Googling God

The Religious Landscape of People in their 20s and 30s

The publication of Mike Hayes’ book Googling God is an important first on a number of levels for everyone involved with BustedHalo. Not only does it mark the publication of our managing editor’s first book, it is also the debut of our new publishing imprint, BustedHalo Books, through Paulist Press. Plans are already underway to publish other titles through BustedHalo Books in the near future, including the Freshman Survival Guide and Moral Dilemmas, so stay tuned. But for now we hope you enjoy this brief excerpt from Googling God.

When Paulist Father Brett Hoover and I founded in 2000, our mission was to minister to the “spiritual but not religious crowd” in their 20s and 30s. Much of our early research led us to think differently about young adults and how technology was influencing their lives. Of the more than 600 young adults we interviewed from across the country 89% stated that the number one thing they wanted in a spiritual website was information that they could find quickly and then get out.

The validity of that early research has been borne out in my experience ministering to young adults over the last seven years. Over that time I have run into countless 20- and 30-somethings who assume that they can “google” God. They believe religion should work the way the ubiquitous search engine Google works—instantaneously. When this approach fails them, they need spiritual mentors to help guide them through the ambiguities of life. Most often, however, those mentors don’t exist. Couple this mentality with the tragic events of recent years such as Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, and now Virginia Tech, and it is no surprise that young adults are also longing for something secure that transcends the madness of the current age. Simply put, they want something to believe in and someone to help them understand that belief more holistically.

Gen-X vs. Millenials

But my experience has also taught me that trying to speak in general terms about the spiritual lives of the 20-30’s crowd as a whole is nearly impossible. There are distinct differences in how those on either end of that age group approach belief. Millions of GenXers (those in their 30s) still long for a communal spirituality as well as, a prophetic and altruistic tendency that places the poor at the forefront of their religiosity. They are still hoping to find God within themselves and those around them, while those in their 20s, known as Millennials, long for greater security and a sense of permanence.

“There are distinct differences in how those on either end of that age group approach belief. Millions of Gen-Xers still long for a communal spirituality while those in their 20s, known as Millennials, long for greater security and a sense of permanence.”

In Googling God I’ve done my best to reflect the varied experiences of the young adults I’ve met over the past 7 years. To that end I interviewed 12 individuals from both groups—GenXers and Millennials—who allowed me to explore their journey of faith. The following brief excerpts from those interviews make one thing abundantly clear: Ministry to this age group cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Gen-X #1
Dave R., 39, Boston

I encountered Dave R. through a parish consultation that we conducted in the Boston area. Dave had been looking for a parish after having some negative experiences with an overly-judgmental ministerial outreach that provided retreats to high school students.

“Dave was a musician, playing guitar for most of the retreats, and was continually pushed to be a leader until he started to become skeptical of their approach. He began to question the “teachings on the rules.” He was no longer encouraged to be a leader after this but remained with the community, being true to his commitment to remain with the group for a year.

“The women in the group began to get a bit jaded” he said “and this led to a lot of frustration for all of us, especially those who were feeling the same stuff, like me. We’d end up having these intense eight or nine hour sessions, telling one another what we felt was going wrong and who was doing what to annoy us. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Dave’s problems came to a head when he began to have feelings for one of the female members of the team. “There are no romantic relationships allowed [in the organization]. If you have one, you’re viewed as weak or no good because the rules are the rules and could even be asked to leave. If you feel like you have an attraction towards someone, you are supposed to immediately tell one of the (Franciscan) brothers.”

Instead Dave and his “girlfriend” took their relationship underground. According to Dave, it was all rather innocent, two college kids necking out of sight of anyone else. He even admits to one session of fondling. But once they were found out, the guilt that he endured was his breaking point. “I already felt guilty about breaking the rules, but then there was all this judgmental behavior towards me after that. I wasn’t looked at the same way again. It was as if there was no possibility of redemption. I had a mini-breakdown because I couldn’t take it and I badly needed to get away. I mean I’m just as human as anybody else but I was made to feel like I was less than human for doing what I did. I had this revelation after I left and old friends from Steubenville heard about what I did and treated me the same way: ‘I felt like those kids who I was trying to evangelize.