The Church in 2080, Part II: The Kids Are Not All Right, or the Post-Post-Gen Zers

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the mental health crisis facing the liberal kids these days. I don’t know if I have much to add in terms of generalities that hasn’t already been said, so here I’ll discuss its relevance for the Church long-term. 

If youth were leaving organized religion in droves and they were thriving, having children, communities, and general happiness that would be one thing, but they’re not. 

My responses to the concerns about liberal youth leaving the Church, and how the Church must adjust or die, are several: they’re not as uniformly activist left as supposed, that view is American-centric, there’s no evidence that liberal youth go to either liberal or conservative churches anyway, and in terms of fruits this brave new cohort of youth isn’t exactly inspiring confidence. Each of these points could easily be a post in itself, but here I’ll focus on the last one. 

The numbers basically track with the anecdotal observations I and others have been accumulating for some time: for example, in the last class I taught about a third of my students had mental health requests from the disability accommodation office, hardly anyone could get basic assignments in, and I’ve heard similar stories across a wide variety of domains.  Admittedly much of this started around COVID, but things haven’t gotten better post-COVID. The fact is that Gen Z just isn’t super functional. They’re not all bad, and in some domains they have things figured out more than the generations before them, but on the whole they don’t exactly inspire confidence in the idea that post-religion liberalism is the way to happiness and flourishing. Of course, this is a sensitive issue, as I don’t want to victim blame people with mental health issues, and in any individual case it would be inappropriate for me attribute particular mental health issues to particular beliefs. 

However, in general terms the huge gap between cohorts (and liberals/conservatives and the religious/non-religious) mitigates against the view that depression is like a bacteria that you catch and the SSRI is the antibiotic, which raises the uncomfortable possibility that our worldviews, frameworks, and cognitions that we choose to nurture might be contributing to the problem (even if they aren’t the whole story). Whatever the case, this throws a pretty big wrench in the heuristic that The Youth are pointing in the right direction, so the Church needs to get ahead of that curve. 

In terms of what this means in 2080, again throwing caution to the wind I suspect that Gen Z will continue to be the basket case generation (to be clear, I’m not saying that people with mental health issues are basket cases, the issues here go well beyond that), and yes many if not most most of them will leave the Church in the US. However, it’s the generation after that generation that interests me. They will be the children and grandchildren of the rare Gen Zers that did go to church, get jobs, and have children, while their aging society will be filled with depressed 18-year olds living in 70-year old bodies that have spent a lifetime drifting in and out of jobs and relationships. This might seem pretty harsh, but it isn’t any harsher than current popular culture depictions of the 1950s that imply that stay-at-home-momism causes mass depression. (And yes, old people always gripe about the young people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the old people aren’t sometimes right).

I’ve seen this pattern several times: a young, golden family’s oldest angrily leaves the Church, making parents anxious about whether they weren’t understanding enough, but then the child swings from personal crisis to personal crisis, the younger children see this, and even if they do leave the Church as well they have a bit more respect for the white picket fences their parents sacrificed to build for them. I think we’ll see the same thing intergenerationally as Gen Z will serve as a cautionary tale for my great-grandchildren. Those who can recognize the fruits of the spirit will see that the TBM Latter-day Saints, Traditional Latin Mass-going Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc., are the ones with functional, stable lives and families, and membership in the Church will be increasingly less about where you happened to be born and more about the ability to recognize and move towards the Tree of Life. 

11 comments for “The Church in 2080, Part II: The Kids Are Not All Right, or the Post-Post-Gen Zers

  1. Why do you feel the Gen Z issue is about liberal kids only? I live in a very mixed town, highly traditional Hispanic, rural conservative kids, kids of liberal tech-industry workers. I’m in the trenches on this and I’m seeing all 3 groups having equal amounts of metal health challenges. Our high school hints at (but can’t straight out say of course) the same. Curious about where you are hearing elsewise.

  2. Kids are being deceived en masse about sex, sexuality, and reproduction, the purpose of life by other kids and adults in and especially out of the church who themselves have very little wisdom about these topics.

