H.L. Mencken famously defined Puritanism as “[t]he haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” However, judging by the mental and emotional condition of the children of secularism, it is not Christianity—Puritan or otherwise—that is making people unhappy.

Never have so few Americans identified as Christians and attended church, yet many are quick to blame Christianity and its moral demands for the decline in joy. After all, the story goes, Christians are spoilsports, biblical morality deprives people of freedom and self-expression, and much of the Church’s teaching is harmful or even abusive.

In contrast, secularism, with its so-called sexual “liberation,” is sold with the promise of allowing people to be free and happy. Secular thinkers vowed to bring about human progress and flourishing. The twentieth century, however, proved that these thinkers could not deliver the goods. Their promises of civilizational progress, at least, had failed. In response, postmodern thinkers like Foucault and Derrida announced the death of secularism’s utopian dreams but held out hope that sexual liberation would, at least, make people happy. If the first couple decades of the twenty-first century are any indications, these promises were hollow, too.

Last year, a Gallup poll found that just 41% of Generation Z feel as if they are thriving, compared with 60% of Millennials at the same age. Also, members of Gen Z are “far less likely to describe their mental health as ‘excellent’” than previous generations. Their struggle is not solely, or even primarily, about circumstances like economics. Rather, theirs is a deep-seated emotional, psychological, and spiritual brokenness.

A Centers for Disease Control spokesperson quoted in The New York Times last year admitted that “young people are telling us that they are in crisis.” Girls are especially hard hit. “Nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021 … and one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide.” More recent surveys show little evidence of improvement post-pandemic.

On top of this, or perhaps because of it, Generation Z has become “the most undateable generation ever,” with one reporter at Deseret News describing today’s young adults as terrified of commitment and serious relationships. In short, Gen Z is unhappy, unwell, and chronically lonely, to say nothing of the social contagions like gender confusion that have swept through their ranks.

So, what became of all the happiness promised if only society were liberated from religion and morality? Ex-evangelical deconstruction stories aside, ours is not a culture that has been guided by Christian values for many years. Millennials were arguably the first generation to grow up in a truly post-Christian America, but Generation Z, only 36% of whom call themselves Christians, are indisputably the children of secularism. And secularism has not treated them well.

Of course, there are other factors besides religious belief or the lack thereof that affect wellbeing. The rise of smartphones and social media has contributed to the erosion of happiness and mental health in the last decade. However, it should be noted that these are mediums for some of secularism’s most destructive ideas: hyper-individualism, gender identity, and pornography-inspired body image issues and sexual dysfunction, to name a few.

It’s also true that Gen Z has more members raised in single-parent households than any generation in American history. This has, according to Mary Eberstadt’s 2019 book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, taken a terrible toll. In fact, secular authors like Christine Emba in her book, Rethinking Sex and Louise Perry in The Case Against the Sexual Revolution also argue that the secular reduction of sexual ethics to consent and the rejection of religious notions about the family and the sacredness of our bodies have left behind millions of broken adults.

In summary, a generation who grew up under secularism’s promises of freedom and happiness has come of age and its offspring are far from being free or happy. Religion cannot be blamed for this mess. Despite what critics maintain, the days when Christianity and the Church were the dominant players in cultural life have been gone for generations. To use the pop-psychology vocabulary young people now love so much, Generation Z was traumatized by secularism.

Atheist historian Tom Holland has famously challenged the narrative that Christianity was the historical enemy of human rights, equality, science, and democracy. As he argues in his book, Dominion, Christianity gave birth to these ideas. Perhaps we need a new Tom Holland to make the case that Christianity, far from the “haunting suspicion” that someone may be happy, was the only thing preserving those institutions and practices that make for a thriving populace. And perhaps a generation victimized by the bad ideas that eclipsed faith will turn back to faith and instead deconstruct their secularism.

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. If you’re a fan of Breakpoint, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to

Image credit: ©Unsplash/Baylee Gramling

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.