Faith and religious institutions have transformed across generations. This transformation has been accelerated through Covid aided in large part by social media platforms like TikTok.
Here are some statistics as of July 2022 on religious TikTok hashtags:
- #ChristianTikTok has 18 billion views
- #Diwali has 2 billion views
- #Islam has 92 billion views
Compare these to some of the most popular secular hashtags:
- #Beauty 100 billion views
- #Foodlovers 2 billion views
- #SkinCare 93 billion views
Is religion still important and relevant? Absolutely. This post will address these three questions:
- Where are we headed?
- What can we expect near term?
- Why should we care?
Why we believe
The question of why we believe is very important for us. For the individual, it is deeply personal and connects at the most intimate levels of who we are and how we relate to the world.
The framework of belief can be, and often is, leveraged by brands, politicians, and everyone else who wants to gain a position of influence in today’s society.
At HubUX, I did a survey on the topic of religion and how it is practiced by generations today. The survey included a few video-open-ends such as, “Why does someone hold their beliefs?” One of our participants identified the four pillars of belief which I found insightful and accurate:
- Family: Our influence during our formative years from family and peers.
- Education: The institutional instruction we receive in school.
- Experiences: What have we seen and experienced.
- Feeling: Emotion is the number one driver of purchase. Even for religion.
The participant’s response was more thoughtful and complete than any secondary research I uncovered during my preparation for this study.
Family is the biggest influence on our beliefs. In fact, 43% of people stated they made their choice on what they believed by the time they were 12 years old.
When did you choose to start practicing your religion?
However, education does have a significant impact. Here is an example of someone who was raised Buddhist but now classifies themselves as agnostic. His shift happened as he was exposed to different points of view in school.
We are all influenced by our family. Many scientific studies point to confirmation bias as the primary reason people choose what they believe. In other words, the lens we use to understand the world is completely framed by what we have been taught.
One participant I interviewed gave a story of how God protected him. One weekend, he went camping with some friends. The boys placed their tents close to the campfire. After they went to bed a strong wind blew ash and coals onto the nearby tents. All the tents caught fire except the participant’s tent.
I asked him, “Was your tent as close to the fire as the other boys?”
Participant, “No. My tent was the farthest away.”
While someone else might say, “You are just smarter or luckier”, his view was that God protected him.
Our emotions enable us to understand and exist in the world. You may be familiar with the classic example of how we use emotion to choose what cereal we buy. The cereal aisle at your local grocer is packed with hundreds of variables. If we tried to decode them and then analyze the data, we’d spend 100 hours choosing which cereal is best for us and our family.
Instead, we connect with a cereal brand at an emotional level and that is our choice for no reason other than that is the one we want.
I’m not suggesting we are treating our choice of religion as trivial as our choice of breakfast food. My point is simply that the world is complex. Heck, even doing simple things like picking cereal can be overwhelming if we consider all the options.
How much more complex is making the right decision about our spiritual beliefs. We take this decision very seriously, and once made, we hold our choices with a very high degree of certainty.
As one participant stated, “I just know that I know.”
You’ve likely had a few experiences that are not easily explained. More than ever before, we are exposed to extreme occurrences from genocide to miraculous recovery from a fatal illness. These experiences and how we internalize them impact our beliefs.
Leonhard Euler was the father of probability. As the story goes, after a night of drinking, Euler’s horse-drawn carriage ran off the road and he was nearly killed. Reflecting on his near-death experience he decided it’d be smarter to believe in God…because there is absolutely no downside risk. After all, if he is right and there is a God then he’d go to heaven. And, if he is wrong…well, he’ll just be dead. That certainly beats the option of making the other bet that there isn’t a God – in which case, if he is wrong, he’d be in Hell. Euler’s near-death experience forced him to think about the afterlife.
Experience is often shared. And shared experience creates language and culture. Each church, synagogue, and mosque has its own culture. Aspects of culture are transferable but not everything. For example, try being a Protestant in a Catholic church. In a Catholic church, there are rituals and routines that would be unknown to the visiting Protestant. If you choose to belong to a culture, then you need to act accordingly.
Some participants choose to believe mainly because it is part of their culture, and to not believe would jeopardize their relationships.
What do we believe? According to the research done for this project, 58% of the US population hold a Christian faith while 18% hold to a non-Christian faith and 24% are unaffiliated.
Surprisingly, we found no significant differences between generations around the certainty about belief in a supernatural being(s) who is involved in our lives.
Occult and spirituality
Gen Z is much more likely to participate in supernatural activities such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, and seances.
It used to be the case that finding experts in non-traditional thinking was nearly impossible.
Today, social media democratized previously hard-to-reach communities. For example, one of my favorite TikTok influencers owns an Occult Book Store. I find his content entertaining and educational.
Please keep in mind, I’m not a Satanist…I just enjoy his channel and find this POVs thought-provoking.
“Attention will continue to be the true currency of our world.”
For most of us, our direct family and friends were the biggest influences on us during our first 12 years.
Today, 18% of children 12 and under have their own smartphone and many children spend more time on social media than they do interacting with their family members.
Attention will continue to be the true currency of our world. The good news is that consumers are more and more skeptical about what they see on social and what they hear in the real world.
If you’d like to learn more about this research or HubUX, please drop me a note.
P.S. – My inherent bias
I hold a degree in Theology and Biblical Studies from a Mennonite University. In my teenage years, I had what some would call a religious experience. This experience compelled me to spend 10 years trying to understand religion. This initially was framed by Western thinking.
Over time, I became uncomfortably aware that it is highly unlikely that the totality of the supernatural could be encompassed in a single book.
Today, I continue to seek truth through teachers like Alan Watts who is described by Wikipedia as, “an English writer, speaker and self-styled “philosophical entertainer”, known for interpreting and popularizing Japanese, Chinese, and Indian traditions of Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu philosophy for a Western audience” and many others influence my thinking on the topic.
My current position is simply “belief is a choice”, and if you think you’ve got it all figured out, then you are to ignore a whole lot of data.
- 8 Jul 2021. “The 2020 Census of American Religion”. Public Religion Research Institute. Online. Accessed July 1, 2022.
- Jones, Jeffrey. 19 Mar 2021. “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time”. Gallup. Online. Accessed July 1, 2022.
- “Religious Landscape Study”. Pew Research Center. Online. Accessed July 1, 2022.