    Kids are labeling themselves with all kinds of nonsense because they’ve been infected with this mind virus. The church has very little vision to offer on this front, even as the very tools to do so have been right there all along in the temple ceremony.

    But in traditional Mormon fashion, we approach the temple as if literally checking the box with a red checkmark solves the issue; while few if any n ew (or old) initiates understand the purpose and eternal significance of what they are actually doing.

    Our theology perfectly links with biology but we ignore it for fear of criticism within and without.

    Where there is no vision, the people perish. What is the specific eternal vision the church is laying out and how are the church teachings and actions specifically connected to that eternal vision?

    If that can’t be result and readily answered, it’s no wonder there’s a disconnected when everything a person does seems pointless.

  3. Sute,

    We do have the proclamation on the family–which I think is about as powerful a declaration the church can make short of crossing the line into the mysteries. But the problem is–if we will not receive the “lesser” portion of the word (on sexuality) then the “greater portion will be withheld.

    That said, I agree that temple theology links up with biology. Even so, as our biology relates to our potential as exalted beings–these are things that are not easily spoken of because of their sacred nature. And so, IMO, what the church’s primary focus is–is to get people on the high road to eternal life wherein they will receive a greater portion of the spirit. And having received greater light and knowledge they will learn for themselves the eternal order after which Adam and Eve are patterned as archetypes.

  4. I have read both of Jon Haidt’s books, “ The Happiness Hypotheses” and “The Coddling of the American Mind”. It has been a few years, but the first book deals with treatment of depression and highly recommends CBT as a primary source of treatment. The second book, “Coddling” deals with the Gen Z generation and their hypersensitivity and sense of entitlement and what we can do about it. I also read the article you referenced by Haidt who posits that liberals of GenZ experience greater incidence of depression and some theories as to why that might be. Good article, but I just can’t figure out where you are coming from in your interpretation of liberal youth who leave the church will create future generations of miserable malcontents on the road to hell. That assumption is such a huge breach of logic.

    If you want to find a group of individuals who have a strong sense of entitlement look no further the the LDS population where there exists a huge cadre. The “us vs. them” has been a part of LDS church from the beginning and still filters down to this day to the current generation. Also, the concept of “only true church” feeds into a sense of privilege.

    You reference your anecdotal experience. Well, here is mine. I am a grandmother of 11. Currently seven of my grandchildren are in college. Six of them were raised in a highly conservative LDS environment and they are great people. However, once they hit college they all sought out therapists who have treated them for depression. They have learned to use CBT for the very untruths that Jonathan Haidt mentions in the article you referenced. 1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker, i. e. high Mormon perfectionist standards. 2. Always trust your feelings, i.e. feelings are the very stuff of Mormon testimony meetings and 3. Life is a battle between good people and bad people I.e. back to the “us vs. them” , us against the evil “World”.

    I feel your post is an apologetic attempt to justify raising children in a conservative church culture, but really doesn’t succeed very well. Transitioning into adulthood is difficult for young people today. Many suffer depression through that transition and come out on the other side just fine. Fortunately we live in a time when we know so much about treatment. Liberals or conservatives equally benefit from such treatment and can go on to becoming productive adults who raise good families. By the way, your post, based on erroneous assumptions, was definitely a fine example of an “us vs, them” attitude. It didn’t work for me.

  5. “By the way, your post, based on erroneous assumptions, was definitely a fine example of an “us vs, them” attitude.”

    “If you want to find a group of individuals who have a strong sense of entitlement look no further the the LDS population where there exists a huge cadre.”

    My points isn’t geared so much towards GenZers per se, but specifically those have already adopted the “us” versus “them” attitude in regards to generational differences (“okay boomer”). If you’re GenZ and have those issues but still respect the older generations for what they were, then go with God. But if you’re looking down on the older, religious generation because of some default assumption that the youth always get it; then yes, your inability to hold a job or come to class is fair game.

