Monday, June 18, 2012

5 Movies for Millennial Religion

A few recent polls have confirmed that millennials (born after 1982) 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 29 has risen from 12% to 30%.  After the endless religious scandals of the last decade, Millennials are overwhelmingly rejecting typical religious communities. Instead, some people form new communities online, others simply experience the spiritual without churches.

‘Nones’ no longer limit their source of wisdom to holy books and ministers, they look to media, art, and even the news for spiritual inspiration. For example, here are five movies for Millennials and religion.

Toy Story

Now we can watch our favorite movies as adults, and appreciate the deeper lessons Pixar was trying to teach us. Through the interaction 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, that’s 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 to each other to confirm our acceptance. Are you saved? I’m totally saved, aren’t I?  Plus the sense of separation from the god figure, chasing after it, seeking its approval.

The major lesson comes from Woody and Buzz’s transformation. When we work together we are better, but when we cut each other we always fail, we can never connect with the mysterious universe and toy-loving god.

Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass

These books and movies are famous for their religious content, and they should be consumed together. They both deal with a religious institution that may or may not serve its purpose.

In Narnia, the reign of the humans is the religious institution since they are chosen by Aslan, the god-figure, and since they seem to resolve all problems. When the kids arrive everyone fills 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.

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 some answers and find each other.


This is the least accessible film on the list, this sci-fi thriller deals up close with loneliness, relationships, identity, and purpose. Sam has been mining on the moon by himself, with only the AI on the base for company. He misses communicating authentically, with his pregnant wife on Earth, or with any other human. And he wonders why he would be doing what he’s doing.

I think of every terrible job when I see this movie. There is no resolution, no easy lesson, which cements the sense of isolation, ambivalence, and exhaustion. How do religions help us overcome these?

The Hunger Games

These 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.

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