Redefining religion: Millennials reflect on faith

Julia Cherner

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Only 36 percent of Millennials, the generation consisting of today’s teenagers and young adults, identify with a religion, compared to 56 percent of our parents’ generation, Generation X, according to a 2010 study conducted by Pew Research.

The Bark spoke to different students across the spectrum of beliefs to see how Millennials are redefining faith.


Nadia Amer: Muslim

Senior Nadia Amer was raised Muslim. Her parents, who grew up in Egypt, instilled their beliefs and

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culture in her.

“I think [being Muslim] is more than just praying and reading the Quran because anyone who can speak the language can do that. I think it’s having actual faith in it and believing that what is said is true,” Amer said.

Like many observant Muslims, Amer’s parents pray five times a day. Amer, however, said she does not have time, and instead finds time to pray before school and before bed.

Amer said that during the week, Islam is not always on her mind, but when she attends a mosque in Mill Valley on Sundays, she feels like she is part of a safe group.

“When I go every Sunday, it is like a family, a community,” Amer said.  “I think that’s what I get out of religion––we have a community.”

The mosque is separated by gender: the men pray in one side while the women pray in the other. Amer said it is a place where anyone can share their problems or sins safely.

Amer also teaches young girls at the mosque about Muslim values and how to read and speak Arabic.

“I have my own class where little girls come up to me and we read the Quran and I teach them about the five pillars,” Amer said. “It is something I believe in and they believe in. I like being a part of that.”

Amer said the values of Islam affect her character at all times.

“I believe in honesty,” Amer said. “For example, during a test, if I am stuck on a problem and everyone else is cheating, a part of me will be like, ‘No, that’s not okay.’ And when I am too lazy to do homework or help my sister, I think about it as a duty.”

Amer said that she thinks many of her peers at Redwood are not as strictly religious as she is.

“It’s different because a lot of people don’t have that faith, and I think faith is so important because you need something to keep you going,” Amer said. “Sometimes at the end of the day I am so done, and I think about God and what I am supposed to be doing and I have to do it. It gives me motivation.”


Kayla Rose: Nondenominational Christian

Junior Kayla Rose was raised Christian and has since found her own path with the religion.

“[My family] went to Church and Sunday school, we said our prayers before we ate and before we went

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to bed,” Rose said. “I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older and accepted [Christianity] as my own faith as a conscious decision and was re-baptised, it became a more personal walk. So it wasn’t exactly structured, but I do pray and read scripture.”

Rose pointed out the difference between practicing religion and having faith.

“Faith is just believing it and finding your own personal path,” Rose said. “I think you can have faith without going to church every Sunday, or doing a Bible study, or going to synagogue.”

Rose said that while the Pew survey showed the millennial generation to be less religious, she believes people will always have faith.

“Maybe it’s people aren’t practicing actively in the traditional way of being religious, but I think no matter what happens, there will still be a significant number of people who have faith,” Rose said.

Rose added that since Millennials are still young, it is not possible to predict how religious they will become in the future. She said that many people turn to religion when looking for something deeper to enrich their lives.

“We don’t have our lives put together and it’s not really first instinct as teenagers to move in that direction to find peace or to find answers,” Rose said. “Once we start getting things figured out, we start settling down and looking for something. So I don’t necessarily think that this generation is not as religious, I think that we’re just finding religion later in life.”

Rose said that although she considers herself to be just as religious as her parents, it’s hard to compare individuals’ religions because faith is so personal.

Rose added that she thinks religion at Redwood does not play a huge role in the community.

“[Religion] just isn’t part of the conversation here,” Rose said. “It probably exists, but just is not evident.”

Rose also said that she has noticed her religion can make people visibly uncomfortable.

“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been attacked for my religion. One thing I’ve found is that it just makes people uncomfortable. I do have strong faith and I do believe in what I believe in very much and if it makes people uncomfortable, then I’m very sorry.”


Zack Kopstein: Jewish

Junior Zack Kopstein identifies as Jewish and feels like he is a part of the community of his synagogue, Kol Shofar.

Kopstein said that the communal aspect Judaism brings is what he feels most connected to within the

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religion. He described his community as more cultural than strictly religious.

“It’s a community that goes beyond just the bounds of religion,” Kopstein said.

Kopstein said he questions the existence of a god, but enjoys the community and values of Judaism. He said his parents are not extremely religious, even though his paternal grandfather was a rabbi.

Kopstein said his life is influenced by Judaism’s values, but he does not believe in the stories taught in the Torah.

“When I was younger, we were taught in Hebrew school the stories of the Bible. I thought of them as just that––stories. Not as actual historical events. I never really believed that there was a god that made the Earth one day and made people on another day,” Kopstein said, adding that the Jewish values conveyed in these biblical stories are what he feels the most connected to in the religion.


Olivia Runnfeldt: Christian Presbyterian

Senior Olivia Runnfeldt is a Christian Presbyterian. About a year and a half ago, she  began to practice and fully understand her faith.

“Before, I thought church was so boring,” Runnfeldt said. “But now I go to church and I am really

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interested in what the pastor is saying and how it relates to my life.”

A few summers ago, Runnfeldt attended a mission trip to Nashville, Tennessee with her cousin’s youth group trip. Each day, her youth group would do different forms of charity in that community.

“I think I got more mature and I could understand it,” Runnfeldt said. “Before I would sit in church and I don’t even know what [the pastor was] saying. And now I can relate it to my life and things that happen in the world.”

Both sides of Runnfeldt’s family are religious and influenced her upbringing. However, she has come to her own sense of faith that is in-line with many of her parents’ beliefs.

Runnfeldt practices by attending church every Sunday, as well as conducting her own bible study. Runnfeldt said that one of her favorite aspects of going to church is singing praises.

“I can’t sing to save my life, but when you are surrounded by 100 other people who are also praising God and just singing, it makes me that much more in love with the religion and in love with learning about it,” she said.

Runnfeldt said that not many of her classmates at school are visibly religious. She became more involved when she convinced a close friend to attend church more often.

“One reason I wasn’t really involved was because I didn’t have friends who were Christian, or maybe they were Christian but they didn’t practice. You need some support,” Runnfeldt said.

Faith, Runnfeldt said, helps her stay grounded.

“There is someone bigger than me. It is not all about me all the time,” Runnfeldt said. “But also other people, like atheists, realize, ‘It’s not all about me’ and they don’t need God to tell them that.”


By Julia Cherner and Elizabeth Duncan