For the second consecutive week, I am pleased to focus on an amazing work of religion coverage from an unexpected platform: “Why On Earth Are So Many Millennials Becoming Nuns?” by Eve Fairbanks, writing for the Huffington Post feature called “Highline.”
Her essay begins (disclosure of my bias) exactly the way I would expect a HuffPost article to begin, when dealing with a subject linked to a traditional form of faith.
It’s all here — right down to the “scare” quotes in the predictable places. But the key word in that headline is “Millennial,” a generation wrestling with some interesting hopes, fears and anxieties. Let’s start here:
I went to a science magnet high school, graduating in 2001, but in my late 20s, I began to notice that some of my classmates were turning toward the Catholic faith. It surprised me: My high school was ostentatiously secular. We had a steel statue on the front lawn depicting the triumph of mathematical logic. Our senior class president wore a giant calculator costume to football games. When my government class held a mock debate over abortion, only two students out of 18 volunteered to argue the “pro-life” case. …
Catholicism seems especially out of step with contemporary American life. Protestantism easily accommodates rock bands and a personable, almost life coach-esque Jesus. But even liberal Catholic communities require submission to a gold-crowned pope who theologically can’t be wrong (in certain circumstances) and who is chosen by a hundred-odd men — only men — who undergo a ritual of eating the literal body of Christ embedded in a cracker. To say the sex scandals didn’t help is putting it mildly. A 2008 Pew Research Center study found that Catholicism lost more adherents in the late 20th century than any other religion in the U.S. About a third of Americans raised Catholic reported that they had left the church.
Still, there’s a certain allure to a high school with public art “depicting the triumph of mathematical logic.” The first photo featured wit this post, taken from Thomas Jefferson Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., offers one possibility.
Once Fairbanks moves past this scene-setting about how she came to write this essay, she interviews a few different young women — Tori, Rachael, Mackenzie — who are high-achieving idealists.
The key question: Is there more to life than what is offered by a consumerist American culture?