Actor Shia LaBeouf was researching for his upcoming film “Padre Pio” when he found something much greater. He talks about his journey to the cross in an interview with Bishop Barron. That interview sheds incredible light on the struggles the millennial generation faces with faith and meaning in life.
Before his conversion, Shia’s view was rather common: “art, love, and God, they all mean the same thing, right?” When he was on the brink of suicide, he didn’t want to be an actor anymore, and one key line said it all, “pain made me willing in a way that I hadn’t been before.” He said that before his research, he was his own god. He believed that he was completely in charge of his life. Then, of course, everything changed.
A Crisis of Faith
Friedrich Nietzsche may have been a known atheist, but there was some truth about faith that he saw quite clearly. Nietzsche believed that dogma was a massive barrier to the development of any true belief. He believed that no one would know who they are or what they believe until they descend into the depths of utter nihilism.
Most American millennials were born to parents who at least attempted to raise them as Christians. They tried a bevy of tactics: fun bible studies with goldfish, rock bands in churches, flashing lights, cheezy films, television, and pop music. For some, it worked, for others, we got older and started to feel suspicious.
By the year 2010, millenials were remarkably less religious than their parents. According to Pew research:
Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” This compares with less than one-fifth of people in their 30s (19%), 15% of those in their 40s, 14% of those in their 50s and 10% or less among those 60 and older.
So why are millennials less religious? One possible reason is because their “religious” upbringing may have missed the point entirely…
Perhaps the most poignant quotation in Shai’s interview was this: “Latin mass affects me deeply, deeply, because it feels like they’re not selling me a car.”
In one word: Reverence.
Have You Heard?
According to evangelical Christians, a “reached people” is one who has heard the Gospel, or the story of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Most would automatically assume that the United States of America is a “reached people.” It makes you wonder, though, how many people in America actually understand the message. Is it a bedtime story that gave them the warm and fuzzies? Or is it something that they actually considered as a possible historical, spiritual, and existential truth?
At one point in the interview, Shia talks about his conversation with a man named Brother Jude. He really emphasized the importance of the gospels, so Shai decided to read them. Shai said he’d read all of Sam Harris, he’d watched all the Ted Talks, but he’d never actually read the gospels. He started reading Matthew and it changed his life.
This is the millennial dilemma. As children, we grew up with the bible stories, the general concepts, the bad music, and cheezy media. Very few of us actually worked to understand the meaning behind any of it. Our parents were certain that they were building the foundation of our lives on bedrock, only to later realize that it was a faultline.
After reading Sam Harris, after watching speeches by Richard Dawkins, millennials remember the stories from their youth, pair them with the sophistication of modern pop atheism, think they know all there is to know about the faith, and reject it completely.
In reality, Dawkins’ acolytes are just as dogmatic as any others. How ironic is it that pop atheism praises Nietzsche when he would implore them to open their shackles and throw off their yokes of stubborn anti-religious dogma?
Unfortunately, the churches that many millennials grew up in weren’t much better. You can’t manipulate a child into spiritual strength and reverence with flashing lights and pretty colors. No, the reality of faith is deep, profound, and personal.
Millennials grew up with more luxury than any other people in the history of the world. When you have it all, it’s easy to see how empty everything can be. We all need to live for something greater, every one of us suffers in agony without it. It’s tragic how subtly churches hide the message from children while simultaneously trying to shove it down their throats.
How is it that someone like Shia LaBeouf can make it to 36 without reading the Bible? Moreover, in a country where 9 in 10 households still have one, along with every hotel room, and dozens of strangers trying to hand them to you on the streets? I have no room to judge because it took me until 20 before I ever really read it for myself.
Will it always demand a trip to rock bottom? No. It’s time to stop commercializing faith. When you make it as cheap as you can, people might buy it, but no one will keep it.