The study on Judaism that Pew released last year shows that this trend is also reflected amongst Jews, where one in five Jews in America do not identify themselves with Judaism as a religion. Simply put, a vast amount of Americans just don’t see the relevance of religion.
Thus, they are voting with their feet and are not engaging with religion or religious communities. This is especially true for young people. In a recent conversation about this phenomenon with a senior colleague, he told me that we need to focus on the people that are already part of our communities and inspire them. All the rest, he said are just so self indulgent that there is little possibility that we can ever reach them. He implied that we are better off just giving up on the unaffiliated.
I have heard similar sentiments from rabbis across the spectrum, from haredi to Reform, as well as from many lay leaders. It is as if they are patting themselves on the back for doing the hard work of being involved in the Jewish community and going to synagogue whilst simultaneously judging others as self-centered for not doing likewise. As one lay leader said to me, "It's meant to be hard to be Jewish, and young people today are lazy."
Now imagine if a company that’s losing market share to its competitors blamed the consumer instead of themselves. They might have a compelling product, but if the consumer is not buying it, management will be blamed every time. Claiming that the consumer is stupid, selfish or misinformed will gain no sympathy from shareholders. Any company which takes that kind of attitude will find itself out of business in short order. Yet religions think they can get away with it.
If religion is not motivating people to stay within its ranks, religious leaders are to blame. Not the people. Somehow we have failed to successfully communicate the value religion has to offer. In the free marketplace of ideas, services and products that is our democratic Western society, religion can no longer take for granted that people are going to participate.
The recent Pew research study shows that more and more young people are not identifying with any religion. Yet this does not mean that they are all becoming atheists. Many of them believe in God. It is organized religion that they are rejecting.
Many influential thinkers have argued that positive religion is vital to the thriving of any civilized society. Its decline will have many unintended negative consequences. So there is much at stake. But the first step in rolling back this decline is to stop blaming the consumer.
The fact that people under 50 are rejecting religion in all its flavors is our fault, not theirs. As soon as we recognize and internalize this fact we will be able to think of constructive ways to reintroduce the truths of religion in a manner that will motivate young people to reengage.
Make no mistake about it, however. The policy of continuing to blame the consumer for their lack of devotion, materialism or self indulgence will eventually put religion out of business.
Levi Brackman is founder of Purposes Inc and creator of a scientifically proven online purpose finding tool Next Stage Purpose . He is currently doing a PhD focused on learning how people can develop purpose and meaning in life. He is also a rabbi and best-selling author.