June 11, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Poll affirms making ministry to young adults a priority

Readers of The Criterion may recall that I have spoken of campus ministry and ministry to young adults as a top priority of our latest archdiocesan strategic leadership plan. With that in mind, I will provide a series of columns over the next weeks that refer to this initiative.

In February of this year, a timely poll of young adults was published, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. It was conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The poll refers to young adults, ages 18 to 29, as “millennials.” An executive summary of the results is interesting and enlightening.

The survey was published in order to understand and compare the spirituality of Americans and millennials. It examines moral values, world views, religious experiences and social issues important to each of them. A cross-section of Americans was contacted in December 2009 and January 2010.

Adults age 65 and older are referred to as the “greatest generation.” I doubt that anyone will be surprised that the results of the poll indicate that grandchildren are very different from their grandparents.

But there are also areas of common viewpoints.

For example, like average Americans, most millennials—including those who are Catholic—believe in God and have volunteered their time to their Church or community. More than six in 10 Catholics say they have participated in a religious retreat or service project.

Previous generations said that in their 20s their primary goal in life was starting a family. The majority of millennials said they want to be spiritual or closer to God as their primary long-term goal. Although they are not as negative about the decline of moral and societal values, many share the view of older Americans that, morally, the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

I found it interesting to learn from the poll that all generations believe the nation comes up short in its commitment to virtues, such as the obligation to marriage, personal responsibility, respect for others, hard work, honesty and integrity. Most millennials, almost without exception, think marital infidelity is morally wrong. Nearly six in 10 view abortion the same way.

The poll results indicate that religion is an important part of daily life for most Americans. Eight in 10 practicing Catholics describe religion as a vital aspect of their day-to-day lives.

Catholic millennials are more likely to believe in God than their non-Catholic counterparts. Apparently, a majority of Americans think it is OK to practice more than one religion. I am not surprised to learn that the majority of practicing Catholics believe there should be a commitment to one religion.

It was heartening to learn that six in 10 Americans, including millennials, would like to learn more about their religion. This includes nearly two-thirds of Catholic millennials and most practicing Catholics.

There are less encouraging indicators concerning Catholic millennials that are derived from the polling.

For example, only 25 percent of Catholic young adults said they attend religious services at least once a month. Eighty-five percent said they believe in God. About a third of Catholic millennials reported that they have participated in a religious retreat or religious service projects, while 71 percent reported volunteering their time and talent during the past 12 months.

More than three in 10 millennials define their primary long-term goal in life in religious terms. This is more than any other age group. A third of Catholic millennials said their long-term life goal revolves around family. Spirituality and closeness to God are important for nearly one in five.

While not a surprise, it is nonetheless discouraging to note the poll indicates that for a majority of Americans, morals are relative. They see no definite right and wrong for everyone. This opinion is strongest among millennials.

It is encouraging that a majority of practicing Catholics believe morals are not relative, and are based on unchanging standards. However, 42 percent believe there is no definite right or wrong for everybody.

Some poll results for Catholic millennials is cause for concern.

Eighty-two percent of these young adults believe morals are relative, i.e., there is no definite right or wrong for everybody. Only 18 percent of young Catholics consider moral truths to be absolute. This is a dramatic indicator of a need for more effective catechesis concerning Catholic morality. Yet 82 percent believe in commitment to marriage, and 75 percent stand for honesty and integrity.

Sixty-six percent of Catholic young adults consider abortion morally wrong. Sixty-three percent consider assisted suicide morally wrong.

Thirty-three percent consider embryonic stem-cell research wrong. Only 20 percent consider sex between an unmarried man and woman morally wrong; 42 percent do not consider it a moral issue.

If accurate, the data of the Marist poll is a mix of good news and bad news. It certainly affirms making ministry to young adults a top priority. †

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