In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, it was discovered that only 36% of Americans who identify as Christian attend church on a monthly basis (Pew Research Center, 2016). That means that 64% of Christians in the United States attend church only a few times yearly. Only 27% of Millennials say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, compared with 51% of adults in generation Y. Only 18% of Millennials currently report attending religious services weekly or nearly weekly, compared with 26% of Boomers in the late 1970s (Pew Research Center, 2016). The largest generation in history, the Millennials, have the smallest church attendance in history. But why is this? What is causing this dramatic decline in devotion to church attendance each year? In American Gods, the author, Niel Gaiman, makes a clear portrayal of the many differences between the old and the new gods. “the new gods of credit card and freeway, of internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic, of beeper and neon.” Gaiman shows us that there are obvious differences between the old and new gods, but how are the old and new gods different when it comes to attention and devotion to their spiritual practices? Does this lessening of attention and devotion have to do with technological advances in society, or more to do with the way newer generations view the world?
In American Gods, Gaiman portrays the old gods to be more devoted to their beliefs. From the beginning, Wednesday showed a clear devotion to his ultimate goal; preparing for war. He has a goal that he has set for himself and he plans on achieving it. He had a clear focus on his goal throughout his entire journey in the book. More than 50% of baby boomers who identified as religious, claimed they participate in routine devotions to their spiritual beliefs (Pew Research Center). In our society, the older generations are statistically more devoted to their spiritual journeys. They pray more, attend church services more, and speak about their religious affiliations with others more than the millennial generation. The baby boomers also had less distractions from their responsibilities and religious practices. Unlike millennials, they had great responsibilities and few technological distractions.
What is the reason behind the older generations being more devoted to their spiritual goals in life? For one thing, people who are a part of the Baby Boomer generation, and generation Y have a longer attention span than people who a part of the millennial generation. A survey conducted by Microsoft confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65 (Microsoft Research, 2016) The average attention span of today’s youth is eight seconds. Although there is no definitive attention span in seconds for previous generations, we do know that they have a longer attention span when it comes to analyzing slides presented to them (Microsoft Research, 2016). Scientists believe that this is because their brains developed without the influence of quick images and videos on social media through smart phones. The millennials and generation Z have grown up with social media and quick videos as entertainment. These young people have no use for a long attention span. They don’t have to sit through a four minute YouTube video, they can just skip ahead. Millennials don’t even have to listen to an entire album anymore, instead of adjusting the stylus on a record player, they can just click the skip button on their cell phones if they don’t like one of the songs on the album they are listening to. The question is this; is the absence of advanced technology in the lives of older generations the reason that the baby boomers show more devotion and attention to everyday activities? Is their longer attention span one of the reasons they are the routine church goers?
In American Gods, the new gods are portrayed as more material loving beings. They are the gods of new technology like credit cards, phone, and internet. Because of this, they are very different from the old gods. But when you look at the new gods in more depth, you begin to notice that the new gods are different from the old gods, not just when it comes to material things, but when it comes to spiritual devotion as well. The new gods were devoted to their goals, but they weren’t nearly as focused on the endpoint as much as Wednesday was. This description of the new gods is almost exactly the description of a millennial. Statistically, the majority of millennials will say that they value experiences more than they value material possessions (Pew Research Center). But many will argue that this is untrue. While it might be true that millennials value experiences, it is also true that millennials very much value material possessions, like investing in the newest iPhone. The younger generation places a significant amount of value on the way they are perceived by their peers. Because of this, the younger generation is putting a lot of their focus on things other than spiritual development and religious growth. Millennials are focused less on religious practices and more focused on material possessions. We can easily contrast the way of the new gods with the way of millennials in today’s society and their spiritual devotion.
Only 18% of Millennials currently report attending religious services weekly or nearly weekly, compared with 26% of Boomers in the late 1970s (Pew Research Center, 2016). The largest generation in history has the smallest church attendance in history. But why is this? Why are the millennials so uninterested with practicing devotion to a spiritual life? According to research, millennials see practicing routine religion, like Christianity, an inconvenience. Studies also show that the decline in millennials attending church services is due to their short attention span. Millennials are great at worshipping though. They are devoted to worshiping their smart phones, their televisions, and their favorite celebrities. Millennials have no problem being devoted to material things, so what is causing their increased lack of devotion to their goals, and spiritual developments. Millennials are not so different from the new gods in American Gods. Their attention has been shifted from higher powers to material needs.
In American Gods, a contrast is given between the old and new gods. The way they value material things, the way they approach goals, and the way they show devotion are completely different. These old and new gods value completely different things in life. The way that they choose to live their life are influenced by the people and possessions they are surrounded by and value. It is no different when it comes to generational differences. What we as humans choose to devote our attention to makes all the difference. It makes us who we are. The old generations show more devotion to spiritual things like church and prayer, while the new generations show more devotion to material and technological possessions. There are constantly advancements and changes in our society, it is the way that we, as a society, choose to adapt to those changes that really matter.
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