Monday, October 15, 2012


 Two new posts from The Lion...

A Pew research poll on religion in America revealed as many as 20% of the American populace claims no affiliation to any particular religion.  This is the highest rate of "nones" ever recorded.  The number of Americans who self-identify as having no religious preference is equal to the numbers who identify as evangelical Christians.  This is a dramatic change in the religious landscape, and it appears to be growing.

     Of those who make up the "nones" category, only about 3% are atheists.  The largest segment does not reject spirituality or belief in some kind of Supreme Being, but they are open to an endless variety of approaches to such questions.  The largest age group of "nones" are under 30.  Politically, the "nones" are as progressive as evangelicals are regressive.  It's possible the two groups could cancel each other out in future elections.

     None of this should be surprising to anyone who has observed the state of religious denominations over the last 50 years.  While people search for meaning in their lives, churches have failed to provide for their congregation's needs.  As young people grow up, they look around for the influence of churches and religion in their lives and the life of their nation and they are unable to be moved or excited.  One Baptist leader railed against this secularist trend and used it to try and rally a "godless" nation back to the straight and narrow.  He is whistling past the graveyard.

     When people under 30, or people who used to be attached to a church, look around today what do they see?  They see a nation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer.  In the middle of a presidential election, they notice neither candidate talks about poverty, hunger, homelessness and the continuing rise of these conditions.  They see a country which has spent over a trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As much as $15 trillion has been spent bailing out Wall Street and big banks.  Tax policy enables the rich to avoid paying taxes and results in unreasonable burdens on everyone else.  At the same time they see food banks begging for becoming the preserve of the money for job training...affordable housing disappearing in city after city...millions lacking medical insurance and millions more lacking the basics to survive.

     What do they see as church's priorities while so many Americans struggle to find work and food and shelter?  The Roman Catholic Church, Mormon and Baptist churches, as well as many others, fight to keep same sex people from getting married.  Women are under attack from churches for their desire to control their bodies and reproductive lives.  Women also watch as churches treat them like second-class citizens denying them access to the altar or the pulpit.  It is impossible not to be aware of a Catholic who champions an economic policy based on an atheist, Ayn Rand, and a Mormon who totally denies the communitarian roots of his religion.

     When you look around this nation, what are the most visible manifestations of a commitment to Jesus or the Torah?  Mega-churches continue to suffer from an edifice complex and trumpet the large numbers they attract to their "shows" on Sundays.  Calls for more, for the least of our brothers and sisters, are few and far between from the biggest and the best of God's shepherds.  A social conscience is almost impossible to find.  Why should anyone affiliate with a church in this country when it is so hard to see how believing in God or Jesus causes any of them to act any differently than the faceless corporations who are the new "gods" so many Americans find attractive?

     The crisis is acute.  Survey after survey shows young people are abandoning the churches of their parents.  Protestant, Catholic or Jewish groups are struggling to find a message which resonates with those under 30.  (and many much older)  In the Catholic Church the problem is exacerbated by a clergy whose average age is approaching 70.  The numbers of priests continues to decline with few coming along to replace them.  Isn't it time to read the writing on the wall?  Protestant denominations have a lot of clergy, but fewer people in the pews to minister to.

     At the same time as the "none's" numbers are growing, surveys show they are still looking for purpose in life.  They are still searching for meaning and looking for something to fill a values and spiritual gap they all feel.  They want to be part of feel connected to make a positive difference in their lives and the life of their community.  What is clear is more and more of them don't see any of that coming from the morally and spiritually bankrupt mainline denominations in this nation.

     There are some exceptions to this erosion of attachment.  Where people are challenged and inspired they respond.  In San Francisco at places like St. Anthony's, Martin de Pores or Oakland at St Vincent de San Jose at Sacred Heart Community Services you will find young people and people of all ages lining up to help and serve.  Across this country, groups like AmeriCorps and the Peace corps continue to draw and on Jesuit college campuses the Jesuit Volunteer Corps continues to grow even as it asks seniors to postpone careers and volunteer to work with the poor and those in need of resources and support.  Volunteerism among the "nones" is rising and they are looking for opportunities to make a difference.  What is ironic is the very institutions who should provide the moral and spiritual needs of these folks, fail miserably.  How is it that Americans who refuse to be associated with any church are more progressive than those groups who purport to follow the tenets of the little Jewish carpenter from Nazareth?

     Matthew's gospel says individual salvation will be based on how you treat the hungry, naked, sick, prisoners and anyone who is least in our eyes.  Mainstream religion is losing its ability to attract new adherents because it has abandoned this perspective and failed to inspire or show the presence of God in the world.  This is not rocket science and those church leaders who claim to be mystified by the current trends need to return to their roots.  They need to act in the world in a way which reveals the presence of God and calls on others to join them.

     As it stands now, most churches have more in common with the moneychangers than they do with Jesus and the "nones" just won't pretend anymore or be hypocrites.  They will continue to seek fulfillment and spirituality, and if churches engage in such actions they may be attracted.  If they don't, the "nones" will do it on their own.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect there are other factors that are causing younger people to disregard religion.

    One is clearly that so many "religious" have become symbols of hate and the mistreatment of others.

    While society has moved forward in the overall acceptance of equality of all, many very vocal religious people have preached hate of people not like themselves. Rather than leading the effort to stop sexual abuse of children religious leaders have made the effort to protect the villains.

    A second reason, science has come up with better explanations for many of the world's mysteries.

    At one time religious organizations controlled knowledge in general. Religious leaders were the most educated individuals that most people commonly encountered. If they didn't have an answer they could do some hand-waving and call it one of God's mysteries.

    Now we see much more knowledgeable people on a frequent basis, perhaps not in the flesh but at least via our many media routes.

    At the same time those media expose the stupidity of some religious leaders. When we have major religious figures blaming severe weather events on gays marrying/whatever the entire religious enterprise earns a lot of eye rolls.

    Furthermore, churches are loosing their exclusivity as social gathering places for large parts of our society. When I was growing up about the only place one went besides school/work and relatives houses on holidays was church. It was the social center. That's less and less the case for most.

    Might churches see some return were they to adopt a more caring attitude and spend time doing more good? Perhaps.

    But it's just as likely that people will continue to look to non-religious organizations as their way to help others. Go straight to the helping part and avoid the baggage that religious leaders have acquired.

    There's a very good chance that we're in the early days of a major and permanent shift away from the "invisible guy in the sky" explanation of things. We're likely on our way to a more rational way of thinking.