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Why youth has become irreligious

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Why youth has become irreligious

Surprise polls flashed through the news feed. According to VTsIOM, youth has become completely irreligious.

“In the group of respondents aged 25 to 34 years, the proportion of supporters of Orthodoxy is three times higher (62%) than among young people from 18 to 24 years old (23%). 37% of young people aged 18-24 say they are unbelievers. ”

The decline in religiosity among young people is not surprising, given the constant information scandals. Nevertheless, the figure looks too unreliable. Sociology is generally a slow science, and such a huge difference between 20- and 30-year-olds seems completely unbelievable. I decided to check these numbers, but at the same time I found many interesting facts.

For verification, I used the “Russian Monitoring of the Economic Situation and Health of the Population of the Higher School of Economics”, which presents the data of annual population surveys. It compares favorably with VTsIOM surveys in terms of volume (12,441 polled versus 1,600), and most importantly, in representativeness of the sample (all ages are presented, a survey at fixed addresses year after year). If we take the latest data (for 2017), then among the youths aged 18-24 years old, 68% called themselves Orthodox, and not 23% at all, like the VTsIOM.

Is it a lot or a little? On the one hand, this is significantly less than in 2011. Then, before the era of “insulting religious feelings”, 78% of young people (18–24 years old) called themselves Orthodox. A 10% reduction in 6 years is really a lot. On the other hand, this is still significantly larger than the number of youth who regularly attend temples, so from the point of view of the potential for the mission, that 68%, that 78% – is infinitely large. And the question is what to offer graduates of Sunday schools, still remains open.

I was interested in following how the religious Today of Russians change with age. For research, I chose those born in the 1980s. This is a large generation, which is now beginning to play an increasingly important role in the life of the country. Among those born in the 1980s, adherence to Orthodoxy significantly increased between 2003 and 2011 (from 60% to 75% for men and from 73% to 84% for women). Further, despite all the scandals, it practically did not change, fluctuating in the range of several percent. By the way, approximately the same thing happened in those born in the 1970s. In general, a big difference in the question of religion between these generations is not visible.


Fig. 1. What religion do you attribute yourself to?

But what about the famous "Orthodox atheists"? In fact, there are few of them. Only 55 people out of 12,441 chose this combination of answers. Another 214 said that they were Orthodox, but unbelievers (about 1% of the total population), and another 9% said they were Orthodox, but “rather unbelievers than believers.” Thus, the bulk of the Orthodox are not atheists at all, but either "believers" or "more likely believers than unbelievers." Moreover, it is difficult to separate the last two categories, and it is not necessary. Even among those who go to the temple at least once a month, a quarter prefer to modestly call themselves "rather believers."

How often do Russians go to the temple? Everyone knows that infrequently. In 2017, only 3% of adult men and about 9% of women visited the temple once a month or more. Unfortunately, a rather rough scale was chosen in the survey, and it is impossible to separate those who come only at Easter / Baptism and those who regularly receive communion four times a year. So there can be significantly more real "church members".

Why do Russians go to church a little? This question has been heard for thirty years, and it is unlikely that I will say something fundamentally new. Firstly, as many consider, we simply do not have enough priests. There are more than 6,000 Orthodox Russians per priest (in Greece, one in a thousand). At the same time, one can speak of some personal relations only with a community size of no more than 200-500 people per priest. Accordingly, 90% of Orthodox Russians are physically unable to establish personal relations with the priest and, as a result, are beyond the reach of the parish.

And to increase the number of priests is impossible for simple financial reasons. The priests are kept mainly by trebs, not by parishioners. The amount of demand is known, and it will not become any more. If you simply increase the number of priests, this will reduce their already small incomes (rich "priests on Mercedes" are often found on the Internet and on television, but rarely in life).

In addition to the number of priests, there is a problem with their qualifications and education. Recently, I often hear that the laity are trying not to bring really difficult questions to confession. And these are not questions connected with the evasion of the Monophysite heresy, which is spoken of in the seminary. These are issues of personal spiritual growth, development, relationships in the family.

On these issues, the laity read books, articles, study different points of view. And many priests still adhere to these "Soviet" Today of their own childhood and consider them Christian. Of course, the problem could be solved in dialogue, discussion. But temple traditions do not imply dialogue either during confession or during a sermon. As a result, people shut themselves down and also start to feel a little magical about confession.

