At first glance the title to this post may shock you. Why? Because as Eric Nagourney writes in the New York Times, “Baby boomers have been known for a lot of things, but religious observance is not especially one of them.”
The article sites a Gallup survey conducted in 2010 that revealed how baby boomers (a sociological category of people including those born between 1946 and 1964) have become more religious today than they were 20 years ago (based on how often boomers said they went to church).
So why more religious?
One answer suggested by Nagourney is that boomers essentially lied when asked by the pollster about church attendance in an effort to “make themselves look better.” In other words, the survey numbers are skewed because of a pierced moral conscience (a pierced moral conscience that, ironically, has no qualms about lying). Another reason offered has to do with the maturation process of getting older. To this point, the article sites Notre Dame professor David Campbell: “Marriage, having children, homeownership, and simply having roots in a community are all factors that nudge people toward religion.”
But one suggested reason for this “revival” among baby boomers caught my eye more than the others: mortality.
Then there is that other little matter: mortality, said Wade Clark Roof, a professor of religion and society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has written extensively about baby boomers.
“They have all been through it, or are in the middle of it,” he said. “Their parents are dying off. So the reality of mortality has hit them. When they were young, they thought they would live forever. But they know better now.”
This acute sense of mortality at an older age may best explain why the survey showed baby boomers ages 50 – 64 were more likely to attend church than today’s 18 – 29 year-olds. Young people rarely have a clear sense of their mortality.
So what’s one of the most important take-aways from this article? For me, this headline is more about the younger generation than the baby boomers. I want the younger generation to feel the reality of their mortality now not later. For tomorrow is not assured any of us.
We must hold before our young people the fleeting nature of life and the urgency to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Cf., James 4:14). We must model a life lived more in heaven and less on earth (Cf., Col. 3:1-4). We must long for every young person to feel acutely the warning by Jesus in the parable of the rich man who stock-piled earthly treasure with no sense of his mortality: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” O that every 18-year-old would be rich toward God!
I’m glad the survey says baby boomers are getting more religious. I hope and pray it is a religion saturated in the gospel. But even as I thank God for this awakening among the older generation, I’m praying it doesn’t take today’s young people so long to begin to live in the light of eternity.