Out with the old, In with the new

About 60 percent of Nones are young Americans who no longer wish to abide by the ideals of their parents and grandparents when it comes to religious conviction.

It’s not hard to imagine. After all, how many times have we heard a daughter say to her mother, “you don’t understand me!” Or a mother say, “that’s not how we did it when I was a child.” It’s the continuing struggle between the generations, and in the case of the Nones the struggle centers around religious practice.

Some Nones simply bulk at the stuffy judgmental attitude they see in traditional churches. Others want a spiritual connection but aren’t willing to live by all the rules laid out in the Bible. And still more simply reject God altogether, clinging to atheism and the rule of reason before spirit.

Here is an exert from the Pilot Catholic’s article on the Nones’ effect on United States society:

The study’s authors, sociology professors, Michael Hout of New York University and Claude S. Fischer of the University of California-Berkeley, said their research suggests that older Americans are dying off, they are being replaced in the population by younger Americans who are not as religious.

Much of the other 40 percent, they added, can be traced to the rise of the “religious right” and its political stands on social issues, leading many Americans to say, according to Fischer, “If that’s what religion means, count me out.”

Therefore, according to Fischer, and Pew, religion is fading away, but a new spirituality, or no spiritually, is quickly monopolizing the younger generations. It makes one wonder if traditional religion will soon fade into a relic of the past. Stick around for my next post to see how this may not be as plausible as it seems.

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Connecting with nones through prayer

Via Washington Post

You might think nones would feel left out on the National Day of Prayer, but it turns out this is one of the few traditions they actually still cling to.

Just because nones are shying away from the traditional church, does not mean they have broken all ties with spiritual perception.  In fact, on a day like today when people of all religions and beliefs come together in prayer, nones feel very much at home.  According to  Elizabeth Drescher at the Washington Post:

My research shows that prayer stands alone among traditional practices like attending church and reading scripture tracked by pollsters as “spiritually meaningful” for nones. For many nones, prayer offers an openness and flexibility that makes it functional for those who have left the religions of their childhoods but who don’t’ want to—or can’t—forget them entirely.

It is true that about 20 percent of the United States population consider themselves to be unaffiliated with any religion, but 88 percent of those nones say they still pray at least once a month. Some do it simply because they were raised being taught to pray, and others pray because they want to give credence to all religions. One none from Hawaii said:

“I’ll pray with anyone. I’ll kneel down with you. I’ll make an offering at your temple. I’ll celebrate the rains and the harvest. That can’t be bad, right?”

Drescher didn’t seem to think so, but if the meaning of prayer is simply to feel accepting of other types of religion and people, does the whole communicating with God part get laid to the side? Or, is the reason nones still pray because

when no other answers will come, deep down they want to believe some higher power has a handle on things?

Maybe. But one none from Missouri says prayer is the only place he can find the peace that religion doesn’t offer him. ““I pray because I always have. [Prayer] is where religion is most true for me. You know, it’s not a show of how holy I am.”

Interestingly, prayer seems to also be a way for us to see just how diverse nones are. They are a generation full of exceptions and specialized beliefs. They make their own faith, tailored around what helps them feel happiness or peace.  But, prayer will usually make a presence in some form or another.

Boston memorial, atheists feel left out

Via the Syndicate News Service

The Boston bombings have sparked a familiar vein of conflict between religious groups and atheist groups throughout the area. During a recent inter faith vigil for the Boston marathon bombing victims the Harvard Humanist Community was excluded from helping with the event and recognition at the event.

The group was obviously very upset by the lack of inclusion and was all to eager too speak out about it. Greg M. Epstein, The Harvard humanist chaplain and author of “Good Without God” said this to The Raw Story:

“We have friends and family who are in the hospital in critical condition, who nearly died. It wouldn’t have been so difficult for those who organized the vigil today to make some kind of nod to us, and that’s all we would have wanted.”

Atheists and humanists faced the same conflict when attempting to provide comfort after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting back in December. After all, how does an atheist respond to a grieving mother, friend, wife or child who longs only to hear they will see their loved one again someday.

Obviously religious groups are also trying to decide how to treat secular groups during times of great tragedy. These times where the church is notorious for offering aid, shelter, food and most of all prayer and spiritual encouragement. After all, it is during moments of peril when many turn to God or faith for answers.  When seen from a purely spiritual point of view, it is easy to see why religious folk would see no need to include an overtly anti-religious group in the worship service.

Pastor Brad Peters of the First Baptist Church in Niagara Falls presented his views on the matter in Niagarathisweek.com:

The irony of atheists not being able to speak at a church service would be humorous if it weren’t just so sad. I don’t mean to belittle their grief, which I’m sure was absolutely genuine, but besides a platform and publicity, what comfort would they derive from praying to God, in whom they don’t believe?

