RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We are picking up this morning with the conversation we began earlier this week. Our colleague David Greene sat down in the sanctuary of a synagogue with a group of young Americans for our series Losing Our Religion. And David, remind us who they are.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Well, Renee, we got interested in all of this when we saw a study from the Pew Research Center. It said that a third of young adults in this country say that they don't identify with any organized religion. And so for this conversation, we met with some young men and women in their 20s and 30s and they have all been struggling with the role of faith and religion in their lives. Now, this is Melissa Adelman. She was raised Catholic but doesn't call herself that anymore.
MELISSA ADELMAN: Moving away from Catholicism for me was a loss, a negative thing, and sort of, you know, a rejection of a set of beliefs. But at the same time, it's not like you move away from religion and then have nothing or have sort of this emptiness where you feel like, oh geez, I wish that I believed in something because now, you know, I have this negative space in my life. I think you can fill it with lots of really good things.
MONTAGNE: So she doesn't feel an emptiness without religion. Is that a sense that you got from everyone at the table?
GREENE: I would say it really is. I mean none of these young people felt a feeling of emptiness but they do feel conflicted, and they seem to recognize that religion fills certain needs. And let's listen to more here. We're going to hear again from Melissa Adelman. But first Kyle Simpson. He found Christianity when he was a teenager. He's drifted away from religion, but he's had these moments of doubt.
KYLE SIMPSON: Last year, when I turned 26, I had my mini-existential crisis when I realized, oh my gosh, what's going to happen when I die? Am I just going to end up in the ground and like everything I've worked for, all my memories, are for naught? I still have that feeling every once in a while in the stereotypical moments when you're like sitting alone in the dark and you can't go to bed and you start thinking about that. But I don't know if that's emptiness. That's more just a fear that I hope others have.
GREENE: Are you jealous in a way of people who are part of an organized religious community and have that answer and kind of feel like they know what will happen when they die and don't have to ask that question?
SIMPSON: I'm definitely jealous of that comfort. I don't know if, like, jealous is the word because I don't know if I want what that is because I want to believe it right now.
ADELMAN: For me it's not about the beliefs that I wish I had. 'Cause I don't envy other people their beliefs, I guess. I'm comfortable with the place that I've come to. I do seek that sense of community, I think is probably the biggest thing for me, that tradition and community and support network. That's what I would look for.
RIGOBERTO PEREZ: But you don't have to have a sense of community from religion. I don't get my sense of community from religion. My community: I'm a veteran, I ride sport bikes. I'm a fan of a football team. You know, people can get that sense of community from everywhere.
GREENE: That third voice there is a young Iraq War veteran named Rigoberto Perez. He was raised in a strict Christian home. And now sitting just to his right in our circle, a young woman named Lizz Reeves. She has felt unwelcome when she's gone to church because of her spiritual doubts and also her views on social issues. But Lizz is also looking for that sense of belonging that religion can provide.
LIZZ REEVES: I still feel like I would benefit from that community, and I still, I think, struggle, feeling like I cannot be a member of it. And so I think if I found a religious community that made me feel accepted for who I am, that I would be much - I'd be very open to pursuing that. And I actually have some friends who are members of a particular church who've been really trying to get me to go with them to this church, 'cause they keep telling me, oh, don't worry, it's OK, everybody, you know, that's what's this church is all about. And so I'm certainly open to the idea and I would like my children way down the road to also have exposure to religion and ask these questions of themselves. And I think that's really important.
GREENE: Do you pray?
REEVES: So growing up I used to do something really silly. It's going to sound very silly when it comes out. But every day at 11:11 - the time - I'd make some sort of wish, which looking back on it, it was prayer is what it was. I didn't really...
GREENE: Doesn't sound silly.
REEVES: Well, you know, I mean my soccer number was always 11. I had this weird thing. Kind of some weird superstitions and things like that. I never would have admitted that I was praying at the time, I don't think, because I didn't feel comfortable with the idea that it was something religious at that time. But looking back on it, that's certainly what it was. And I occasionally will catch myself at 11:11 kind of doing that again.
GREENE: Still today...
REEVES: Yeah, from time to time, yeah. And it is some sort of prayer, but I think it's more of questioning myself or challenging myself to do something or to think about something than it is kind of prayer in the most traditional of ways.
PEREZ: I do something fairly similar, actually. You know, I grew up with prayer - speaking to yourself and not expecting a response. So you know, some people may call it prayer, but I do carry internal dialogues, very similar. Please let me work through this, give me more strength to deal with this, or trying to work through how I can effect a change in that particular circumstance. So I mean, like you said, some people may consider it prayer. I don't consider it that because I'm, you know, it's me, I'm finding something within myself; but others may.
GREENE: Melissa, do you pray?
ADELMAN: Not on a regular basis, but I do. I mean, I found that it's important to me to be thankful and to be more cognizant of the good things that happen in life. And so when really awesome things happen, I try to remember to take the time to feel the gratitude that I have for that. And so for me, I think that's my sense of prayer.
GREENE: And you kind of considered that replacing traditional prayer - your own kind of version of prayer.
ADELMAN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, and the traditional prayer that I did as a child growing up was, you know, every night to get down on my knees and ask God to take care of the people that I cared about, you know, and to make bad things go away and make good things happen. And I think this version of it for me is just much more in accord with my set of sort of moral values and so...
SIMPSON: Yeah, I do and I don't know what to make of it, because I feel like a hypocrite. And - but I only do when I'm at my most scared or my most fearful, and...
GREENE: You pray when you're at your most fearful?
SIMPSON: Yeah, and my most vulnerable. And like I said, I don't know what to do with that because it really does not align with anything that I've said all day today, yet I still find myself doing that.
GREENE: And, Renee, as you can hear, these young Americans are conflicted. I mean, we spoke for two hours and they talked about having this respect for religion but feeling like it's not something they can totally identify with right now. And if our listeners want to get to know them better - the people in our roundtable - there are photos of them and some more details about their lives at our website, NPR.org.
MONTAGNE: And we're going to be wrapping up our series tomorrow, the series Losing Our Religion. What will we hear?
GREENE: Well, we're going to turn to two religious leaders, including a Catholic priest. He says he wants to keep adaptable, to keep the door open to people who feel alienated from the Catholic Church, but he says there are limits.
MIKE SIRUFKA: I know there's some things I can't do. There's some things that are simply at this point not changeable. I personally am not able to ordain women, for example.
GREENE: So that's Father Mike Sirufka(ph), a Catholic priest in Chicago. We'll hear from him and also from a Methodist minister in Texas tomorrow.
MONTAGNE: MORNING EDITION's David Greene. Thanks very much.
GREENE: Thanks, Renee.