories. The first task could be to equal the levels of commitment now found in conservative Protestant Churches.

It is not surprising that Pope Benedict gave World Youth Day to Sydney in 2008.

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