The tension is there no doubt. And no doubt atheists will continue to be bitter about this overt exclusion.  But one can’t help but wonder why they would want to attend the ceremony at all. It is a direct affront to everything they believe, and a celebration of a higher power that cannot be explained by science and reason. Therefore, one might assume the Harvard Humanist Community would rather have their own memorial ceremony, thus giving them more freedom over the content. The reason for attending could not have been with the intent to pray, so one could hypothesize that the only other reason was to be granted an audience with or recognition by President Obama (who also attended the memorial) and the rest of the world.  And if that really was the reason, many might agree that this wasn’t the time for a popularity contest.

But! Let’s remember that the line is not always as black as we might think. And views on both side need to be heard, no matter how much it muddies the water. Because at its root this issue is more than just popularity. There truly is pain and a longing for some sense and recognition of death.

Sarah Chandonnet, a staffer at Harvard University’s humanist chaplaincy, has a view that may muddy the waters. It’s good for people with religion to listen to those without religion, if only to understand at least a little of their plight. Chandonnet said in an email to the Washington Post:

I feel that the pain I feel for those close to me, and the city I have lived in my entire life, are not heard or shared. I feel excluded, and silenced, because of my identity. I wish more atheists and the nonreligious could feel supported by their city.

Are the nones really a big deal?

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Via Christianity Today

I believe the nones are a big deal, if only because they are fascinating to right about. But apparently a recent survey shows the nones aggressive upturn is leveling into a slow walk.

This past year marked the smallest increase in nones since 2008, when they were at 14.6 percent. It was at that time when the nones throughout the United States began to grow at noticeable rates. But this past year it has sunk to a whopping 0.3 percent.

Some prominent leaders and academic figures  have mixed feelings about the rise and crawl of the nones’ movement.

Here are some interesting quotes on the issue:

Charles Arn, a professor at Wesley Seminary:

We’re getting bent out of shape over nothing. Institutional affiliation is not a spiritual issue—it’s a generational one. Nearly every membership-based organization is losing members. Most people still come to faith through a relationship—regardless of generation.

Frank Newport, editor in chief of Gallup:

It’s an important shift, but it’s also important not to jump to conclusions about the meaning of this change. Even over the past five years, when the ‘nones’ have been going up—albeit at a slowing rate—there has been no change in Gallup’s measure of church attendance or importance of religion.

Clyde Wilcox, professor of government, Georgetown University:

This is a big story. Usually young people are a little less religiously observant, but this is a pretty substantial departure from the past. It’s not catastrophic, and religious institutions can adapt and think about what it means. But it’s not insignificant.

David Kinnaman, president, Barna Group:

This is a major trend in American religion. Millions of young adults are still devout Christians. But as one of the few areas of ‘growth’ in the realm of religion—most measures are down—we have to pay attention to what it means and why it’s happening.

God out of schools, God out of gov’t, God out of good…

Out! Out! Out! But where should He go? Take Him to your churches, to your places of worship, to your homes. But get him out of our sight!

Ok, that might be a little dramatic for some secularists, but definitely not for all of them. But, more common in today’s world, a different view of atheism is surfacing. It’s not the angry and bitter secular scientist, it is the kind, caring and good person who says God is not necessary for goodness to thrive. We see this throughout government, schools, companies and so much more. The new secular movement is bent on finding a way to get by without God.

For example, the Examiner.com recently published an opinion piece by Chelsea Hoffman with the bold title, “Atheist Win.” Hoffman is enthusiastic about the secular movement’s recent win over an Ohio middle school – forcing it to remove a portrait of Jesus hanging in its halls. The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU initiated the lawsuit, saying the portrait was unconstitutional.

Hoffman’s article articulates secular pride in their accomplishment:

This is federally illegally and fundamentally unacceptable. It’s not only a win for atheism that they didn’t back down, but for America and the liberty of all who are citizens of it. Imagine had this been some other religious imagery such as a Wiccan pentacle or some imagery relative to Islam. The Christian majority would likely be up in arms about it!

The portrait was placed in the school in 1947 when a group of students arranged for it to be acquired by the school.In January of this year the school’s president vowed never to take down the portrait, to which he got overwhelming support from the school and students. But he and the rest of the school were only able to hold out for so long and on April 3rd they took down the portrait.

But God is being taken out of more than just schools. A German shoe company has embraced the name of atheists as their company motto. They have accepted the stance of no religion, while attempting to prove they can be just as morally good as the Christian shoe companies of the world. Inscribed on the bottom of the shoe is the bold statement, “Ich Bin Atheist” (I am an atheist). They are determined to show that businesses and people can be good without God.

The company is very enthusiastic about their new shoes:

Whether you’re an atheist looking to tickle the world with a foot-first declaration of godlessness, or someone who’s just keen on the aesthetics and craftsmanship of our shoes, we really do hope you’ll enjoy them.

And who can forget the age old argument of religion/Christianity in government. Secularists say government can be good without God dictating what they should believe:

[O]rganised religion has a historical monopoly on ‘good’ and continues to be proud of its ‘do-gooding’, in preach and practice, despite the strong likelihood that it has done far more harm than good in it’s long, yarn-spinning history.