Another difficulty is associated with those who go to the temple at least once a month. If we look at adult men in the temple, it turns out that in general an ordinary parishioner (attends worship at least once a month) does not differ from the average Russian. His level of education is slightly higher than the national average. There is no special age of “churching” among men; all ages go to the temple equally. The average (more precisely, median) age of adult males is 45 years old, while the national average is 46 years old. But in general, men make up only one fifth of all adults who go to the temple once a month. And 80% of our adults attending the temple at least once a month are women.

This is not news either. But it’s amazing how much our parishioners are older. Soviet power ended 30 years ago, however, older women are still mostly in the church. Perhaps this is not so pronounced in city parishes, so we do not notice it. As a result, it turns out that all the men in the temple are half as many as women of retirement age.

So, the problem is not only that there are few priests. The priest’s main circle of communication is parishioners of retirement age. The priest has no special incentives for development in the field of modern psychology, theology, pedagogy. The medium itself does not contribute to such a movement. It is enough to “order” the order properly. As a result, the newly ordained “the young man is pale with his eyes burning” will slowly go out among his grandmothers and become a quiet demanding agent. Or breaks down from such a life and leaves the state. Yes, of course, if the new priest is strong in spirit, he can overcome these difficulties. But such a strong minority as elsewhere.

Fig. 2. Who participates in services once a month or more

To change the current situation, reforms are needed, but … But it is precisely this composition of parishioners that does not allow these reforms to begin. But we need much more serious reforms than an empty discussion about whether the modern Russian language of worship can be used. This is just not to be discussed, but to give enthusiasts a free try in individual parishes and see what happens in five years. We are waiting for much more controversial questions and not at all the unctuous answers that are offered in the documents published by the Synod.

So, what do we have as a result:

a large number of believing Orthodox Russians who have not yet found suitable forms for their faith; insufficient number of priests and the fundamental impossibility of increasing their number for financial reasons; the priest does not have incentives for self-education on arrival, which further increases the gap between the clergy and the world; the extreme difficulty of making any changes, let alone experiments within the parish, because of the opposition of the majority, which suits everything.

Let's move on to the beloved Russian question: what to do? For me, with such initial data, the answer is obvious. We can never provide a decent salary to a sufficient number of priests. Yes, it seems to me wrong to call those who want to serve Christ to earn on the semi-pagan needs of the population. It is more honest to do this at secular work and openly admit that there is no special missionary work in the sermon before the consecration of an apartment or chariot. The priest also cannot work on social work: too much responsibility is hung on him at the parish. And it is very difficult to accept two hundred confessions after a busy week of work.

If we want to really connect Christianity with the world, then we need a much more active ministry of the laity in small groups, especially among our friends. It is necessary to look for such forms of spiritual life that can be carried out without the direct participation of the priest.

Given the fact that the organization of these forms will be handled by the laity, who also have a regular job, a family, this cannot be something large-scale. In fact, these are small groups of 5-10-15 people (or families) who communicate with each other and solve emerging issues of family relations, parenting, psychology and theology. Active lay people can create around themselves various interest groups for their believers, but unchurched friends, and in these groups look for new ways for growth (maybe personal, maybe spiritual – these things are difficult to separate).

Specific forms can be very different: from evangelical circles to pedagogical seminars. It is necessary to try and find new ways by trial and error. It is necessary to search for these paths.

It is believed that the "white handkerchiefs" saved the Church in due time. And probably it is. But the Church is not only for "white handkerchiefs", and it is impossible to offer forms of Byzantine religiosity as the only possible ones.

PS Such a thing was said a hundred years ago, at the Local Council of 1917-1918, and was even recorded in the Parish Charter adopted at the Council (in the introduction). Unfortunately, the movement in this direction is very reluctant. And you need to be prepared for the fact that, instead of support, you will hear from the abbot accusations of creating "unauthorized gatherings" and opposing yourself to the Church. Alas, we live in an imperfect world. Nevertheless, the fathers of the Council of the New Martyrs commanded us to move in this direction:

“For the convenience of monitoring the life of the parish and leading the business, the entire parish is divided into sections, which are entrusted to certain parishioners – observers and leaders. In this manner, the high pastoral duty of the priest in the parish will be controlled by the complicity of the parishioners themselves; what slipped before the attention of the parish shepherd, overloaded with business, will now reach him through his accomplices – inspired by the flocks, to evoke from him a proper guiding answer and direction. ”

Of course, there is no need for compulsory separation of the parish. But we ourselves can choose a site around us and slowly help friends and their children organize and find their way to God.

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