Nones losing speed

Via CNN Belief Blog

It seems the nones’ new found voice in society is not as prominent as we once thought.  While it is true the nones have taken up a much larger chunk of modern society, this past year’s increase fails to reflect that statement.

A recent Gallup Survey shows the nones may not dominate as much of society as previously reported:

The percentage of American adults who have no explicit religious identification averaged 17.8% in 2012, up from 14.6% in 2008 — but only slightly higher than the 17.5% in 2011. The 2011 to 2012 uptick in religious “nones” is the smallest such year-to-year increase over the past five years of Gallup Daily tracking of religion in America.

What does this mean about American society? I’ll refer you to one of my previous posts from a couple months ago. There are many theories drifting around, but as the past year has shown us, American culture is hard to define or categorize.  Those who thought the Romney/Ryan ticket was a slam dunk saw this in real time last November. And churches who reacted with astonishment upon hearing of the rapid influx of anti-churchgoers will also agree that society is hard to predict.

But varies groups will also react to and explain cultural surprises in different ways. The Christians see this downturn in nones as proof that Americans still have a desire to cling to God, however, nones will turn our attention to the fact that while their progression is slowing it is still progressing.

Ponder this quote from Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard University:

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter whether one of these surveys – even a big one like Gallup – shows the number leveling off a bit this past year. First of all, the numbers for young Americans are still dramatically higher, and secondly, it is beyond dispute now that the “nones” are one of the largest demographic groups in the United States, and we’re going to stay that way for a long, long time.

It is important that we keep track of the fluctuations throughout the secular and religious culture in America. Only then will we understand what values we can expect to see from society.

This quote from the Gallup Study sums it up well:

The rise in “nones” partly reflects changes in the general pattern of expression of religion in American society today — particularly including trends towards more “unbranded,” casual, informal religion. And, although this “rise of the nones” has increased dramatically over recent decades, the rate of increase slowed last year, suggesting the possibility that there may be a leveling off in this measure in the years ahead.

Do Sandy Hook victims have the ‘blessing’ of atheism?

FAMILY MEMBERS GRIEVE NEAR SITE OF CONNECTICUT SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Family members grieve near the Sandy Hook Elementary school tragedy

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, Susan Jacoby, a pronounced atheist, attempted to comfort the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting – she told them their children would suffer no more in the “perfect rest” of death.

In other words she said that these children, who have suffered so much, have the blessing of blissful nothingness as their consciousness is erased from existence.

During her article Jacoby quotes “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll who died in 1899. He often gave eulogies at funerals and said this while speaking at the service for the death of a friend’s small child:

“They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”

I have tried, and failed, to find the comfort in this train of thought. Jacoby’s article responds to a coworker who told her that atheism didn’t have much to offer during times of great tragedy. However, her attempt to defend her belief looks more like an attempt to grasp at straws than a deep look at what atheism really offers, in contrast to what belief in an afterlife offers.

Throughout the world today, and in years past, it has been customary to forget about God when times are good, or to rave about Man’s ability to take care of itself. But, as if on cue,  when the hard times come He is dragged back into the courtroom of our injustice and asked to come to account for the evil he has let run free on the world. Often it is times like these when Christians, or others of faith, are asked to explain His “lack of interest” in the hardship of Man.

Jacoby picks up on this beautifully, without skipping a beat she provides the answer to the question that so many people of religion struggle with giving. Where is God? She says, God does not exist:

It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem. Human “free will” is Western monotheism’s answer to the question of why God does not use his power to prevent the slaughter of innocents, and many people throughout history (some murdered as heretics) have not been able to let God off the hook in that fashion.

I found an interesting response to Jacoby’s article inDenise Prager’s column, The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook. Prager shows how Jacoby’s compelling picture of atheistic belief actually “confirms her colleague’s assessment,” rather than disproving it. His piece astutely pinpoints the hole in atheism’s attempt to comfort those left behind in a depraved world.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.

 Jacoby implies that since atheists have the blessing of “perfect rest,” others who believe in an afterlife cannot also have that perfect rest. If she really believes that then she is wrong.  I too can say with absolute certainty that upon my death I will have perfect rest. But I also have the blessing of leaping past where Jacoby is forced to end her monologue. I have the hope of reunion not only with my loved ones from this life, but also with God, my Creator. This is something that atheism cannot offer, and it is why Jacoby’s argument is ultimately unsatisfying to most victims of horrible tragedy.
(Note: I do not often apply so much of my personal beliefs into a post, but I believe this particular one warranted some personal reflection to contrast with Jacoby’s opinion. However  I always strive to give balance to both sides of the argument.)