    And the religion comes in because of the pretty big differences in not only mental health but also the markers of adulthood (specifically marriage and family) that is wrapped up in the generational differences. The OP was specifically aiming at the idea that the Church needs to change because The Youth are leading the way into a glorious future more than The Youth themselves.

  6. I rarely comment on blogs, but your post seems to have pushed some buttons.

    I took your choice of quotes in your response to point out my “us vs. them” attitude. I am a lifelong member of the church, pioneer stock, and a boomer. (Born 1947) How can I be an “us vs. them” person when I am one of “them”? How can I as a member of the church help effectuate change within the church if I can’t give an honest critique of problematic behaviors within my own group. I too believe the church needs to change, but it won’t change unless there is an awareness as to what is happening within its ranks.

    You say the church needs to get ahead of the curve, but offer nothing in terms of solution. When you say church, do you mean the institution or the members, or both? To me, it means both. I have many boomer friends who have had serious family issues with their children. Those who have sought help from reputable outside sources have weathered the storms, but those who rely on outdated church paradigms and wait for the miracle have suffered for years.

    As an institution there is plenty the church can do, but change won’t happen if the leaders insist on doubling down. Psychology principle #1 is that controlling environments create a depressed people. Parents who try to control their children into activity and leaders who use fear based concepts that exacerbate that control (such as “sad heaven”) do a great deal of harm. Depression is systemic. Both families and the Church need to create healthy systems. If not, there many not be much of a church left in 2080. Just an opinion from a realist and a pragmatist. Thanks for letting me share.

  7. We sought help for two of our children from what seemed to be reputable outside sources, but that only made matters worse. In one instance it was almost catastrophic. Neither of these two children will now touch any of these outside sources with a ten foot pole except to get the meds they need to function. We pulled back and relied on faith, hope, and love (especially love). Although both of these children are “less active” in the Church we maintain a good relationship with them and they respect our devotion and their siblings’ activity in the Church.

  8. @Bob Kern

    You are a good example of a healthy family system that shows love and acceptance for your children and have a healthy relationship with them. Good parenting can make all the difference.

    Many LDS families can’t do that as they prioritize activity in the church over their relationship with their children. They create the self-fulfilling prophecy that without the church in their lives their youth are doomed to failure. This is the tenor of this post. “If youth were leaving organized religion in droves and they were thriving, having children, communities, and general happiness that would be one thing, but they’re not.” There is no evidence for this conclusion. It is fear based. The OP lays the blame on the youth. Youth don’t need condemnation. They need love and support.

  9. I’m not going to try to respond to the whole thread, but I do want to point out that there’s nothing inherently liberal about Haidt’s “three great untruths.” That they’re currently associated with liberalism and believed by liberal young people is a side effect of liberalism’s project to try to prevent speech that is racist/sexist/etc. The right seems determined to catch up. The right-wing project to try to prevent serious discussion of past and presentracism, lest it make white people uncomfortable, uses the same justifications and sends the same messages. The project to prevent open discussion of LGBT issues also rests on the assumption of fragility, though it’s not the same kind of fragility.

    My hope is that both sides will realize they’d rather have free speech for everyone than the other side dictating what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and rededicate themselves to the first amendment. The message to kids that they’re tough enough to take listening to people who disagree with them would be a beneficial side effect. But I’m not optimistic.

  10. “in the last class I taught about a third of my students had mental health requests from the disability accommodation office, hardly anyone could get basic assignments in, and I’ve heard similar stories across a wide variety of domains.”

    The mental health crisis of Gen Z has little to do with depression stemming from any disconnnect between religion and society (any more than existed in the 80s, when I was a teen); the current mental health crisis stems largely from metabolic dysfunction. The sharp rise in the rates of autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, childhood diabetes, childhood fatty liver disease, and childhood obesity drive exactly what you mention in the quote above. There is insufficient causality between religion and the mental health of Gen Z-ers to make their mental health struggles about religion, or, heaven forbid, about laziness or bad attitudes. There are health-based reasons for the rise of all these conditions, but that is a discussion for another platform. Google it if you’re interested.

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