Of course I'm talking about mostly (though not exclusively) Jewish stuff, since that's where my interests and my leisure time lie. I attended a panel discussion at my synagogue two months ago, featuring the editor of a major national Jewish periodical, about fixing the Conservative movement of Judaism. Everyone kept talking about all the failings as it exists now. How, basically, there's nothing for anyone but traditional Jewish families. Intermarried couples aren't welcomed. Gay people, though not as marginalized as in many other religious denominations, aren't as welcomed as they could be. There's nothing for young people. There's nothing for people who want a vibrant religious experience.
After this discussion, and not for the first time, my synagogue's new Men's Club president discussed the outreach problem with me. Why he came to me I'm not certain, but he wanted to know if I had any ideas about how our synagogue in particular could improve outreach. How we can draw in the people who our doors are always open to, but who don't bother to come. It's an interesting problem, no? I told him I had some articles to send him. Among other things, I had in mind Profile of an Unaffiliated Jew, which I think I've mentioned before here.
Really, I think the root of my interest here is that I'm in the particular demographic group that is hard to reach, and that is the most misunderstood. We 20-somethings, on the whole, are so much more religious than our institutions give us credit for! This has come up time and time again for me, even the rare times that I'm surrounded by a peer group that I didn't meet in a progressive Jewish environment. We young people are religious! We just don't want to be preached to. Or something else; it's different for everyone, I guess. But the groups that are trying to reach out to us just don't understand us well enough to do so, or they're a victim of such inertia that they can't see how we fit into what they already have, and neither can we.
I've been reading this fascinating poll. It's a full-blown research study with a great name: OMG!: How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era [warning: PDF link]. I'm only partway through it so far, but it's painting a picture of a religiously identified youth (people currently aged 19-26 were surveyed a year ago) that has a strong sense of self, has a diverse social network, finds a role for spirituality in life alongside all of life's other questions, and above all, isn't disappearing.
I don't know what the answer is. Hell, I don't know what the question is. But it sure makes for interesting reading.
And now, with the knowledge that not all of you out there are in this age group, or are Jewish, or are even in a place religiously that makes these questions make sense at all, even though I attempted to cover every possibility; and with the knowledge that the results here won't really mean anything at all; I'd like to take a poll.
Note: When I say "belong to a particular structure/movement" below, what I meant to say is "belong to a particular institutional structure within my religion (such as a local church/synagogue/mosque), or am a member of a movement within my religion". (The LiveJournal poll thing won't let me say that much. That's probably a wise decision on its part.)
Which overly verbose statement of religiousness and affiliation best describes you?
I belong to a particular structure/movement. This affiliation feels comfortable for me and provides me with most of my spiritual needs.
I belong to a particular structure/movement. This affiliation doesn't entirely sit right with me, though. Either it's not fulfilling my needs, or I just plain don't feel comfortable there.
I'm not affiliated with a classical structure or movement within my religion. But it's still important to me to be active in my religion in "traditional" ways, so I try to visit various different houses of worship or otherwise diversify my interests.
I'm not affiliated with any classical structure, building, or movement within my religion. I still consider myself a member of that religion and a religious person, but the whole "organized" part of "organized religion" isn't working for me.
I still consider myself a member of my religion, but I'm not "religious" by any stretch of the imagination.
I'm religious, but there's no religion I really call my own. I enjoy trying various different organized religions. Many of them fulfill some sort of spiritual need for me.
Organized religion just doesn't work for me. I'm religious, I suppose, because spirituality does matter to me in some way. But there's no religion I really call my own, and I'm fine with that.
I'm not religious.
I've got no clue whatsoever. Picking any of the above choices, even if it accurately reflects me today, would probably be wrong tomorrow.
(And by the way, the nine choices in this poll are the reason I hate the question, "Are you religious?")