Highline, HuffPo’s long form magazine section, had an article this week by Eve Fairbanks about millennial nuns.
And near the end of the 2000s, a half-dozen old friends I’d remembered as logical skeptics and trend-forward internet connoisseurs had become deeply religious. Some of them had been raised loosely Catholic, some had not. They blogged. They wrote Facebook posts about their conversions and shared memes about contraception-free family planning. They seemed to want to celebrate their lives.
And the aspiring sisters aren’t like the old ones. They’re more diverse: Ninety percent of American nuns in 2009 identified as white; last year, fewer than 60 percent of new entrants to convents did. They’re also younger: The average age for taking the final step into the religious life a decade ago was 40. Today, it’s 24. They’re disproportionately middle children, often high-flying and high-achieving. Typical discernment stories on blogs or in the Catholic press start with lines like “she played lacrosse and went to Rutgers” or she was “a Harvard graduate with a wonderful boyfriend.”
It does seem crazy that people are “reverting” back to something I think many of us thought was a dying tradition. The world is becoming more secular. It’s becoming more progressive. And here are all these 24-year-old lacrosse players becoming nuns.
But I actually don’t think it’s that strange.
Many of these women came of age during the financial crisis. They watched their parents lose jobs and homes. They lived at home longer and took unpaid internships. They have enormous volumes of student loan debt.
Transitioning to adult life is scary and difficult. And it’s not the transition of 100 years ago, where the steps that you have to take are clearly outlined. And it’s not the transition of 75 years ago, where you can support a family working at a factory. And it’s not the transition of 50 years ago where you get a college education and you’ll be set.
Young adults, all people really, want to feel safe and secure. Many people want life to have a handbook. Once you’re out of high school or college, where your choices are limited by class schedules and credits, you’re faced with a set of decisions that are unclear and unending.
I suspect this is why we see an increase in tiny houses and van life and digital nomads as well. Some of those people make those choices for economic reasons. But some I think some make them so they have fewer choices to make in life. If you limit yourself to a tiny space, you have so many fewer choices to make.
Pollsters have also observed that young people in America seem more open than their parents or grandparents were to authoritarianism, as if we possess a hidden desire to be ruled—that it would be a relief. In 2016, nearly one-quarter of young Americans told Harvard researchers that democracy was “bad” for the country—in 1995, only around 10 percent of young people said that—and they are consistently more likely than their elders to say technocrats or a strong leader should run America, even if that means doing away with elections. My friend Josh, a convert to Catholicism, told me he was drawn to the church specifically because it “doesn’t hold a vote to determine the truth.”
I totally understand this. Too many options are stressful. Too many things to go wrong. Too many things to decide.
Of course, I don’t believe in God and I don’t want to be in a sexist, homophobic, unaccepting organisation. So becoming a nun isn’t going to happen.
I do get a weekly vegetable box. Most nights a local farmer is deciding what I eat for dinner. Better than the whole vow of chastity thing.