We find this sad. Not only because organised religion survives, scandal after scandal, unscathed, but because the atheists we know are amongst the kindest, most caring people we’ve met, each capable of being moral and good without god stories to show them how.We want to challenge the lowest-common-denominator view of atheism, to demonstrate that you don’t need god to be good.

Conversely, Christians, like the late Chuck Colson, say government cannot hold to true goodness without God’s direction:

In the city of man, there is no moral consensus, and without a moral consensus there can be no law. Chairman Mao expressed the alternative well: in his view, morality begins at the muzzle of a gun.

There has never been a case in history in which a society has been able to survive for long without a strong moral code. And there has never been a time when a moral code has not been informed by religious truth. Recovering our moral code – our religious truth – is the only way our society can survive. The heaping ash remains at Auschwitz, the killing fields of Southeast Asia, and the frozen wastes of the gulag remind us that the city of man is not enough; we must also seek the city of God.

Where does good come from? Each side has a different answer for this question – which then dictates how they view “good.”  And what is even more frustrating is that each side has some dirt to dig up on the other side, allowing them to give credence to their point of view.

Secular leaders throughout much of history have committed crimes of unspeakable magnitude, but then again, so have religious leaders who hide behind a twisted view of the Bible. We can say they were not really Christians, but not many atheists will accept that interpretation. So where does this leave us? Are we forever at an impasse – never finding a way to cross the gulf between our mountain tops of belief?

I hope not. If that is true than my blog is completely pointless. We must try and find common ground. We must try to understand what the paths are like on other mountains. But (and it’s an important “but”) there are some things we will just not agree on. And this is one of them.

Good defined by society is called progressive ethics and is a very dangerous path to fall into. When I think of a scary place to live, it is in a society that dictates what is good and bad based on its mood at the time. In an imperfect world how can we expect man to make perfect laws? Therefore, our ethics must come from something higher than ourselves, and the only person I am willing to trust with that is God.

New pope reaches out to Nones

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday (March 19) at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

With a new pope comes new alliances. Newly ordained Pope Francis is eager to establish peace between religious and nonreligious groups. We can all work together for peace, he said.

But the new pope may have a few challenges waiting for him in this area. Martin E. Marty, professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, see’s many disconnects between the papacy and Catholic members, but a much larger disconnect between Catholics and Nones.

The “Nones” of “no-religion” haunt believers. And in Catholic cities like Chicago, half-full parking lots and pews testify to the indifference in the face of which the new Pope will try to make a difference.

But no doubt Pope Francis will do his best to reach past this indifference. During his first ecumenical meeting the new Pope expressed a desire to reach out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”

While, he admits to continue to hold by his predecessor’s view that the elimination of God from humanity will often lead to violence, he does not let this belief cause him to dismiss the Nones altogether.

But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

Now, I am not a Catholic, nor do I claim to be nonreligious, but there is something truly wonderful about people from two radically different perspectives joining together for a common goal. Especially since I have just come from perusing the Westboro Baptist Church’s website where intolerance and hateful language abounds. That is one group I fear no one will be able to reach any time soon. But while the WBC seems to have lost hope in humanity, it is refreshing to see the fervor of others to keep that hope alive.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think all is sunshine and lollipops between the Pope and Nones. Nor do I have the foresight to know if his promises will be acted upon or reciprocated. I’m sure there are those who have no love for Pope Francis, and no doubt he will make mistakes and decisions that will cause debate. But it’s a step, or at least a glance, in the right direction. For now I will chose to be hopeful in his acknowledgment of the religious/nonreligious difference, while still finding some common ground to stand on.

Perhaps an atheist for Pope…

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins for pope? If you don’t know, Richard Dawkins is one of the most pronounced atheists in the world today – so naturally he would be a great candidate for the papacy.

At least that is what a few humorous gamblers implied on the gambling site  paddypower.com. Among the 72 other pope candidates to be bet upon, Richard Hawkins appeared with the ironic odds of 666-1. But this seems to be more than just a funny gimmick. Apparently stunts like these are often present in moments of religious decision.

The Christian Post recently added an article discussing reasons behind the seemingly fruitless practice:

British atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has emerged as a contender among a leading Irish bookmaker’s list of candidates to replace a retired Benedict XVI as pope and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, which a religion and pop culture expert believes could be a sign of discontent among the Catholic faithful.

The article went on to quote Dr. Jennifer E. Porter, religion and pop culture teacher at Memorial University in Canada

I think betting on Richard Dawkins, Bono or Father Dougal McGuire are tongue-in-cheek ways for people to highlight their criticisms of what they see as a Catholic Church increasingly out of step with mainstream priorities, and the conviction that the church does not ‘hear’ what ordinary people are trying to say… Don’t believe in a literal God? Vote for Dawkins!

While obviously futile, the ballet for Dawkins seems to have been more of an avenue to make certain people’s opinion heard. Did it do any good? Time will tell, but I am going to go out on a limb and say the new pope isn’t thinking twice about atheist who didn’t even come close to sitting on the papal seat.  At best, it seems to have provided a good chuckle for the few people who actually heard about it.