It’s been proven that members of Generation Z are most likely out of any generation to date to say that they are atheists. A 2016 report from Barna and Impact 360 Institute shows that teens aged 13 to 18 years old are about twice as likely as adults to identify as such. We see younger generations turning more toward astrology, manifestation and even the use of crystals to find meaning and spirituality in life. That’s not to say that these sort of practices are entirely nonreligious, they’re often elemental to Buddhist, Taoist and Wicca practices. The kind of spirituality I’m talking about here is the more nonreligious, popular on TikTok, often considered whitewashed, type of spirituality. While there’s nothing wrong with that kind of practice, it prompts questions about why people are more attracted to this than to a religion. Why do we trust “the universe” and crystals more than the deities our parents and grandparents worshipped? Why was it once “jinxing” to say, “I’m going to succeed in X” or “I’m going to be Y when I’m older” with such certainty, and now it’s imperative to speak with such conviction in order to properly “manifest?” Manifesting refers to the idea that “if you believe, you can achieve.”
Sometimes I think we might just be turned off by anything in which our older counterparts were involved and maybe that’s why our generation often wants nothing to do with going to church, reading scripture or believing in a higher power. That’s not to say we’re all like this, but it makes you wonder why our spirituality has to be unique from that of those who came before us.
When I hear people talk about manifestation and the law of attraction, it sounds like a form of prayer that is focused on the self. Manifesting and the law of attraction is nothing new. “The Secret,” a 2006 self-help book written by Rhonda Byrne, is one starting place for many people who want to get involved. Most people who truly practice the law of attraction believe that if you say that you are going to do something out loud or even write it on paper, you will still have to work toward it — none of these people are expecting for good things to fall into their laps without any work. They’re manifesting a promotion, then they’re using the confidence they get from that to wow their boss into thinking they are the best candidate.
I hear about it all the time on TikTok, but it seems that might be taking away from the true meaning of it. You’ll see creators post a video claiming, “I made 12 videos with different predictions in mind, no caption or hashtags, so if this one is on your For you Page, you were meant to see it and it will happen to you.” It’ll proceed to show you the thing that you supposedly need and that is coming your way. How does it happen, you ask? “Lock it in” by liking the post and following the creator— bonus points if you send it to a friend. It takes other forms too — videos about “what each zodiac sign’s Valentine’s Day will look like” that instruct you to follow the creator and like the post to seal your fate, of course. “These two first initials are soul mates,” claim other videos and people eat them up. Viewers put their trust in those videos, knowing that half of them are made by middle schoolers who are telling viewers that they’re going to fall in love within the next week, just in time for Valentine’s Day, without having talked to the crush they’ve had since the third grade. I think this can sometimes take away the validity of the practice and people look down on it because they think it’s predominantly looking for something to fall into your lap, which is not what it truly is.
At the same time, it makes me wonder why those who manifest find it more meaningful than prayer. I read one blog that stated “Praying is asking the universe, [but] manifestation is telling the universe.” Javia Wilkins, the writer of this blog, said that they still pray, and that they use God and the universe interchangeably, using “spirit” to reference the higher power at times. It seems to me, though, that when they say that “praying is asking” and “manifesting is telling,” the latter is considered to be better than the former. If you can definitively decide what you want and actualize it, then why would you opt to request it instead? I don’t think it’s so simple. I actually agree with the writer in saying that they are not mutually exclusive, many people do both. I don’t manifest much, but my relationship to prayer is long-standing.
I’m Jewish, and I find that a lot of my connection to my religion comes from my connection to my God — something some share and others don’t, both Jewish and otherwise. I find the shift in paradigm between “God, I’ve prepared for this test, please help me to do well” and “I am going to get an A on this exam” really interesting.
To me, asking instead of telling is humbling. Recognizing submissiveness and, frankly, humanity, is a beautiful element of prayer for me. Telling God or the universe or whomever else that you are going to accomplish something, while empowering, seems a little presumptuous and almost hubristic. That’s not to say that everyone who manifests is too proud for prayer or is all of a sudden conceited. I just wonder from where the shift came, or why many of Generation Z are fascinated by manifesting but want little to do with religion.
Ariel Wajnrajch is a sophomore majoring in psychology.