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Millennials are the least religious generation

Rosary beads and bible

MOORHEAD, Minn. — More than 35 percent of millennials consider themselves religious "nones," meaning they are atheist, agnostic or not affiliated with any particular religion, according to the Pew Research Center.

Although older generations are also becoming religiously unaffiliated, millennials remain the group that is far more likely to identify as non-religious.

Only 17 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and 11 percent of the silent generation (1928 to 1945) consider themselves "nones."

Brooke Greenwald, a 25-year-old nanny from Omaha, Neb., is among those who consider herself unaffiliated to any particular religious group.

Though she was baptized and confirmed Catholic, she believes it is more important to be spiritual and have faith than it is to be religious.

"I believe in having a relationship with Jesus and obeying the Lord rather than following a set of rules that have been determined by man, in order to form different religions," Greenwald says.

Greenwald explains that part of her dissociation with conventional religion comes with some of the practices that determine whether she is a good Catholic or not.

Tithing, or donating 10 percent of one's annual earnings to a specific religious affiliation or church, is one aspect that Greenwald dislikes.

"While I do agree that it is a good thing, I often don't have extra money to give so I struggle with the concept," she says.

While it's difficult to pinpoint exactly why millennials are distancing themselves from organized religion, Michael Hout, professor of sociology at New York University, does have a few theories. "You see evidence of their lack of trust in the labor market, with government, in marriage and in other aspects of life," Hout says. "But I think trust is not the whole story."

The past has played a big part. "For one thing, there has been a long list of scandals in recent decades that have undone the reputations of major institutions the 'greatest generation' (born 1914 to 1924) trusted," Hout says.

Hout explains that each scandal led to newer generations not growing up with institutions because older generations felt betrayed.

If older generations didn't carry religious traditions forward, newer generations never grew up believing they were a necessity.

"Overall, I think people are less religious," Greenwald says. "But young adults, especially, tend to carve their own path and are less inclined to follow their parents."

Not all millennials are alike

Haley Sorenson, a 20-year-old speech pathology student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, is among the 16 percent of millennials who identify as Roman Catholic.

"Faith is the most important thing I have," Sorenson says. "There are a lot of rules that I think are really important, and it bothers me that people just ignore certain aspects of their religion because it makes them uncomfortable. Our generation just wants to feel comfortable and do what everyone else is doing."

But Sorenson doesn't believe she is perfect either. "I'm not deep enough or strong enough in my religion, but I am always working to be as holy as my mom," she says.

Sorenson dedicates her mornings and evenings to prayer and frequently attends church twice a week, sometimes three times when additional Mass times are available.

"It helps me get through everything I do. I find my confidence when I am leaning on my faith," she says.

Sorenson also has a tight group of friends with whom she attends Mass. "It's great to be with my friends because they are all so deep in their faith," she says. "We are always throwing ideas off each other and working to build each other up."

Whether religious or not, Greenwald says it's important to establish a relationship with Jesus.

"No matter what, God will always love you and the most important thing you can do for yourself is pray and talk to God," she says.

In a busy world, it won't come easy, but Sorenson believes there's time for God.

"I feel like newer generations will need to work harder," Sorenson says, "because our world grows further and further from him. We need to make time for the Lord."