The Disillusion of Millennial Evangelicals

The Disillusion of Millennial Evangelicals

Though Gen Z-ers have all but replaced Millennials as the dazzling object of scrutiny and cultural analysis, it’s not because Millennials are no longer struggling. Rates of addiction, depression, burnout, and loneliness are all disproportionately high among the demographic born between 1981 and 1996. Since 2013, in fact, Millennials have seen a 47 percent increase in major depression diagnoses.

For their part, evangelical Millennials are in a season of deconstruction and deconversion, or reeling from the many influential and high profile leaders that have recently either left the faith or fallen from grace. Disillusionment is now a dominant feature of this group that was once convinced it could change the world.

In his influential book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt uses a rider and an elephant to illustrate moral psychology. The rider represents intellectual reasoning. The elephant represents immediate perceptions, intuitions and instincts. Most modern people, Haidt argues, think that their own moral frameworks are derived from objective, rational reasoning. In other words, it’s the rider who tells the elephant where to go and what to eat. In reality, however, moral decisions primarily come from our gut instincts, and we use intellectual reasoning to justify those decisions. Or, back to our metaphor, the elephant wants bananas, and the rider explains why bananas are good after the decision to get bananas has already been made.

If Haidt is right, we can better understand the beauty and power of Christianity. To borrow his metaphor, Christ speaks to both the rider and the elephant. “Like newborn babies,” the Apostle Peter tells us, “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Christianity is not only ultimately true, it is also ultimately satisfying. It is satisfying, in fact, because it is true.

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