This week we continue our series on the generations with a group that almost needs no introduction: the Baby Boomers. After all, who isn’t familiar with the generation that invented the hippie, started the cultural revolution, and coined the phrase, “make love, not war”? Even so, let me give a snapshot of this iconic generation and highlight some of their spiritual characteristics.
Boomers were born between 1945 and 1964. As GIs came home from World War II and were eager to settle down and start a family, the result was a population explosion – or “boom” - that gave the Baby Boomers their name.
Growing up in postwar affluence, the Baby Boomers didn’t have the troubles of WWII and the Great Depression shaping their perspective. As a result, many abandoned their parents’ self-sacrificing, “all for one and one for all” mentality in favor of individualism and personal expression.
In the mid-60s when the majority of Baby Boomers were hitting their teens and twenties, many dropped out of church in favor of self-discovery. This self-discovery manifested itself in the sexual revolution and experimentation with drugs, both of which were at direct odds with the morality of traditional Christianity. Some retained the traditional Judeo-Christian values of their parents and grandparents while they embarked on their pursuit of happiness, but many were eager to shed the yoke of conformity and discover their own unique brand of self-expression.
As coming-of-age Baby Boomers “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out,” they emerged on the scene as beatniks and hippies, flower children and mods, ready to explore the world beyond the confines of their parents’ tame and domesticated Christendom.
The introduction of television had a profound impact on Boomers as well, providing a more global perspective, broadcasting everything from the Vietnam War, to the moon landing, to the Beatles’ meeting with the Dalai Lama. Suddenly, Christianity became just one more worldview among many. As Ross Douthat noted in his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, “If you wanted a [new] religion…there was suddenly Buddhism as a viable alternative to Methodism, Transcendental Meditation instead of the ‘Our Father,’ the monasteries of Tibet as a rival to the Union Theological Seminary, the Maharishi as a more exotic guru than the Pope.” Cults and new religious movements flourished, as well as secular humanism and “alternative lifestyles.”
As a result of these outside influences, Baby Boomers were the first generation to make a clear distinction between religion and spirituality. They argued that being spiritual is not equal to going to church, a perspective that eventually led to what today we call the “nones” – those who claim no formal religious affiliation.
Even though Baby Boomers have historically been one of the most unchurched generations in history, some are predicting that they will return to church – and the Christian faith - as they grow older.* Studies show that as people age, they begin to look for deeper meaning through spiritual connections. And it is fascinating to me that the timing of their return might coincide with the church reformation that I and many others are predicting.