A few recent polls have confirmed that millennials have a much different religious life than their parents. In the last decade, the number of ‘nones’ – people who claim no religious affiliation, but who aren’t atheist – under the age of 29 has risen from 12% to 30%. After the endless religious scandals of the 2000s, millennials are overwhelmingly rejecting typical religious communities. Instead we form new communities online, or simply experience the spiritual without churches.
These ‘nones’ no longer limit their source of wisdom to holy books and ministers. We look to media, art, and even the news for spiritual inspiration. For example, here are four movies that millennials, like me, can look to for morals and meaning.
1) The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games books and movie examine the place of rituals in our society, from the preparation of a simple meal and the exchange of token gifts to a complex, lavish death match. Rituals can sometimes increase relationships of love, but the more unnatural the ritual, the more likely it will interrupt any real connections.
Luckily, we can free ourselves from rituals we don’t approve of, and create new rituals with our loved ones without the help of an authoritarian state.
2) Toy Story
Now we can watch our favorite movies as adults, and appreciate the deeper lessons Pixar was trying to teach us. Through the interactions of Andy, Woody, and Buzz, Toy Story deals with adult, human relationships. In particular, Andy and Buzz struggle for acceptance from the god figure of Andy, in a system they don’t fully understand. That’s the root of a lot of the comedy: the toys don’t get what’s going on at the gas station or in the pizzeria.
In a sense, this toy confusion is the same as what we feel in our spiritual lives. We are in a system – a universe, an institution – that we don’t fully understand, and we are looking to each other to confirm our acceptance. We ask questions like: are you saved? I’m totally saved, aren’t I? Are we the chosen ones?
The major lesson in the movie comes from Woody and Buzz’s transformation. They teach us that when we work together we are better, but when we cut each other down we always fail, and will never connect with the mysterious universe and the toy-loving god.
3) Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass
These books and movies are famous for their religious content, and they should be consumed together and both deal with a religious institutions.
In Narnia, the reign of the humans serves as the religious institution, as they are chosen by Aslan, the god-figure, and since they seem to resolve all problems. When the kids arrive in Narnia everyone is filled with inspiration: the cellos and timpani swell, and all heads bow. No problem is too big. In Compass, the Magisterium (referring to Roman Catholic bureaucracy) oppresses creativity and the soul.
We feel one of the same ways with our religious institutions. Either churches and communities inspire us, make us feel strong, hopeful, and connected, or they sap our vitality and crush our personalities.
4) I Heart Huckabees
This is the most explicit film on the list. Huckabees follows a handful of Americans as they come into contact with existentialism and nihilism via Dustin Hoffman’s surreal existentialist investigation agency.
I like this film because it doesn’t feature any religious organizations, but people still search for answers and find each other.